Logistics at the Cyclic Rate
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
26 Feb 2020 Update: Tactical Edge, the company that manages the MAGTF Logistics Support Systems (MLS2) portfolio, recently took my recommendations and is currently working on MLS2 upgrades. These upgrades include a "Run Roster" view in TCPT. The "Run Roster" view will be similar to an airport Arrival/Departure board format. In CLC2S, a click and drag feature, similar to MS Excel, will potentially be incorporated. Another feature is processing numerous requests at one time vice separately.
Original Post: The Marines who provide logistic support require systems with up-to-date information and training in information management to better visualize logistics information and improve command and control. Although the Marine Corps has systems designed to support logistic operations, capability gaps remain. To manage these vulnerabilities, the S-4 team at the School of Infantry (West) (SOI(W)) chose to manage logistics information through SharePoint, facilitating enhanced support to training and wider visibility throughout the command. These management and visibility improvements can, and should be, applied in other organizations, however, there is also a need to redefine how logisticians train and think about information in the community.
The Logistics Symphony
Logistics enables training at SOI(W), where there is little margin for daily error due to the inflexible training schedule. The logistics team orchestrates support for a monthly average of 384 logistics support requests (LSRs), and anywhere from 40 to 76 daily runs. Despite being incredibly busy, the S-4 does not always have a full staff and the equipment is old and well used. The pace and resources require the team to effectively use information systems.
The cornerstone to managing large-scale logistic requirements is efficiently processing LSRs or training support requests (TSR) through “target feedback” of the submitted LSRs between warfighter (customer) and supporting element(s). The training companies, or customers, heavily rely on the status and confirmation of support.
Common Logistics Command & Control System
A Marine Corps Gazette article from 2015 entitled “Logistics Command and Control” advocates for the use of CLC2S by asserting that the system will improve command and control at any command if its use is enforced (1). However, CLC2S is poorly designed to manage large-scale LSRs, offers limited visibility to staff sections, and requires numerous steps for requesting goods and services. On the supporting end, processing a request requires an individual to task goods/services to a subordinate, who will likely push it further down the chain. This means that processing and managing large number of requests is complicated and burdensome on both the originator and the supporting sections. Instead of completing the mammoth quantity of steps for supporting a large amount of requests in CLC2S, emailed Excel LSRs have become the norm for communicating logistical support requirements at SOI(W), demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the CLC2S system. Other similar commands faced the same challenges.
SOI(W) used Excel compilation of projected LSRs per battalion as their logistics-planning tool to support the 39 POIs. The LSRs were compiled and emailed between various sections daily, creating version control issues and single points of failure. There was also redundant information on other requests because transportation movement requests (TMRs) were submitted via the Transportation Capacity Planning Tool (TCPT). However, the TMR information would also be on the LSR to provide a complete picture of support for the requested event. The visibility of the emailed LSRs and the communication of changing support statuses caused additional staff hours for the support sections because they had to provide support statuses via phone and/or response emails.
The S-4 Team determined they needed to improve customer service by changing the LSR process. This allowed them to provide supported units with the timely flow of relevant information needed for all aspects of planning, decision, execution, and assessment (PDE&A) cycles (2). Applying the principles of continuous process improvement (CPI) and Lean Six Sigma (LSS), the logistics team developed a SharePoint Custom List application converting the Excel LSR to an online LSR. The online LSR was similar to an airport arrival and departure status board, providing real-time visibility of status of requests. It was also scalable and expanded to include support requests for communication equipment.
The new system enabled support sections to synchronize with the training battalions two weeks in advance, while other commodities could plan up to 2-3 months in advance. Each commodity saw increased responsiveness and productivity in preparation of services and support. The online LSR also produced quality control checks per request (e.g., ammo amount per student per the POI lesson identification). These reductions increased productivity and saved the command a daily average of two to three staff-hours per commodity. Because of the success at SOI(W), in the fall of 2016, SOI(E) also implemented an online LSR. Other units, such as 7th Engineer Support Battalion also employ a SharePoint customized application. SOI(E), just like SOI(W), saw a measurable increase in productivity and quality of support due to the increased visibility of support statuses, reduced customer service hours, and visualization of school wide requests.
Online Run Roster
The Motor Transport (MT) run roster was another area of focus for the S-4 team. Previously, MT Operations published an Excel run roster via email, which was in turn manipulated by company vehicle coordinators and platoon sergeants, and then provided to the duty dispatcher. A run roster is must as not all Combat Instructors or other staff have access to TCPT to view statuses of run requests and upcoming lift support. Because of timelines and scheduling requirements, TMRs were not flexible, limited last minute changes, and required burdensome communication between support sections. In January 2017, through another CPI/LSS information management innovation, the Excel run roster converted to an online Run Roster via a SharePoint custom list application. The application enabled multiple key MT Marines to work collaboratively on the online run roster, and was viewable in real-time by all Marines at SOI(W). The system reduced customer service requirements and streamlined operating procedures.
Information Management for Logistics Teams
In addition to systems that streamline request and coordination processes, it is imperative that every member of the staff monitors the internal and external flow of information to efficiently deal with changing requirements (3). This can only occur if all members of logistics teams have the tools, access, and training necessary for sharing information. While the S-4 section at SOI(W) utilized SharePoint to overcome gaps in CLC2S so that processes and information supported the required Marines, unfortunately, most logistics sections do not capture the full capabilities of available systems, like SharePoint.
When Microsoft SharePoint first became available to the Marine Corps, several Gazette articles detailed the information sharing capabilities by noting by saying that “it allows a relative novice to browse as well as post information of relevance for the commander and staff. (Near-real time data is shared with everyone)”, and that “version control of the shared document is part of the solution, so you have access to every revision of the document" (4,5). While the Gazette articles were published about ten years ago, there are still senior staff members who do not know how (or choose not) to use SharePoint as a single point for collaborative use (6). For example, there is a highly underused version control feature for working documents. This lack of use is due to training and management issues.
Every staff section should have someone designated as an information management officer (IMO) whose duties are to manage the unit’s SharePoint site and grant permissions, but IMOs tend to be underused or their capabilities not fully understood (7). “Reducing the importance of the IMO to little more than a SharePoint administrator is an enormous professional faux pas [that] can lead to sections reverting to stove piping information and slowing down the decision cycle that [commanders] rely upon to succeed in [their] mission" (8). Part of a logistics team role is marketing how the team processes and shares information. The IMO could become responsible for support and education, increasing a staff’s capability for the flow of information.
Not For Everyone
Not all logisticians willrequire the LSR management tool provided through SharePoint. CLC2S, Excel LSRs, or email are effective and will do the job, but only on a small scale.
This reveals two issues. First, the Marine Corps pays for the ML2S catalog, but systems like CLC2S are inflexible and do not meet the requirements of the operating forces. Operating units cannot use the systems that the Marine Corps is paying for and instead innovatively design alternate systems to accomplish their mission. The second issue is that SharePoint is an information tool that can be used for a variety of problem sets, but logisticians are not capitalizing on this available system. Effective SharePoint use requires knowledge and training as part of curriculums at Formal Learning Centers, and the appointment and use of IMOs. The Marine Corps requires global logistics awareness, and SharePoint and IMOs can help mature logisticians’ use of available technology and infrastructure. Ultimately, the Marine Corps should design and pay for systems that can actually be of use by the operating forces, and should capitalize on available systems that enable information sharing.
SOI(W)’s logistics team, through a combination of CPI/LSS and improved information management methodologies, understood the added value of SharePoint applications. They leveraged the tool to improve support for units and decrease S-4 staff management requirements. SOI(W)’s use of SharePoint also illustrates the limitation of CLC2S and highlights the need for information system training. In this age of technology, it is necessary to process quality information faster and with shared visibility.
Capt Cano served as School of Infantry – West’s S-4 Officer from 2015 to 2018. He currently serves as Operations Officer for Exercise Support Division.
(1) Captain Andrew Schaffer and Captain Nick Borns, “Logistics Command and Control,” Marine Corps Gazette, October 2015.
(2) MSTP Pamphlet 6-0.2 guide to MAGTF Information Systems.
(3) MCWP 3-40.2
(4) LtCol Richard E. Leinno and Maj Michael R. Krohmer, “MAGTF C2 for the Logistics Commander,” Marine Corps Gazette, October 2008
(5) LtCol Terry L. McCoy, “Knowledge Management,” Marine Corps Gazette, February 2007.
(6) Asif Rehimani, “How Executives Can Lead the Way in SharePoint and Office 365 Adoption Efforts,” CMS Wire
(7) MCWP 3-40.2
(8) Maj Randall J. Simmons, “How Does One Manage ‘Information’?” Marine Corps Gazette, December 2012.