Digital Strategy for Defence – Delivering the Digital Backbone and unleashing the power of Defence’s data

techUK summarises the recently published MOD Digital Strategy

Last week, Defence Digital published its Digital Strategy for Defence, which highlights how the Defence Digital Function will enable seamless access to data by delivering a secure, singular, and modern Digital Backbone. It also describes how Defence Digital will enable the exploitation of data across the Defence enterprise, through the creation of the Digital Foundry, a federated ecosystem of digital innovators and developers, including a new Defence AI Centre. Whilst led by Defence Digital, this will be a partnership across the MOD, working closely with Dstl, DE&S and other enabling organisations within the department.

The strategy outlines a step-change in approach, to ensure that the MOD is able to successfully leverage digital technologies and data, which will in turn facilitate faster, better decisions, and improved digital outcomes.

The publication is split into two main parts:

1 – Strategy

2 – Operating Model

The Strategy section  covers:

  • Ends – including context, vision, and strategic outcomes;
  • Ways – including the digital backbone, people, process, data and technology;
  • Means – Including implementing the strategy, delivery, investment, and benefits;

The Operating Model covers:

  • MOD Chief Information Officer (CIO) accountabilities and authorities;
  • Operating Model construct and processes;
  • Senior leadership accountabilities;
  • Governance;

The Ends

The MOD recognises that the world is becoming ever more digital, and believes that defence must be at the leading edge of digital transformation and technology exploitation.. The digital world creates both opportunities and threats, as hostile states and adversaries seek to exploit these same tools at the expense of the UK and its allies. Given widespread availability of technology, advantage will come from rapid adoption and imaginative exploitation through new ways of working, operating and fighting.

The Digital Function is a critical enabler of the Defence Operating Model.. Digital capabilities provide the connective tissue allowing true Multi-Domain Integration (MDI) and transformation. A focus on digital, according to the MOD, is also an opportunity to partner and innovate with the Science and Technology (S&T) community, other government departments, and the UK technology industry. This collaboration will provide mutual advantage, supporting the UK brand, promoting prosperity, projecting influence, enhancing our resilience and ensuring the MOD plays its part in reducing the UK’s carbon emissions.

However, there are some key constrains outlined in the strategy that must be addressed, including:

  • The technology core is fragmented, fragile, insecure, and obsolescent;
  • Data is fixed in internal silos and difficult to access and integrate;
  • There is a critical digital and data skills gap across the MOD;
  • The MOD remains mired in Industrial-Age processes and culture;

To counter these shortcomings and best prepare Defence for the world of the future, the strategy includes the below vision which guides the MOD’s decisions over the coming years:

“Defence will value Data as a strategic asset, recognizing it as the mineral ore that fuels integration and enables a system-of-systems approach. We will persistently deliver transformative digital capabilities to enable sustainable military and business advantage. These capabilities will be secure, integrated, easy to use and delivered at scale and pace to all in Defence.”

To achieve this vision, the MOD plans to invest an additional £1.6bn in People, Processes, Data, Technology and Cyber-Security.

The final part of the Ends section of the strategy are the Strategic Outcomes,which include a twin-track integrated and iterative approach to simultaneously accelerate digital exploitation and build a modern digital backbone to support this.

The five key progressions by 2025 include:

  • Data exploited as an asset, at scale and speed – data accessed and used as a strategic asset in conjunction with the technology game-changers, delivered at scale and pace;
  • The right talent within a single unified Function – leading edge skills in partnership with UK industry and academia – a single, capable function to drive the strategy;
  • Cyber Defence reset – Defence’s systems and assets are secure by design and resilient to attack, with intelligence-led dynamic risk management;
  • Modern technology platform delivered – a single technology backbone to support integration, platform inter-operability and operational speed;
  • Step-change in digital delivery quality achieved – capability that is relevant to need, easy to use, works reliably, cost-competitive and delivered on time;

Finally, the strategy notes that while the digital backbone is the enabler – it is the exploitation of data that will revolutionise warfare and transform defence. The aim of the digital backbone is to exploit data across Defence and drive value through:

  • Faster decisions supported by trusted insights – enabling the frontline forces to have real time access to data they need across the battle and business space;
  • Efficient and effective planning – logistical planning and operational readiness rely on trusted insights from across our supply chain and people. Organisation-wide integrated data will ensure functions and operations are reliably informed;
  • Using advanced analytics to secure military and business advantage – recognise that data is both an offensive and defensive weapon, and using analytics and AI capabilities to drive new insights;
  • Transforming operational capability – Driving Multi-Domain Integration and collaboration in the battlespace;
  • Accelerating programmes and transformations – seamless data flow across organization boundaries will underpin ability to successfully deliver the large, complex programmes which improve military and business capabilities;

The Ways

Defence’s Digital Backbone will be an ‘ecosystem’ – a combination of people, process data and technology. It will also have the following attributes:

  • Singular – delivered by an increasingly qualified and cohesive workforce, based on common standards and architecture across the breadth of Defence, directed and assured by the CIO;
  • Secure – to protect and defend Defence’s data, networks, systems, and decisions;
  • Modern – cloud-based and iteratively incorporating emerging technologies;
  • Digital – allowing defence to exploit curated data as a strategic asset and enabling a strategic shift to software-intensive capabilities;

Crucial to creating this backbone is a digitally enabled workforce with the skills to match MOD’s ambition and deliver the backbone effectively across defence. This includes:

  • A transformed workforce – the right skills, roles and mix of people in Defence Digital;
  • A highly skilled Digital Function – investment in people to deliver a profressionalised, interoperable workforce with the digital capabilities MOD needs;
  • A digital culture across Defence – an educated and digitally savvy workforce;

Additionally, to achieve the vision for a singular Digital Backbone, there must be process improvement to enable pan-MOD coherence, including common standards, governance and processes, realising ‘One Backbone for One Defence’. There must be more horizontal integration to drive consistency in several areas:

  • Functional Management – strengthen management processes and controls through the functional portfolio and underpinned by functional performance and governance;
  • Data – drive the data mandate and authority on programmes, data resources and governance;
  • Technology – powerful, federated governance mandating adherence to a Single IT Road System of common architectures and standards;

For the MOD to gain strategic military advantage on the battlespace and to drive efficiencies in the business space it must exploit data to the fullest. Effective management, coherence, and standardisation of data pan-defence is central to the success of the Digital Backbone and a critical enabler of Multi-Domain Integration.

Defence has the capacity to capture huge volumes of data, but the lack of adherence to common rules inhibits the ability to exploit it at the tempo necessary to achieve advantage. The MOD does not have the required capabilities and structures to drive benefits from data –it is missing enterprise and ecosystem collaboration and lacks the basic foundations to fully curate and exploit data assets. The MOD needs the ability to make key business and battle space decisions based on trusted and timely data that is available and accessible to all that need it, when they need it, regardless of geographical, platform or organisational boundaries.

Fundamental to addressing these challenges is the establishment of MOD Data Rules to underpin all aspects of data capability, governance and delivery pan-defence. These rules set the criteria and standards against which all data delivery and decisions across defence will be measured:

  • Sovereign: data will no longer be held or hidden in silos – the MOD will know what data it holds and where it is;
  • Enduring: data will be treated as an enduring asset, recognising that it persists beyond individual projects and will be continuously maintained;
  • Curated: data will be managed in a consistent manner throughout all stages of its lifecycle ensuring its adherence to standards, availability, accessibility, and fitness for purpose;
  • Standardised: data will follow industry, government, management and technical standards;
  • Exploitable: data will be close to the point of customer value, enabled by a frictionless business model for sustainable exploitation;
  • Secure and Digital by Design: data will be trusted, secured and compliant with legal obligations. Data will no longer be an afterthought and will be an essential part of all programmatic delivery;

To embed these data rules and realise benefits at pace the MOD will:

  • Deliver the MOD Data Strategy: The Defence Data Office will define the data framework for the management, governance, and exploitation of the MOD’s data assets, enabling a coherent approach to innovation, standardisation and opportunities for exploitation, and will ensure alignment for the various parts of the MOD to work together effectively. The MOD will work collaboratively  for data excellence, advantage and true integration with partners across government, allies and partner organisations in industry and academia through coherent data standards, commercials and tooling;
  • Build the Data Fundamentals: The MOD will professionalise the management of its data assets by building the data standards and artefacts that defence will adhere to. The MOD will know what data it holds, where it is, and who owns or curates it (for example Data Catalogue, Information Architecture);
  • Embed Data Controls and Governance: The MOD will formalise the decisions made across defence for the management and use of its data assets. Data will have a seat at the table of Defence’s functional governance structures responsible for the strategy, investment, and release-into operation of all MOD’s programmatic and transformational delivery, and its day to day data management practices;
  • Drive Advanced Data Exploitation: The MOD will deliver the standards and best practices for the exploitation of Defence Data assets. It will release an operational AI Analytics environment designed to rapidly scale and innovate using advanced technologies;

The MOD will build and exploit a single modern Digital Backbone for Defence via uplifts to its existing services and capabilities in three main areas:

Hyperscale Cloud – providing the foundation for Defence to build and deliver the future capabilities it needs across all classifications;

Next Generation Networks – allowing seamless access to data and enabling easier collaboration with  allies & partners;

User Services – driving exploitation by providing the right expertise and support to users within a single synthetic environment. Services will be underpinned by a common technology architecture and externally recognised standards.

This will accelerate delivery and enable Multi-Domain Integration through the re-use of standard design patterns across Defence and with the UK’s closest allies.

The final two parts of the Ways section of the strategy look at how to secure and exploit the Digital Backbone.. The strategy notes that defence currently holds an unacceptable level of cyber risk and faces an ever-rising wave of malicious cyber activity. Consequently, the transformation of the digital enterprise will enable a transformation of the MOD’s approach to Defensive Cyber Security. Additionally, the exploitation section suggests that to fully exploit the Digital Backbone the MOD must have the following priorities:

  • Battlespace and Functional Collaboration with the customer at heart;
  • Enabling rapid digital delivery through the Digital Foundry;
  • Maximising the benefits of emerging technology;
  • Exploiting data;
  • Multi-disciplinary delivery working with industry and partners;

The Means

The MOD aims to create early momentum by focusing on four key programmes:

  • People and Skills – Transformation of the workforce to achieve the right skills, roles, mix and culture across Defence;
  • Reset Cyber Defence – Address the cyber security gaps that exist in people, processes, and technology;
  • Data as a Strategic Asset – establishment of data rules to underpin all aspects of capability, governance, and delivery;
  • Cloud platform – a single consistent toolset which drives simplification and interoperability across Defence;

Digital Operating Model

The delivery of the strategy requires a strong, connected, and cohesive functional team working as a single entity across the federated Defence landscape. This section provides a summary of the MOD’s Operating Model.

The Operating Model has four key constructs:

  • Defence CIOs: drive local sub strategies and plans; ensure that the business unit maximises benefit from the local and wider shared defence investment in digital;
  • Digital Function Directorates: drive pan-defence cohesion and integration; lead the creation and maintenance of the strategy and its execution;
  • Demand-capture from commissioning customers: leadership for the establishment of effective exploitation of the digital game-changers at scale in both military and business arenas;
  • Service Delivery: the engine room of programme delivery, shared service delivery, operations support and cyber operations;

You can read the full Strategy here.