25 Apr 2022

Event round-up: Roundtable on Innovation and National Security

techUK, in partnership with members PA Consulting, held a roundtable with the government's National Security Innovation Champion.

Last week, techUK, in partnership with members PA Consulting held a roundtable with the Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor for National Security, Paul Killworth, in his newly appointed role as the government’s National Security Innovation Champion. Paul’s primary focus is to deliver the 2021 Integrated Review (IR) commitments on innovation. Paul is consulting with the National Security community on an ongoing basis to achieve this, in order to learn more about existing thinking and to explore opportunities to harness new innovative technologies over the coming months and years.

The primary aim of the roundtable was for Paul to introduce himself to techUK members working within the National Security and Defence sectors. The attendance list comprised of high-level representatives from strategically important companies – both multinational players and smaller SMEs – active in the UK’s national security markets and policy areas. Discussions at the roundtable were pivotal in informing the core areas of focus for the new techUK National Security programme.

There were several key takeaways from the session, along with an over-arching agreement between industry and Paul that the National Security community and wider Government departments need to ‘do innovation better’. Attendees agreed that there needs to be both a broader acceptance of and an eagerness to apply practical, secure and innovative solutions available within the wide supplier base to strategic problems in order to protect and uphold UK national security. It was made clear during the session that there is a common culture within the National Security community centered around hierarchy and protection making it tough to navigate and for the UK supplier base to be heard. To address this, it was agreed that there needs to be stronger collaboration between industry and the National Security community across Government in order to strengthen security, ensure prosperity and showcase the power of the UK as a science and technology superpower. 

The Innovation Champion stated his top 3 findings which have shaped his role so far:  

  1. Industry finds it increasingly difficult to navigate and communicate with the National Security community as any collaborative work and idea generation is met with many barriers surrounding vetting, operational challenges and commercial limitations.  
  2. There are common blockers and barriers which prevent industry from understanding the top national security priorities within government, specifically when looking at innovation and technological solutions to specific challenges.
  3. Fragmentations have formed due to hierarchies within the National Security community, making it difficult to pull ideas into the right organisations or to gain access to specific individuals.

The roundtable generated productive discussions between techUK members based on the above challenges set out by Paul. There was widespread agreement between techUK members that the security environment and National Security community remains locked despite the intent of the IR to promote an open, resilient and secure UK underpinned by science and technology innovation. In order to achieve the commitments, set out in the IR, there is a greater need to learn from other industries and draw parallels on how they incorporate innovation and technology solutions into the relevant government organisations.  

Attendees recognised that there is much more appetite for change among the National Security community compared to previous years. There is a clearer understanding that new technologies being developed and deployed in the private sector present real opportunities to strengthen the UK’s national security apparatus whilst also uncovering the vulnerabilities that threaten it. techUK members are keen to work both with Paul in his new role as National Security Innovation Champion and wider government to inform the narrative and policy debate around the role of technology in maintaining national security, ensuring innovative solutions are considered whilst improving government’s understanding of the technologies available, market conditions and the technology ecosystem needed to protect and project the UK’s interests.  

Top 10 discussion points identified by techUK members:  

  1. Innovation doesn’t need to be ‘new’, or offer ‘ground-breaking’ solutions. It can be as simple as doing old things in a new, different and efficient way. ‘Innovation’ remains different to ‘invention’.  
  2. There needs to be easily accessible, consolidated evidence of clear problem statements by the National Security community for them to align themselves better with industry to explore plausible solutions, effectively. This would further encourage collaboration between SMEs and larger organisations and would help make the topic of innovation transparent. Government would also need to consider how ‘mission-led’ these priorities are.  
  3. Within the National Security community, it is time to change the conversation on innovation and technology transformation at pace. Timescales between idea generation, acceleration and application need to be drastically reduced.   
  4. The barrier to entry with reference to vetting needs to be broken down. There is a huge gap to fill here which will enable government to be more agile and accessible to industry, particularly in relation to non-traditional suppliers and SMEs.
  5. Discussions about what the UK can learn, through bilateral relations with allies, about innovation and export potential for national security are key. This would encourage the integration of industry to harness opportunities for prosperity.  
  6. Government needs to offer the confidence, support and comfort for SMEs to successfully navigate the system. A trusting relationship needs to be solidified for SMEs to feel understood.  
  7. Government needs to reconsider the “build it ourselves” mindset when it comes to technology and solutioning the problems it faces in national security.  
  8. The UK is not short of innovation, the struggle lies with the ‘pull-through’ from concept to deployment.  
  9. The role of government within national security innovation needs to be at the forefront of these discussions. Leadership needs to show that innovation is important. 
  10. Is the word ‘innovation’ correct in its use to best portray the problem at hand? Should there be different dialogue used to represent the need to shift from horizon scanning to exposure and immersion?   

techUK and the National Security programme will continue to bring together government with subject matter experts across the National Security community to facilitate informed discussions about emerging technologies and their application to critical national security issues and more importantly, to identify solutions that could be implemented through policy changes.

If you would like to hear more about the discussions at the roundtable or share your thoughts on innovation, technology and national security then please do get in touch at [email protected]

Raya Tsolova

Programme Manager, techUK


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