A survey of senior defence figures has highlighted data and technology problems among the major barriers to achieving the vision of joined-up operations set out in the government’s flagship Integrated Review.
A report by Dods Research on behalf of Civil Service World and Appian found that both technological and cultural changes would be needed to ensure integration across the five main military domains highlighted by the review: maritime, land, air, space, and cyberspace.
Both the Integrated Review and the Defence in a Competitive Age report, which sets out the sector’s contributions for the decade ahead, establish how defence is set to evolve in the years ahead to achieve truly integrated operations.
Defining advanced land, air and maritime capabilities along with space and cyberspace as the future battlefield, both reports highlight the need for investments in armed forces’ capabilities and R&D for transformative technologies such as artificial intelligence
In the survey, the overwhelming majority of respondents (90%) said the defence sector was heading in the right direction, with over one in three saying the Defence in a Competitive Age report aligns very closely with the challenges ahead.
However, the respondents highlighted a number of barriers that could hinder progress.
Top of the list were concerns over information and data sharing (71%), organisational culture (69%), and the technology and systems across government (67%).
When asked what technology changes would be required to turn 'joint' operations into 'integrated' operations, respondents emphasied the need for IT systems to be upgraded to the latest technology and for the creation of a secure platform for communication and data sharing across the sector.
“The individual services and organisations within the MoD need to be able to use the same systems so that all information feeds into one central system,” one respondent said. “There are currently so many platforms in the same business areas across the services, so much duplication and waste of time and money. The efficiencies that could be made must be tremendous. There is also lack of trust in the systems which prevents their full potential being maximised.”
Another respondent said “shared IT and systems that meet the needs of all partners and interface effectively with the internal systems in each organisation” was needed, while another highlighted that “effective cloud-based communication tools and data driven decision making capability” would be necessary.
Charlie Thompson, Area Vice President for Northern Europe and the Middle East at Appian, said that what stands out about these responses is that the barriers around technology all link back to culture. “Technology alone isn’t the barrier,” he said. “It’s how the entire defence community can quickly bring together the people, data and technology needed to most efficiently leverage limited resources to deliver the most effective capability at any given time.”
Five key barriers relating to technology were found:
Legacy and siloed IT infrastructure: As future threats become more sophisticated, especially in cyberspace, legacy/outdated IT capabilities could leave the armed forces more susceptible. Currently, defence departments operate on IT infrastructures that are out-of-date and siloed. Cross-domain collaboration is difficult because of lack of common systems, information, and data sharing. There is also a gap in technological training.
Complex IT systems: Defence institutions operate multiple separate systems, forming a complex, fragmented IT landscape. Furthermore, different systems are incompatible with each other. This limits the armed forces’ efficiency and agility.
IT security: Identified as a future battlefield, cyberspace is vulnerable to sophisticated, unanticipated attacks. There are gaps in IT security that leave defence under-prepared for warfighting in the future.
IT procurement: Apart from the technology solutions, the processes of acquiring them also deter/delay the development of more agile warfighting capabilities. Lengthy decision-making and tech acquisition processes and funding are aspects of IT procurement that limit advancement and innovation.
Cultural resistance: Cultural resistance to change can block technological progression and innovation, and lack of a shared vision for leveraging technology across domains deters integration. Cultural barriers include willingness to share data, resistance to new technology, and gaps in teamwork.
“There is a culture in the technology environment in defence that has been very risk averse in adopting new innovative technologies,” said Thompson. “The defence IT community needs to break away from tried and tested information systems that fail to leverage the advantages of modern information platforms. To meet the goal of better integration, they need their technology to be more fleet of foot, more agile and adventurous, so they can take full advantage of future-proof innovation that solves the problems not only of today, but also the unforeseen in 12, 18, 24 months time.”
However, the report also highlighted an area with great opportunity to boost integration: automation. The use of automation was highlighted as being among the key capabilities that could boost integration across defence, with a large majority (87%) of respondents saying it was either very or somewhat important to improving integration, with nearly half (48%) regarding it as “very important”.
Logistics supply (65%), intelligence fusion (51%) and performance reporting (40%) emerged as the top three tasks or workflows in which respondents thought greater integration could be unlocked by automation.
“The opportunities for automation are just extraordinary within highly complex, large scale workflows,” Thompson said. “The more humans are part of a process, the more mistakes are made. In a defence context, they’re mistakes that can be costly and they don't need to be made if you have the capability to improve the accuracy of data process and workflow."