When we helped one of the armed services in Europe to create a new employee experience, the goal was to increase retention rates, foster career development and personal growth opportunities.

Our experience approach set out to enhance the working and personal lives of servicemen and women, whether they were ordering replacement kits, planning their next career move or booking a well-earned break. What I love about it is that the technology to make this happen is available, and the need is clear. When I describe this experience to defence organisations in other countries, their immediate response is usually: "Why haven't we got something similar?"

The core enabler for doing something like this? In-depth ethnographic research backed by data. To make this particular experience happen, the armed service we worked with needed to free up its people data from traditional silos in the back-office and let it flow freely through the workforce. Thus, putting information and power into the hands of each employee, and most importantly, those who need that information to operate effectively on the front line. In short, enabling the data to support the defence mission!

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Data at the core

In my previous blogs, I've looked at how to put people at the heart of defence and security, reskill for a new era of threats, and win the war for talent. None of these goals is achievable without leveraging data in the way I described above.

It's a change that's every bit as cultural as it is technological. Traditionally in defence agencies, like organisations in so many other sectors, people have been regarded as 'human capital.' HR functions have focused on using data behind the scenes to create internal management information with nice graphs and bell curves.

But data should play a far bigger role, acting as the raw material for generating strategic insights and modelling different types of capability for future scenarios. This is why it is the ultimate secret weapon in defence forces' hands. And why leaders in the armed forces are becoming digital natives, using data in combination with analytics and AI to generate insights that fuel better, faster decisions and support the mission in a seamless, secure way – while also improving the employee experience and inspiring recruits to choose the military as a career.

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Priorities for the data-powered workforce…

For these leaders, the North Star is the creation of a truly data-enabled workforce. The way to do this is by taking peoples information and making it available for them to use, empowering them to manage their working lives. It needs to be personalised and as real-time as possible, opening a world of opportunities in defence from new skills and careers to balancing family life. 

Similar priorities apply when engaging with people outside the organisation – including demographics on potential joiners. As I highlighted in my blog on recruitment, the battle to win and retain the best talent has never been fiercer. Defence organisations must inspire potential recruits with uniquely exciting experiences and career choices. The only way to do this is by taking data held on back-office systems and exposing it to create intuitive and outcomes driven experiences for people.

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The North Star is the creation of a truly data-enabled workforce. The way to do this is by taking peoples information and making it available for them to use, empowering them to manage their working lives.

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…and barriers to overcome
  1. Historically, public security agencies have closely guarded and protected their information. This has led to creating a culture where sharing data is regarded as a security risk. Cloud computing services are often viewed with suspicion because of fears that data privacy and confidentiality could be compromised..

    The reality is that while some data must remain secret, not all of it needs to be. Armed forces must decide which information can safely be shared with employees and recruits and which cannot. The security capabilities of cloud services – including public cloud – are improving all the time. The major global cloud providers offer platforms where data is ring-fenced within national borders to meet stringent data protection regulations.

  2. Data quality is a concern. I was chatting recently with a senior member of a defence force and raised the idea of sharing more data across the workforce. "I'd love to be able to do that," he replied. "But our data just isn't of high enough quality." Data quality in the people domain is a Catch-22: until you put it out there and make it part of employees' everyday lives, you'll never drive the quality high enough for people to trust it to make decisions on. You have to start by making the leap.

  3. Organisational silos. I've seen all too many organisations where different functions – Finance, HR, Procurement etc. – view the data they hold as theirs alone and are reluctant to share. A result of these fiefdoms is that employees often have to submit the same information multiple times on different forms, creating a poor experience. The data belongs to the employee and needs to be used for the organisation as a whole. The internal functions need to be prepared to let go of their data for the greater good.

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Creating your new workforce

The message is clear: data is a precious asset, but locking it away in the back offices has limited capabilities. The tools and technologies to unleash the full potential of data in a secure and controlled way are readily available. It's time to use them – and build the inspired, engaged and empowered armed forces workforce of the future.

Tell me about data led experiences you are implementing or testing to improve the lives of your people.

Marni Poropat

Director – Consulting, Public Service, Australia and New Zealand

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