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Rapid, iterative, agile: defense technology delivery for the digital age

Overview

Many militaries procure enterprise defense technology in much the same way they purchase ships and aircraft: Setting aside significant upfront capital and pouring years into each business case and implementation. But in today’s fast-evolving digital environment, a high velocity approach is sometimes required—one that’s more rapid, iterative and agile.

Background
Imagine beginning an IT infrastructure project five years ago that was planned to reach completion in 2015. In 2010 it would have been all-but-impossible to know the vast possibilities that technology could offer defense in 2015. Yet, because most defense technology projects are delivered using a “waterfall” model, many decisions had to be made to that end.

The waterfall model that’s traditionally favoured for defense IT projects typically involves defining the end solution in great detail upfront—including the technology, processes and resources required – then delivering a system in a single release or series of major releases over a number of years.

For many defense technology projects, in their complex, interlocking environment, this can often be the most suitable approach, particularly where projects must deliver a 100 percent solution from the outset. The updating of integral core systems, such as payroll for example, is better delivered in a single release—it simply has to be fully functional from day one, as the stakes are too high. Some finance and logistics projects may also fall into this category.

Analysis

In the digital age, an increasing number of challenges with the waterfall approach are arising. Broadly, these include:

  1. Missed capability – Most importantly, while waiting for the large technology release, defense organizations miss out on valuable efficiencies and mission-enhancing capabilities.

  2. Obsolescence – With the current rate of technology development, there’s a real risk of technology being obsolete before it’s even put into service.

  3. Plugging the gap – While waiting for capability, what do defense organizations do in the interim to meet their requirements? Many look for workarounds, create home-grown solutions, or just leap forward and adopt the latest technology, causing a whole new set of problems.

  4. Change management – Across all industries, managing the organizational and process changes associated with major IT projects is notoriously complex, time-consuming and expensive.

  5. Sustainment – The lack of continuous enhancement through sustainment is a feature of many waterfall projects. This typically results in the risk of defense organizations being equipped with dated technology that’s allowed to deteriorate further over time.

Recommendations

A high velocity way forward
For a portion of defense technology projects, a more effective approach may be to take an iterative, modular approach: Define the strategy and program plan upfront; deliver a core capability fast so it can provide benefits to the military immediately; and then continuously improve it throughout the sustainment process with regular, incremental capability uplifts to achieve the business outcomes of the defined strategy.

One of the most widely-used methodologies for iterative development is Agile, or variations thereof. Successful use of an agile approach fosters closer collaboration between stakeholders, improved transparency, earlier delivery, greater allowance for change and more focus on the business outcomes.

This “high velocity” approach is logical for many defense technology projects, as it will enable militaries to deploy new capability faster while being more responsive to future needs and opportunities.

An organizational and cultural shift
As more defense organizations and a greater number of defense technology projects adopt the high velocity approach, the shift will require not just establishing new processes for procurement and implementation, but also investing in new talent and reshaping the culture, embedding a more responsive mind-set throughout. This investment is worthwhile and necessary to ensure militaries stay at the leading edge and deliver public service for the future.


Authors

 

Dirk Hodgson

Dirk Hodgson

Intelligence and Mission Services
Accenture Enterprise Services for Defense

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Dirk has worked in the Australian defense and national security sector for 15 years, including in operational roles in the intelligence community. He’s spent the last eight years in the private sector working on a range of large technology and business transformation programs.

 

Dan Smith

Dan Smith

Senior Technology Architect
Accenture Enterprise Services for Defence

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Dan has worked with Accenture and Australian Federal Government clients for over 10 years, focused on technology and enterprise architecture. He has spent the last five years with Defence working on Infrastructure and HR Transformation programs, and most recently Logistics integration.