Digital Transformation is the first line of Defence

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In today’s digital age, governments, businesses and citizens are all seeking to create new opportunities and efficiencies through the use of digital technologies. For defence agencies, the secure, fluid and timely flow of data and intelligence is the life-blood of modern military activity.

Those that fail to invest in new technologies will be at a disadvantage, and at increased risk from enemies (traditional and emerging) who have access to advanced and affordable commercial technologies. Maintaining an operational advantage and ensuring national security requires not only the optimisation of existing capabilities, but an evolution in how they approach and deliver new technology programmes across their organisations. 

‘Traditional’ IT programmes don’t cut it today 

While every government-led IT-development programme has unique aims, most share similar challenges. Unfortunately, these challenges often arise simultaneously, creating a range of complex problems, from significant delays to increased project costs. Below are some of the obstacles facing government-led transformation programmes: 

•    ‘Waterfall’ I.T. development frameworks: In ‘waterfall’, the development process is sequential and non-iterative. As a result, it can be very difficult for organisations to adapt to changing conditions with sufficient speed. When you consider long military procurement processes, by the time it takes to select and deploy a solution, the operational and technology requirements of the organisation may have changed. 

•    Lack of interoperability and alignment between projects: To improve efficiency and information-flow, defence agencies must take steps to remove organisational silos. Unfortunately, most programmes on the IT development–level occur without cross-team engagement. As a result, teams fail to identify common goals and cross-project dependencies.  

•    Skills management: To take advantage of rapidly evolving technologies, public service organisations require specific, highly sought after skillsets. Typically, these skills are not available in-house, and it is necessary to contract with external vendors.  


•    A vision of success: In the absence of a clearly defined strategy, technology programs often move forward without proper stakeholder or vendor engagement. When problems arise in such environments, different departments may choose to implement solutions that align with their specific objectives, without considering what success looks like for the entire organisation. This type of behaviour can result in different and often conflicting technology and operating models being utilised across the organisation. 

•    Challenging organisational mind-set: Many government organisations shy away from developing new operating models in favour of maintaining the status quo. While resistance to change is common, most defence organisations spend all their time and funding on technological rather than cultural transformation. When embarking on a transformation programme, the sponsorship, commitment and support of both leadership and employees is critical to success.  

•    People and process changes: Technology, while a key enabler of transformation, is not a silver bullet. In an environment where cost-issues dominate, the human aspect is often overlooked. Transformation projects can only succeed if new processes are put in place to support these changes and if project leaders can secure employee participation.   

•    Lack of prioritisation of data security: For some organisations, security is viewed as a niche technological feature that needs occasional attention or fixing but can otherwise be ignored. Unfortunately, without a proactive, comprehensive approach to data security, organisations are at greater risk. Security must be embedded in the organisation’s strategy, structure, processes and HR management.   

SEE ALSO: 6 ways cloud computing can help create the defence agency of the future

Steps to Success 

Undertake agile software development 

Most organisations lack the financial resources and necessary skill-sets to deliver technology programs. To overcome these challenges, they should look to the private sector and other partners for support, leveraging their products, knowledge capital, technology investments and ideas in an efficient and cost-effective way. One quick way is to demo different technology solutions in a dedicated test environment or a secure vendor facility. If the technology proves beneficial, it can be localised and scaled into the operational environment by leveraging an agile development approach.  

This method allows organisations to launch new solutions quickly and to target priority areas. Likewise, a short development cycle provides organisations with timely feedback, allowing them to adapt quickly to changing operating conditions and circumstances. An end-user focused approach will increase transparency and drive efficiencies, ultimately leading to a higher quality product.  

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has in recent years embarked on an IT modernisation programme, as has the UK Ministry of Defence through its defence information strategy (DIS) strategy. Both organisations emphasise the importance of agile software development to enable secure, efficient and effective IT.  

Increase Process Automation 

The IT landscapes of large organisations are usually extremely complex, hosting solutions, which are in different stages of their life-cycle and have been implemented using different technologies, standards and data models. This leads to decreased interoperability and an inability to effectively use data. Organisations must increase levels of process automation, to reduce the likelihood of human error during routine transactions and to ensure the availability of high quality data to enable accurate reporting and enhanced decision making. Furthermore, automation will make it easier to establish common practices across an organisation and to keep user activities transparent, measurable and responsive to changing operating needs.  


Source Digital Skills 

Without the right digital talent, no transformation project can succeed. Even if an organisation is meeting its current skill needs, it must also understand and plan for the future. Research can help uncover what skills are currently available, what skills will be needed in the future, and how an organisation can retain talent. The US Air Force Digital Service (AFDS) is already taking steps to meet its skills needs by recruiting engineers from the private sector for short-term stints working for the service. 

Ensure Security 

Whether pursuing data security outcomes—taking advantage of cybersecurity awareness or training of military personnel—or collaborating with other countries, defence organisations must continue to work in a secure way as the digital world evolves. Data integrity, quality and accuracy is vital for situational awareness. Defence organisations need to carefully assess how they can secure not only the identity but also the access of a warfighter in a digital environment, whether from headquarters or the field. Comprehensive, end-to-end security requires insight into an organisation’s current security capabilities and an understanding of which operational processes and IT capabilities are most critical. This information will help determine which areas require additional support and help prioritise impactful and quick security wins. 

Ensure Effective Procurement 

In order to keep pace with their peers both here and abroad, defence organisations must accelerate the procurement process for technology solutions. Furthermore, they should increase the number and depth of partnerships entered into with private sector and industry peers. An estimated 22 percent of equipment procurement in Europe is collaborative across agencies, but the European Commission has plans to make European defence spending more effective.  

It is said that some of today’s most innovative ideas are generated by start-up companies and small enterprises that have successfully integrated their development programmes into budgetary planning. Government organisations should seek to emulate this approach and apply new-thinking to partnerships and procurements. 

Plan for Success

Planning, at its best, can help redefine what’s possible and uncover hidden truths about how an organisation operates and achieves its mission. Like IT development, effective planning cannot take place in a siloed environment and must involve multiple stakeholders and secure cross-organisational support. Change of any kind within an organisation can be difficult and stir up emotions among employees, but we should never make the mistake of thinking that change is not already here.  

In times of doubt, defence agencies would do well to remember a quote from General Eric Shinseki, 34th Chief of Staff of the US Army (1999–2003), commenting on change driven by the increasingly digital and data-centric world we live in: 

“If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.” 

Valtteri Vuorisalo is an Industry Innovation Senior Principal within Accenture Defence Services. Valtteri completed his PhD in the development of future military capability and has published internationally on security and technology related topics.