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May 05, 2017
Digital transformation: Five steps to creating your first line of defense
By: Dr Valtteri Vuorisalo

There is a reason why everyone is talking about digital across business and government. Digital technology has become essential to success, and even survival. Defense agencies that fail to invest in digital face greater risk from enemies who are more advanced. And on the other hand, when defense agencies make the right digital decisions, they can create a secure, fluid and timely flow of data and intelligence—the lifeblood of modern military.

But let’s be honest. This transformation will not happen overnight. So let’s break down the key elements of digital transformation to show how your defense organization can more proactively take advantage of the innovations around us.

  1. Go agile

    Waterfall IT development is sequential and non-iterative, making it a challenge to adapt to changing conditions at speed. This is why agile is undeniably beneficial. This method allows organizations to launch new solutions quickly and target priority areas. IT development must be done using agile methodologies to speed the cycle.

    Defense agencies want to become agile, but many do not understand that you must behave in an agile way in all things. In essence, the organization must change internally to take advantage of agile methodologies. Agile must become a priority. And it has for some defense organizations. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.K. Ministry of Defence both have emphasized the importance of agile software development to enable secure, efficient and effective IT.

  2. Automate processes

    Large defense organizations have complex IT landscapes riddled with different technologies, standards and data models. The higher the level of complexity, the lower the opportunity for interoperability. This must change.

    New solutions have the power to gather unprecedented amounts of data from disparate systems and—by weaving systems, data and people together—create solutions that fundamentally change the defense organization, as well as what it does and how it works. Greater process automation will ensure the availability of high-quality data to enable accurate reporting and enhanced decision making. Furthermore, automation will make it easier to establish common practices across an organization and to keep user activities transparent, measurable and responsive to changing operating needs.

  3. Source digital skills

    Defense talent with the right skill set will be what powers digital transformation. To take advantage of rapidly evolving technologies, defense organizations must access these highly sought after skillsets. But how? Start by conducting a skills assessment to uncover what skills are currently available, and what skills will be needed in the future. Especially as weapons systems become increasingly complex and more technology- and data-based, people must have the knowledge to operate these systems, and they need a mindset relentlessly focused on security.

    Think unconventionally about how to find the right talent—and retain it. For instance, the U.S. Air Force Digital Service is taking steps to meet its skills needs by recruiting engineers from the private sector for short-term stints working for the service. Consider launching a digital improvement campaign where the organization uses digital media to attract defense talent using the tools they are accustomed to.

  4. Procure technology efficiently

    The complexity of weapons systems, coupled with local laws, makes it a long process to buy things in the defense industry. By the time you’ve procured the technology you wanted, it has already evolved a few iterations—and you’re steps behind your peers.

    Defense organizations must accelerate the procurement process for technology solutions. To do so, we can learn from what the private sector is doing.

    It is no surprise that many innovative ideas come from start-up companies and small enterprises. These types of organizations have integrated their development programs into budgetary planning. So, if your defense organization knows that it needs a digital technology platform to enable greater interoperability—budget for it. Government organizations should also rethink how they can partner with the private sector and industry peers to share resources. In Europe, it is estimated that only about 22 percent of equipment procurement is collaborative across agencies.

  5. Organize for success

    A rigid hierarchy is the enemy of defense innovation. Defense organizations traditionally are vertical by design. They need to transform to be horizontal by design. However, many are fearful of this shift. If organizations continue to view the world through silos, they will not change, grow and participate in the broader ecosystem. To improve efficiency and information-flow, defense agencies must take steps to remove organizational silos.

    Current processes are so top down, no one has the horizontal view of how to work more collaboratively. Effective planning simply will not work in this kind of environment. In the digital world, defense organizations must collaborate with others, involving multiple stakeholders and securing cross-organizational support.

    Technology is a key enabler of transformation, but it is not a silver bullet. By changing processes, culture, and organizational factors, your agency can achieve the digital transformation necessary to keep pace with the ever-changing military environment.

    I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas about digital transformation. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

See this post on LinkedIn: Digital transformation: 5 steps to creating your first line of defense

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