Like all organisations, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is constantly being faced with unexpected challenges. With Capita, we are meeting these challenges head on.

True to its tradition of courage and grit, our defence sector has shown determination and agility under fire. And as Lieutenant General Tom Copinger-Symes, Deputy Commander of UK Strategic Command explains, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is seizing the opportunities created by various crises - most recently the Covid-19 pandemic - to move forward with digital transformation, making our forces safer, more efficient and more effective.

The first thing that becomes apparent is how much has already changed at the MOD in a relatively short time. The demand for digitisation of services and remote work — overcoming challenges ‘of time and space,’ as Tom put it — has been urgent and constant following the pandemic, overturning any objections to distributed teams and the virtualisation of services. There has also, as Tom explains, been a ‘re-learning’ of the importance of knowing your people, and of cultivating diversity and resilience. In challenging times you need to be able to trust your team and have people in place who can be agile enough to solve new problems.

Take the example of the challenge of remote working: the MOD responded to the practicality of the issue by rolling out tens of thousands of laptops, but even more importantly there’s been a culture shift. Previously desktops dominated the workplace and the MOD was wary of laptops going home with people, but now the IT team has accepted this new, more ‘intimate’ relationship between hardware and human, in a work environment that is not as controlled as the office.

As Tom points out, in a sense the military had a head start on solving the remote working problem, because there have always been military and non-military personnel deployed in foreign territories, far from headquarters, some working under very difficult and uncertain conditions and with the need for high levels of security.

The challenge now is to transform the experience of the people serving in these distributed workplaces, whether their place of work is a ship or a plane or a tank or a trench or a headquarters in a remote part of the world. With a re-doubled focus on building data-driven capabilities, we can enrich and empower all these service men and women to be far more productive, far more efficient, far more accurate and far speedier.

A constant, growing digital challenge for the MOD is cyber security. In the military, every serving individual has always been trained in self-defence. But now, as Tom points out, the stakes are far higher when an individual comes under cyber-attack: “Every single soldier, sailor, airman, civil servant needs to understand how to protect themselves online… but also to understand what threats are out there and make sure that they don’t become the point of weakness that allows the whole organisation to get attacked.”

Education is our most important weapon against this threat. We need to get the message across to team members who might not realise the damage someone can do if they access your system through a phishing email or whatever technique they are using. Once you’re inside someone’s network you can access the same data and you can do the same damage as if you went through the most sophisticated cyber engineer’s machine.

Beyond the direct need for security against cyber-attack, new secure ways to collaborate digitally are needed in this era of distributed, multi-disciplinary teams. This is a challenge when working on highly classified projects. The MOD deserves access to the biggest talent pool possible, which includes some people who are the best engineers in the business but just don’t happen to have the security clearance.

The solution is to split a programme into different aspects of development so that you can give enough information to engineers to build something, without revealing the classified purpose or details of the whole project. That’s very difficult to get right but that’s the way that we work on a regular basis. The more we can improve online collaboration and cross-domain collaboration, the more innovation we’ll see, at a faster pace, especially in high-value applications that have a direct bearing on the safety and effectiveness of our forces on the battleground.

Our consulting experts, who may not have worked directly on defence or strategic government projects before, have been energised and excited by the challenge of these ‘nutty problems’, as Tom calls them. For many of our extremely talented and highly skilled experts, it’s been a career highlight, and we’re proud to have developed methods and technology that allow these multidisciplinary teams to support the MOD and work with their specialists to make our forces safer and more effective.

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