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Eye on Innovation: Data Analytics Community of Action Helps America’s Shipyard Expand its Horizons

By Kristi Britt, Public Affairs Specialist | Aug. 11, 2020

NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —

Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) has been around for a very long time – almost 253 years. Across its long history, the shipyard molded to its mission – whether it be building ships or fulfilling its duty with maintaining and servicing the fleet. It had to adapt to available technology, personnel strengths, and the Navy's needs. Today, America's Shipyard has a team of people whose mission is to help lead transformational change by using data to determine the right course our shipyard would go - The Data Analytics Community of Action (CoA), part of  the NNSY Technology and Innovation (T&I) Community of Practice (CoP).

“We’re a team whose purpose is to help the shipyard think differently from the practices of old and using data to determine a more efficient, safer, and all-around better way of doing business,” said Code 105.4 Health Physicist William Young.

“With data collection and analysis, we can use those numbers to determine what the best approach is with each job we do at NNSY,” said Code 105.4 Health Physicist Jeremy Gerdes. “We have to understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Young added, “For example, years ago electric motors were first created, and a lot of companies put them in their factories. However, many didn’t see a lot of difference in their productivity. It wasn’t until years later when they decided to adjust the layout of their factories to place these machines to best interact with the workers that the factories saw massive productivity increases. They needed to take a step back, determine what they hoped to accomplish, gather data, and then implement the data to truly make a difference. That is what data analytics is all about.” 

Data analytics is the process of analyzing raw data to find trends and answer questions, leading those to determine the best course of action with the information obtained. It can be broken down into data engineering and data science.

“Data engineering is building out and structuring the data you’ve collected, making it reliable and accessible. For example, using databases and libraries to collect and automate your data collection is considered data engineering,” said Young. “Data science is taking that data and using it to make decisions. When you buy a house, you use data to determine the price of the home in question. When you buy a car, you use data to determine what car would work best for your needs and what price you need to pay. Almost everything in life can be determined when using data.”

Gerdes and Young work side-by-side in data analytics – Gerdes using engineering to develop or utilize existing databases to best benefit the needs of the shipyard while Young approaches the scientific side to determine how to use that data to implement change.

“Jeremy has been a key part in working to automate our data collecting, making it a quicker and more efficient process altogether,” said Young. “My focus has been helping NNSY make better and faster decisions across the board. When we gather this data, it’s my goal to best determine how we change that data into correct decisions that would best affect the workforce and the mission at large.”

One of their biggest projects in the last few months has been working on collecting data related to the coronavirus, or COVID-19. “We help track cases within the community and those within our shipyard family,” said Gerdes. “In an ever-changing environment within the pandemic, it’s important to gather as much accurate data as quickly as possible and have it accessible to others. We’re working to ensure everyone has the data needed to make decisions for the shipyard as whole.”

When asked what it means to be a CoA, Gerdes shared that the data analytics team spans much farther than just within their group.  They are a part of shipyard-wide initiative working to make positive change at America’s Shipyard. “When we were asked to develop a team in the T&I CoP, we knew we wouldn’t fall into specific fields like the metrology team or the additive manufacturing team. We were a group whose sole purpose was to expand to these different communities and help them determine how best to succeed.”

Young added, “Data analytics is a discipline without walls – it helps broaden our lenses and gives us a clear vision of what we need. It doesn’t matter what organization we work with, the processes remain relatively consistent. Within a month of establishing ourselves as a team, we already had a lot of involvement with all the major codes at the shipyard. Everyone’s got their own unique issues they need help with solving – and it’s that drive by the needs of others that we are able to do what we do every single day. We’re able to provide them the tools and data they need to make a positive impact in their day-to-day operations.”

He continued, "I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically thank the entire staff in the T&I lab for their unwavering support, leadership, challenges and encouragement in this initiative.  The T&I staff have been a foundational key to the development, clarity of vision and success of the Data Analytics CoA."

So what’s next for the Data Analytics CoA? Gerdes and Young are excited for what’s to come.

“We’re looking into how we can bring up our data literacy rate and build concepts across the board in our organization,” said Young.

Gerdes added, “Concepts are what can be done and what’s available to us – what we can do at the shipyard. Things that seemed like science fiction in the '50s are reality now due to building off of concepts. For example, Star Trek had a lot of technology that was science fiction for its time. However, the concepts seen inspired others and drove them to want to build that technology and make it a reality – like automatic door openers and cell phones. I’m very excited to see what we as a shipyard are able to do with data analytics at our side.”