Data-Driven Defense

Author: Ryan Millbern

Every other week, John Gorla flies from Washington, D.C., to attend MSBA program courses at Notre Dame’s Chicago campus on Michigan Avenue. But at this point in his life, flying has become second nature.

Gorla has spent most of his career around airplanes. After graduating from Notre Dame in 1987 with a degree in aerospace engineering, Gorla entered the Air Force, where he worked in aircraft maintenance and logistics. In 2008, after 20 years of service, John retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. 

Gorla John

A year later, he began working for the Department of Defense as a civilian on the F-35 Lightning II Program. With per-plane costs ranging from $94 to $123 million, the F-35 Lightning II Program is the most expensive military weapons systems in history—and one of the most complex.

As a lifelong student—he earned his first master’s in 1997 from the Air Force Institute of Technology—Gorla felt compelled to learn as much as he could about analytics to best serve the needs of the F-35 program.

“The F-35 is a very data-centric weapon systems platform that includes a lot of operational and logistics data,” Gorla notes. “The opportunity is tremendous there for using that data to drive down lifecycle cost of ownership, as well as preventing support problems.”

So Gorla returned for his second tour of duty at Notre Dame—and it’s already paying dividends.

Knowledge that benefits an entire team—and the safety of the nation

According to Gorla, the F-35 program is in the early stages of building its data management platform. Once established, they will move their data into a data enterprise warehouse, where they can begin to perform analytics—a charge that Gorla is excited to lead.

“My leadership sees my time away in the MSBA program as an investment I’m bringing back to the office,” Gorla says. “Being able to educate my co-workers on some of the concepts and foundations of why we need an enterprise data system and how to leverage that for everyone’s benefit has been extremely helpful.”

Gorla credits his professors with delivering course content in a way that speaks to working professionals and accelerates the application of classroom concepts to the real world. “Our professors bring a lot of practical and real-world experience to the classroom,” he notes. “They share examples from the research and consulting they’ve done and it enables us to see how everything fits into the big picture.”

Notre Dame: Even better the second time around

Even though he’s part of an accelerated master’s program, it hasn’t been all work and no play for Gorla.

It’s been 30 years since Gorla was last a student at Notre Dame, but he finds his experience as a Double Domer to be just as rewarding—academically and socially. “I feel less overwhelmed academically this time, so I think I’m able to enjoy and relax with my classmates more than I did as an undergraduate.”

In addition to socializing informally after Saturday class sessions in Chicago, Gorla and some of the members of his cohort have plans to celebrate their final class in December with a trip to South Bend. “The last weekend we’re in Chicago, we plan to get a bus or a limo and head down to South Bend for the Notre Dame and Florida State football game,” Gorla says. “Even though it’s been a different experience this time around, it definitely still feels like the Notre Dame family.”