18 Jan 2023
by Patrick Hutchings

Feeling innovative? (Guest blog by CGI)

Guest blog by Patrick Hutchings, Senior VP and Sector Lead at CGI #NatSec2023

With over 1.35 million tech startups around the world, the rate of technology growth shouldn’t be a surprise.  The sheer rate of change (not to mention the technology itself) presents National Security with opportunities, challenges and threats in equal measure.  Ideas leading to innovation can be supported by initiatives such as DASA, they can be coordinated by organisations like NSTIx or they can be discussed and explored using Innovation Hubs.

But what is Innovation?

The word Innovation means different things to different people.  Here’s my personal definition of innovation for the purposes of this article:

The planned process of introducing techniques and/or technologies that are novel to a particular organisation and that deliver sustained capability.

I’m a firm believer that successful innovation can be industrialised – but there are a lot of pieces to get in place before this can happen.  I’m also rather wary of innovation being dropped into an area – it has the potential to negatively disrupt unless the ideation and delivery processes are supported by an appropriate level of rigour and control.

It’s tempting to rush to the latest technology, but sometimes it can be better to deliver proven capability – especially if deployment speed and reliable business outcomes are important.  The innovative aspect doesn’t have to be new – it just has to be new for the environment in which it’s deployed.  6G, neuromorphic chips and metaverses are examples that fall into the category of interesting but without clearly defined benefit for today’s National Security challenges.  I expect these to become transformative technologies at some stage, but for now there are other techniques and technologies that can deliver the much-needed edge.

The capability element is an interesting one and in my mind is a key differentiator between research and innovation.  It’s also an important way of avoiding the ever-popular Valley of Death.

How do we enable our teams to innovate?

I remember as a pupil at school being told to “write an essay by tomorrow’s lesson” and staring at a blank sheet of paper for inspiration.  If we want our teams to innovate then we need a culture of innovation: purpose, suitable resources, mentoring and the approval to take (reasonable) risk without repercussion.

With this in mind, within CGI we’ve built an Emerging Technology Lab that’s closely aligned with the National Security mission.  The Lab is an area that horizon scans challenges and threats, it uses an Agile methodology to experiment, has rapid procurement process, flexible infrastructure and a physical environment that can operate at all levels of security classification.

The Lab is a great seed for quickly building low-TRL demonstrators that can be handed over to development teams to provide pull-through into operational deployment.  Here’s a recent example…

Do don’t write

Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) are rapidly adopting powerful digital technologies – but what happens in the court room when digital evidence is presented?  Will the veracity of the evidence be cast in doubt merely because the LEA has sophisticated technological capabilities at its disposal?  Or to put it another way: we’re all aware of deep fakes, prove to me that the digital evidence hasn’t been tampered with.

The CTO of one of my National Security clients has introduced an alternative to industry-written proposals.  Rather than marking potential suppliers on how well they write, the goal is to select suppliers based on how well they do.  So, in some instances, the procurement process has moved to a very high-level business requirement statement, a hackathon period and a demonstration.  Done right, this can free-up the potential supplier to do what they do best

So having been set the high-level requirement (“build an improved evidential store”) we seeded a team with members from the Lab and gave them free rein to innovate.  Within three weeks the team successfully built a complete AWS solution utilising hashing and IoT technologies, Kinesis, S3 buckets, a Quantum Ledger Database for immutable storage and Lambda functions to process and secure hashed, streamed data. Using our wider ecosystem, the team also reached out to legal expertise within the Crown Prosecution Service and verified that the solution would pass the threshold of legal admissibility.

I’m pleased to report that the innovation investment paid off and the solution was selected as the most promising offering.

So, what does innovation mean to you?  Be honest.  Is your area successfully innovating to deliver operational capability or is it researching to expand the organisation’s sum of knowledge?   My challenge to you is to consider how you can enhance and embed a successful innovation culture that delivers for your front-line mission.

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Patrick Hutchings

Patrick Hutchings

Senior VP and Sector Lead, CGI