Since its inception, the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3) has had to overcome several obstacles on its way to becoming the logistics component of the Army Battle Command System (ABCS). Despite the millions of dollars spent on research and development, fielding, training, service, and support for BCS3, most units still use it only on a limited basis. Recent updates to BCS3 software can help curb negative attitudes toward the system and go a long way toward increasing its use across the logistics community.
Issues Causing Low BCS3 Use
Although BCS3 offers tremendous capability for logisticians at all levels of war, including in the joint environment, numerous issues have caused its low usage by units in the field. Part of the problem is that BCS3 was a product of the Joint Deployment Logistics Model. Incorporating BCS3 with “live” data created data integrity issues because information from numerous sources was stored in two separate unsynchronized databases.
Before the recent updates, the look and feel of BCS3 software was quite possibly the biggest issue causing low usage of the system. The user interface was not intuitive or user friendly and had cluttered menus. The biggest drawback was that BCS3 did most tasks in a non-Windows environment. Even the simplest tasks, such as creating basic filters, were complicated in BCS3. The use of nonstandard terms in place of standard Army terminology created confusion. Starting BCS3 was a lengthy and slow process, and it took several minutes to transition through various screens.
Because the BCS3 software was not user friendly, its use required extensive training on a skill that would soon become obsolete. Initially, the Army fielded BCS3 to units just before they deployed, which precluded adequate training opportunities. Today, BCS3 fielding and new equipment training occur early in the predeployment process, potentially causing the opposite dilemma. If Soldiers are trained too early, their BCS3 skills could atrophy before they have the opportunity to use them at a capstone training exercise.
Operators and managers must continue to be exposed to BCS3 to avoid skill erosion. The many predeployment tasks for midgrade officers and senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) compete with their availability to attend BCS3 training.
Another problem in BCS3's development is the battle command policy of “software blocking” for ABCS. Software blocking is the process of delivering updated versions of all of the different ABCS software simultaneously to ensure compatibility, limit the amount of ABCS software testing, and most importantly, decrease turbulence to users in the field.
Although these are all valid reasons for the use of software blocking, the policy creates a major shortfall by dramatically delaying updates to the field. If the software for most of the subsystems is ready for an update, waiting for the remaining subsystems to reach maturity causes a delay. Delays continue until all of the subsystem software passes compatibility testing. Consequently, major software updates normally take years to field.
The basis of issue plan determines the number of BCS3 systems authorized for the different types of units. The authorized quantity on the modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE) comes from the basis of issue plan. Many factors, such as unit type, echelon, and duty position, determine the number of authorized BCS3 systems. The BCS3 basis of issue plan disproportionately authorizes more BCS3 systems at the operational level than the tactical level. A more even distribution of the systems would benefit overall BCS3 effectiveness.
Logistics Reporting Tool
The most recent version of the BCS3 software offers a logistics reporting tool (LRT), which provides an automated means of reporting logistics status (LOGSTAT). As a single point of data entry application, LRT provides “bottom up” reporting for all classes of supply. Key commodities without a tactical Standard Army Management Information System (STAMIS), such as class I (subsistence), class III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants), and water, benefit the most from the LRT capability. Designed in a spreadsheet format, LRT is very user friendly and therefore requires minimal user training. Managers of commodities without a dedicated tactical STAMIS will find LRT particularly useful.
Historically, units have managed commodities such as fuel and water by emailing multiple Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Normally, a higher headquarters creates the spreadsheets and pushes them down to subordinate units. Lower-level activities submit appropriate spreadsheets to their next higher command.
Typically, quality checks at each level result in units volleying spreadsheets until they are correct. Likewise, each command level consolidates data from like activities and forwards them to the next higher command, and so forth. Because of the numerous manual data entries at every level and the long trail of email traffic, this process is inefficient, lengthy, and prone to human error.
As a single source of data entry, LRT is efficient, fast, and accurate. For example, a supply point clerk submits a report and the information is immediately available for all LRT account holders. LRT eliminates manual spreadsheets and the associated errors, reduces email traffic, and most importantly, provides logistics planners and commanders at all levels accurate real-time commodity information.
An additional benefit of LRT is that it is stand-alone software. LRT software is loaded on all of the BCS3 MTOE systems and is also easily downloaded to any computer. Since most supply points and supply support activities do not have BCS3 systems readily available to them, the ability to download LRT to any computer gives them a simple, quick, and automated application to report LOGSTAT data.
In addition to having the stand-alone capability of LRT, many BCS3 capabilities are Internet accessible via the BCS3 local access portal (LAP). Commanders, support operations officers (SPOs), commodity managers, and S–4s can access all LOGSTAT and STAMIS reports quickly and conveniently. Including LRT and LAP can easily increase the amount of personnel in a unit exposed to data in BCS3.
Ways to Increase the Use of BCS3
Despite improvements, the current version of BCS3 still only receives limited use in the field. In fact, most units employ only a small portion of their MTOE-authorized BCS3 systems. The most important factors to increase BCS3 use are support by senior leaders and increased training for mid-level managers.
In the field, a commander has the discretion to use or not to use any of the numerous tools available. No matter how much the Army invests in a system, many senior leaders do not mandate the use of specific systems such as BCS3. Although a commander should have this prerogative, not encouraging the use of a system influences the users' perceptions of it. If the commander does not support BCS3, it is not likely to be used by the staff. If a higher command does not use or enforce the use of BCS3, the subordinate units do not even consider using it.
On the other hand, if a commander encourages or mandates the use of BCS3, the staff will, at the very minimum, attempt to learn and use the system. Commanders, field-grade officers, and senior NCOs must participate in BCS3 implementation plans to foster its integration into the unit and ensure that the system meets its full potential.
To increase the effectiveness of BCS3, one major change to the current training format is needed: training should familiarize students with BCS3 and focus on system management rather than only operator training. This approach would have significant effects. Officers and senior NCOs could concentrate on analyzing and managing information instead of creating or harvesting data. This training could be incorporated into the SPO course, or a course could be developed by the Army Logistics University as a complement to the SPO course.
BCS3 has improved and continues to improve its capabilities and its ease of use for logisticians. System changes that consolidated BCS3 into one database have nearly eliminated data integrity issues. Updates to the software to increase the ease of use have begun, and additional improvements are on the horizon. Commanders, senior staff officers, and operators must approach BCS3 with an open mind and experience firsthand the power that BCS3 brings to logistics mission control, reporting, and situational awareness.