The Vietnam War: Unstructured data reporting and counterinsurgency

After reading No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War I could not help but think about the consequences failed data reporting by MACV can serve a historical lesson for re-implementing or adjusting campus data reporting systems.

data reporting during Vietnam War
Data report tickets used by MACV in the early stages of The Vietnam War

Key stakeholders on campus should easily state their reasons for data collection and reporting. No Sure Victory benefits campus units by revealing an early, dare I say Big Data approach to unstructured data reporting and delivering actionable data.

Today we immediately understand Google’s Compute Engine or an Amazon Elastic MapReduce cloud for this demand.

Universities can thrive with diverse reporting teams. Working with Institutional Research and striving to improve enrollment and retention efforts are key goals. Yet important roles are filled with student workers. Here unstructured data often fragments over mismanagement. Many ad hoc Microsoft Excel documents are created without data governance and become silo’d from the campus data warehouse. Key stakeholders on any campus including CIOs, IR Directors, Research staff, Program Directors, campus data reporter writers and student workers. Even seasoned campus data report writers are not leveraged to streamline actionable data insights.

No Sure Victory brings to light a tragic failed data reporting implementation by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in addressing a war in Vietnam. The was his reputation as one of The Wiz Kids, the World War II Statistical Control unit that analyzed operational and logistical data to manage war.

Yet Vietnam was a different war. Data collection managed by MACV found early opposition in both senior leadership and field officers who were never instructed how to collect data in the field in order to gain actionable insights from Saigon. Military leaders from World War II and Korea now directing MACV efforts in Vietnam were unable to recognize a war of counterinsurgency nor change data gathering efforts that occurred during the length of the war. Rather the overall implementation focused on ground warfare strategy from World War II. From Harkings and Westmoreland to Abrams MACV reporting basically stayed in the same without KPIs ever being established.

No Sure Victory reveals turnover was an important issue that reduced MACV’s ability for data flowing consistently into the battlefield as one year rotations turned necessary data governance into a constant rebooting exercise. Kinda describes campus reporting efforts at times. Many times new student staff inherit data reporting roles without fully understanding long term goals or KPIs.

Lessons from MACV can ring loudly today across many campus environments as large data warehousing solutions are now coming under review. Its easy to measure very cost effective cloud solutions from Amazon or Google.

What say you?