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NEWS | May 19, 2022

335th Signal Command launches LIGHTNINGWERX Innovation Cell

By Capt. Fernando Ochoa 505th Signal Brigade

Col. Eric Rahman, 505th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade commander, is helping the 335th Signal Command (Theater) drive modernization by creating an innovation cell within the brigade dubbed “LIGHTNINGWERX,” which is designed for its’ own Soldiers to drive readiness through innovation. Much of what will be focused on centers around the ability to parse through and bridge data, creating sustainable solutions to decades old workflow problems.

The intent of LIGHTNINGWERX is to help the commanders within the 335th SC (T) footprint use data science and cloud technologies, along with AI/ML, drive modernization that makes a more ready force. When Soldiers, conducting their Army duties, feel productive rather than feeling like they are stuck fighting against Army tools and processes, they become empowered to change the status quo.

One of the first tasks that were challenged was the Inactive Duty Travel and the Lodging in Kind request processes because these processes are largely manual, labor intensive and move slowly. The LIGHTNINGWERX team analyzed the data and made several impactful recommendations that will save the 335th SC (T) more than 750 thousand dollars this fiscal year alone in cost avoidance.

“We wanted to go after the biggest ankle biters that take valuable time from commanders, and implement quick, low code solutions that Soldiers will appreciate. When we came up with the idea, we knew that Capt. Peter McKee would be the right person to lead the project,” said Rahman. “He brings a wealth of civilian skills from Silicon Valley, where he previously worked on Uber’s self-driving program. His talent is unmatched in this area of expertise, and he is one of the few leaders that I can give strategic intent to and can understand the issue and get right to a secure technical solution that meets that intent.”

By overlaying LIK request data with homes of record and other datasets, the team realized that 174 Soldiers in the grades of E1-E6 and O1-O2 could transfer within the brigade, obfuscating the need for IDT-TRP and LIK funding, while likely also reducing risk of misconduct and abuse. This one move would save the brigade 630 thousand dollars in annual IDT-TRP and 126 thousand in LIK funding. The potential moves would also put Soldiers, on average, 197 miles closer to their unit. The data also informed commanders of possible force modernization efforts by locating units closer to the Soldiers.

Another task the team honed in on was Rescheduled Training or “RST” requests. Early on, Rahman issued policy that moved RST approvals down to first line leaders that know their Soldiers best, but the process was still largely unmanaged. The team built a simple web-based workflow that leaders can use to track these approvals, training plans, and better manage the force.

McKee and Rahman met when they were colleagues and Cyber Officers in the U.S. Army Reserve’s Silicon Valley Cyber Battalion (49er Battalion). “I knew right away that he was a special talent,” said Rahman.

During this transition, LIGHTNINGWERX is focused on gamification to drive bottom-up readiness where Soldiers are empowered verses top-down processes that force leaders to chase after readiness.

“The key to making this project work is rapidly identifying areas that we can have an impact on and then fielding the right tool for the job,” said McKee. “Leadership support throughout the command is crucial as well. If you want to change a process that the unit has been using forever, we need leaders who see the value.”

McKee, along with and 1st Lt. Kevin Zhang, project team member, were plank holders in the unit and the first to start down this road. While the team is small, it has grown to six members and is still scouting talent. The team has partnered with the Army Software Factory and is looking to continually grow relationships that help the team. The hope is that these solutions can be a force multiplier that are adopted by the U.S. Army Reserve as a whole, and potentially even by our National Guard colleagues.