The devastating pandemic and its consequential lockdown have undeniably catalysed digital progress and cross-industry transformation, forcing all of us to look, forecast and plan ahead in ways that were perhaps inconceivable prior to March 2020.
In the UK defence sector, things are no different. The last 18 months have unearthed unprecedented changes and challenges to Defence Digital, the organisation responsible for making sure that effective digital and information technology is put into the hands of the military and business front line, and thrown a spotlight on digital capabilities, possibilities and fragilities right across the armed forces and wider Ministry of Defence (MOD). Similarly to almost every organisation, they too are examining the readiness and effectiveness of their digital capabilities against a post-pandemic world. A world in which digital technologies, cyber defences and technological innovation will be even more crucial.
If industry and defence are to successfully operate in the post-pandemic world, then collaboration between the two is essential. This seems obvious, but it’s far from the traditional view and some within both the commercial defence industry and MOD have had to come to terms with the fact that individual goals are almost always short-lived, and only when we share objectives can we achieve consistent and meaningful success. Just read about how Capita and the British Army reinvented the Recruitment Partnership Project to exemplify this. Open lines of communication, shared learning of best practices and latest thinking, and genuine focus on shared goals are crucial.
Key themes from the Integrated Review and subsequent Command Paper include the concept of integrated operating between the military and industry, aligned with the need for integration across the five military domains, ie Multi Domain Integration. This new attitude to openness relates not only to the rest of Government, but to industry, international allies and Government partners.
Undoubtedly, Defence Digital (and all digital elements in wider MOD) must also have a constant focus on its digital adversaries. Indeed, for the UK’s defence sector to remain relevant, fit-for-purpose and one that carries global weight, persistent engagement must remain with not only allies, but with enemies. Awareness of, and learning from, both will remain vital.
Those who have read the Integrated Review and Command Paper will have noticed a huge focus on all things digital within both documents. Quite literally, the word ’digital’ is mentioned more than any other key word in the Command Paper, and the team at Defence Digital certainly succeeded in stressing its significance in the current and future worlds of defence, peacekeeping and warfare.
In late May, the Government also published its Digital Strategy for 2021-2024, which clearly sets out the Government’s digital ambition and strategic direction. At a recent Capita Defence event, Major General Tom Copinger-Symes stated that, despite enemies being able to get a sense of the UK’s wider digital narrative, no strategic advantage could be garnered from the document. However, and of much more significance to UK defence, the strategy’s public release ensures that global partners and allies clearly understand what the UK’s defence sector aims to achieve over the coming years.
The Strategy articulates Defence Digital’s vision in three key elements, namely the need to collect and use data appropriately to harness strategic advantage, further transform digital capabilities to enable military and business advantage, and to deliver this across all of defence both securely and at pace.
It’s vital we realise collectively that there can be no data separation between the business and battle spaces, and data that the MOD holds in fixed base systems should be available at the sharp end. Likewise, intelligence data that is attained, even via covert sources or satellites, should be available in (appropriately accredited) corporate space. Quite simply, our collective efforts and ingenuity cannot succeed while unnecessary gaps exist between business and military data exploitation.
This is of course a highly unconventional approach that shocks many. But there is also a growing realisation that the business sector is highly data-experienced, and is in a unique position to help the armed forces access the technology and talent that it will require to remain relevant in the 21st Century. This culture of one unified team is a key component of the true transformative change that defence needs to undertake.
Moreover, and similarly across all sectors, defence needs to transform and update its internal technology and digital skills. It is accepted that the MOD can only achieve its desired outcomes by exploiting critical data at scale and pace. To achieve that it will leverage its own digital and cyber experts, upskill its own people and access the best talent available – not just within Defence Digital, but across a horizontally unified MOD.
In comparing the MOD to the rest of Whitehall, it’s often said it is 20% similar and 80% different. We believe that the MOD would benefit from flipping that ratio, sharing 80% of the resources and expertise with other departments. For the 20% that it is different, however, the MOD should be considered absolutely unique and incomparable. With an employee makeup comprising roughly a third each from military, wider government, and industry, we believe the Defence Digital team is perfectly blended to achieve its much needed transformation and deliver the key objectives set out in recent papers, for the continued safety and security of us all.