In the first blog of this two-part series, I asked what a warfighter’s daily life could look like in a post-digital world. The tech-clash, where defence forces allow caution to unduly slow their adoption technology, potentially deprives them of significant battlefield advantage. I suggested that defence should reclaim its heritage as a technology innovator. In this sequel, I’ll explore how to do that by means of five technology trends from Accenture’s Technology Vision 2020.
The I in experience: helping people choose their own adventure
Leading organisations are creating digital experiences, but users want to retain more control over what those experiences are like. Legacy data gathering and analytical methods of customising digital experiences aren’t transparent enough for end users—people want the benefits of customisation, while retaining ownership of their data and the configuration of customised experiences. In defence this could mean more personally customised command and control system user interfaces that better support operation requirement and that those can be customised to different situations or operation environments.
AI and me: reimagine the business through human and AI collaboration
Outside of defence, AI has moved beyond automaton to become an extension of the human workforce. Within defence, AI is not yet widely used because of security concerns associated with public cloud environments where AI is typically implemented so that AI capabilities can be fully be leveraged. However, AI is already becoming an extended part of the team in simulator pilot projects, where some warfighters can be augmented, for example. Additionally, Vice Admiral Keith Lippert, SC USN (retired) is quoted as saying that “US defence is currently using AI to predict maintenance work on aircraft.”
The dilemma of smart things: overcome the “beta burden”
Ownership isn’t what it was in the past. Very often, people buy conduits for evolving experiences, rather than physical widgets. The airline industry has had such relationships with engine manufacturers for a while now. Defence Organisations are known to engage in similar relationships. Many weapons systems are already platforms, rather than just weapons. Modern fighter planes are good examples—where systems are updated by manufacturers that need system data in order to support the planes and provide updates to keep them airworthy. Future weapons systems are likely to require even more such collaboration. Defence organisations need to decide who owns and controls the weapons system’s lifecycle, and how dependent they should be (or want to be) on manufacturers and industrial partners.
Robots in the wild: enterprises are not victims, they’re vectors
In civilian life, falling hardware costs and the arrival of 5G networks have enabled robots to leave the warehouse and become a greater part of everyday life. In defence, autonomous vehicles and drones are fairly common, though many more typical solutions, like automated warehouses are not. Many private sector systems can be adapted for defence, to speed up standard processes. There has been much debate about the ethics of AI and robots used on operations where lethal force might be involved. As robotic capabilities extend beyond controlled environments, defence organisations need to navigate the human-machine interface, and the extent to which machines might augment individual soldiers—or even become warfighters themselves.
Innovation DNA: meet consumers’ needs at the speed of now
Outside of defence, businesses can transform how they innovate by focusing on maturing digital technologies, scientific advancements, and emerging DARQ technologies (distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence, extended reality and quantum computing). These technologies could inject skills, technology and innovative thought into defence organisations where, as in any industry, the ability to facilitate continuous innovation is vital. The question of how to adapt the best of private sector technology for defence, remains. It’s a vital question, if defence organisations are to keep up with other nations on the battlefield. For the moment, though, the global pandemic adds further complexity to this strategic imperative. Says Vice Admiral Lippert: “Defence with constrained budgets further complicated by COVID-19 funding requirements, should seek innovative IT solutions that are proven and provide savings.” Finding a suitable partner can help bridge that gap. As Lippert points out: “Accenture with its extensive commercial experience is well positioned to provide such solutions, documented by business case analysis. A great example of this was work done when the US Defence Logistics Agency replaced its legacy IT system.”
Overcoming the tech-clash, and meeting the expectations of their members will require pro-active exploration by defence organisations of the trends identified by Accenture’s Technology Vision 2020. Innovation should be business as usual, and consumer technology should be adapted and secured for military applications. In fact, given the extraordinary conditions under which technology must operate in protecting national interests, military technology adaptations and inventions might even find their way back into consumer technology as they have done in the past. If you have any thoughts you’d like to discuss, please contact me. I’d be happy to dialogue with you.
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