Mark Goldsack on the growing and evolving role of UK Defence and Security Exports

UK Defence and Security Exports last spoke to CSW in March 2020. One rebrand and one global pandemic later, Jess Bowie catches up with UKDSE director Mark Goldsack
Source: Dods

By Jess Bowie

05 Apr 2022

CSW: We last spoke to you two years ago. What are some of the major things that have changed for your organisation since then? What was the thinking behind the rebrand from Department for International Trade Defence & Security Organisation to UKDSE?

Mark Goldsack: It’s fair to say that a lot has changed. Two years ago, we were grappling with the earliest days of Covid. As well as trying to understand what it meant for us and for defence and security exports, we were redeploying staff to support the broader government response to the crisis. Now, we are emerging from the tail end of the pandemic and re-engaging globally. UKDSE has changed its working model to be more adaptable to hybrid working, like many others. But we have also invested effort in understanding better how the global defence and security market has been impacted by Covid, and how our potential customers and competitors have adapted. This has enabled us to ensure that our efforts are directed in the most effective possible way, taking a campaign approach in coordination with industry to tackle the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Part of that is reflected in our rebranding. Our brand needed to convey better our role as the government’s lead on delivering defence and security exports for the UK, and the new name and logo does this.

The UK has seen a huge growth recently in security exports, and security and cyber exports have now overtaken defence exports. Given the former are often purchased by private sector organisations as well as other governments, what does that mean for UKDSE and for Security & Policing more generally? Is there less of a role for the UK government now?
MG: We are extremely pleased with the growth in UK security and cyber exports; it represents a steady and sustainable increase in the performance of the UK security and cyber sectors overseas and is a testament to the quality and professionalism of UK products and services.

In regard to the role of Security & Policing, I should note that our international partners are key customers for UK security and cyber companies as they seek the reliable and trustworthy solutions that the UK can provide. UK Defence & Security Exports has invited high-level delegations from more than 70 countries to join us at Security & Policing this year, and this event continues to be the ideal setting in which those high-level conversations between buyers and sellers of security solutions can take place. 

I’d like to say that there is always a role for HMG to play in support of promoting the best our industry has to offer our overseas partners. Of course, that role can vary depending on the nature of the product and the customer and, picking up on your point about the predominance of private sector customers, DIT’s new Export Strategy offers a range of new tools to support companies of all sizes and experience, from coordinating large-scale integrated campaigns with major and experienced exporters, to supporting innovative and cutting-edge SMEs to become world-class exporters via the Export Support Service and Export Academy. In the defence and security sectors in particular, government can play an important role in setting the conditions for export success – acting as facilitators to industry rather than simply holding hands through the process. 

What do you see as the key strengths and capabilities of the UK security and resilience sector, and how are these seen by international allies? What are our weaknesses?
MG: Our security and resilience sector’s products are known for their quality and reliability. The UK is also a leading innovator across the whole range of security capabilities, from protecting major event venues and securing borders to supporting first responders. Police and fire officers from around the world also rely on the world-class training and capacity building that our companies can provide.
The UK is recognised as one of the global leaders in cyber security innovation and commerce. We are currently ranked number two in the ITU’s Global Cyber Security Index and third in the Harvard Kennedy Belfer Centre’s Cyber Power Index.

Naturally, we face stiff competition. Financial pressures created by the pandemic have encouraged governments to look closer to home for solutions and companies to sharpen their efforts. We are deploying a range of tools to increase the chances of UK success: enhanced market analysis to understand where UK-accessible opportunities are and what the competition looks like; improved campaigning processes to plan our efforts over the duration of an export campaign and use resources more effectively; and coordinated strategic comms planning to ensure our messaging lands effectively and delivers the desired impact. 

How has the UK Security Exports Strategy affected cross-government working? Are silos in government still a problem for your organisation?
MG: The need to join up across government is something that all of our ministers are seized by and we have very clear direction from the Defence & Security Exports Working Group to properly join up the dots. I have to give special credit to Home Office colleagues here, and particularly the Joint Security and Resilience Centre, for all of the work they have done to bring coherence to HMG/industry relationships through the security aspects of the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy and for reinvigorating the Security & Resilience Growth Partnership.  

We are seeing similar join-up on cybersecurity as demonstrated in the National Cyber Strategy 2022, and our own recent appointment of Juliette Wilcox as DIT’s new cyber security ambassador.

As international travel opens up again and Covid restrictions are lifted, how will the government support businesses seeking major export opportunities?
MG: We are keen to get back to doing what has always been a part of core business for the UK government – providing direct support to UK industry efforts in overseas markets. Our international exhibitions calendar is already busy and we will, in due course, also be looking to restart work on trade missions matching UK expertise to global opportunities. We are working across HMG to ensure that our presence overseas is coordinated and effective in its support of UK interests, both political and economic. 

You’ve previously said that in the future, defence exporters will need to think more about the sharing of IP to enable local manufacture and support, and help to build indigenous capability. Is the same true for the security sector? 
MG: We encourage and support UK security and cyber firms to engage in mutually beneficial partnerships with overseas firms. The sharing of IP will be a central issue for UK firms entering into partnerships and this needs to be carefully considered by the firms involved on a case-by-case basis. However, I am pleased that you raised the issue of building indigenous capability. This is key to the long-term sustainable partnerships envisioned by the Global Britain agenda and will be a vital consideration for UK firms entering into overseas partnerships. UKDSE works closely with UK firms and international partners to ensure that building indigenous capability remains central to our approach for cyber and security exporting. 

What role does your team play in helping to ensure international requirements are shared and communicated with UK industry, so firms can play a leading role in selling into these markets?
MG: It is essential that we maintain a close working relationship with industry, both to communicate information on global requirements and opportunities to industry, and to plan coordinated approaches to unlocking those opportunities for the UK. Our goal is to be able to do that early enough to set the stage for UK success. 

Earlier I briefly touched on our market analysis work. Historically we’ve focused our efforts on collating information on opportunities from open-source information; this is very useful but doesn’t take advantage of the value that can only be added by government. 

Our global, political, defence and trade networks give us a unique insight into the markets in which we are planning to operate. We have realigned our efforts to make better use of that insight: our understanding of perceptions of the UK and the UK offer, our relative market strengths in comparison to other national actors, our understanding of broader political factors which might impact on commercial decision making. This has helped us to develop a much richer picture of the global market. We use that picture, which can’t necessarily be shared directly, to inform our discussions with industry. This helps us agree a more productive approach which focuses on the opportunities where we have the greater probability of success and identifies the levers which can be used to improve our chances.

In addition, we have recently established export networks of companies that are centred around particular capabilities, such as those involved in securing venues for major events, protecting borders and so on, where we expedite the sharing of information on export opportunities that we learn about through our international networks, the United Nations and so on.

One thing UK industry has complained about in the past is that each country has different requirements. What role can HMG play in ensuring a coordinated or unified market with common standards – so that British security manufacturers don’t have to make 100 different versions of their kit, and can benefit from economies of scale? Can we even hope to achieve that?
Standards have been a key discussion point in many bilats in the security sector. My team engages with end users around the world to understand where HMG can add value in this area. We have been working closely with industry, trade associations and standards bodies to gain a deeper understanding of the role of standards in exports. Those conversations are essential to making progress on a difficult issue, and I am keen to encourage industry to talk to my teams and provide examples of where standards have been a barrier or an enabler to exports. 

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