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February 21, 2017
Five technology trends reveal a new future for defense
By: Dr Valtteri Vuorisalo

Each year, Accenture publishes our Technology Vision report, which offers a view into what the world will look like three short years from now. The trends covered in the report are fascinating, but I find them even more exciting as we apply them to defense. Let’s take a look.

AI is the new UI. Artificial intelligence (AI) is tackling big and small problems by making interactions simpler and smarter. We are finding that AI has become increasingly important for defense organisations as they struggle to process huge amounts of data and turn it into understandable and actionable information. This can be a lot of work for humans, but when AI does the processing, it can provide a first quick cut of analysis. This fast access to insights is key for decision-making and operational agility, because people can spend more time looking at the results, rather than struggling to produce them.

We are seeing the rise of AI in defense, both in planning and operations. For instance, mission systems have become more autonomous in air, ground, sea and space. We are using unmanned vehicles to gather intelligence. There is great potential for AI in defense, and we are just getting started.

Design for humans. Technology today is more intelligent, and it’s adapting to how we behave and learn. In defense, this type of design thinking needs to catch up. Our weapons systems have become highly complex, and the interfaces to use them have become complicated. A human-centered user interface makes decision-making easier, and it can also accelerate reaction times.

Imagine if we could augment human capability to achieve an operational advantage? Training is one area that would benefit from machine learning. Think about the soldiers training in extreme cold. Technology could be used to detect symptoms of hypothermia, keeping our troops safer. Rather than sending out teams of men to repair equipment in isolated, even dangerous locations, we could send one man—equipped with smart technology—to maintain or repair the vehicle.

Ecosystem power plays. Platforms are completely changing the ways in which organisations operate and compete. Companies today are participating in broader ecosystems to gain an advantage. The defense industry should follow this lead and collaborate to secure innovation. For instance, working with industry, governmental organisations, academia and others will allow defense to tap into new skillsets and thinking never before possible.

We are seeing platform thinking in an operational sense when organisations run on a “defense as a platform” type of scenario that involves other partners in the ecosystem. In Australia, the Single Information Environment brings together the various defense domains into a single and properly governed information environment. The Joint Information Environment in the United States is a single, joint, secure and agile command, control, communications and computing environment for Department of Defense agencies.

Workforce marketplace. On-demand labor platforms are surging, resulting in a collapse of traditional hierarchies. Defense can clearly benefit from access to on-demand resources. Think about the constant fluctuation in readiness requirements. Today’s level of mobilisation might not be adequate tomorrow, or it might be too extensive next week. To continuously adapt, we must shift the organisation’s pool of people resources, and also its cache of equipment.

These fluctuations come into play with technology as well. Defense IT systems must become better equipped to scale up and scale down so that organisations may increase—or decrease—their posture intermittently.

The uncharted. In today’s ecosystem-driven digital economy, there is an abundance of uncharted territory. We must be brave to explore this new ground, but do so with the correct strategy. In defense, we’re good at that, right? Yes, but we must also establish rules and standards along the way. For example, there are new, innovative ways in which we can share information and conduct operations using social media. But how is that data protected? How are we safeguarding intellectual property? What can we do to protect against cyber threats?

Defense organisations that are the quickest and smartest to enter this new ground and innovate will have the clear advantage. Indeed, through observation we can argue that organisations that are faster at innovation are in a better position than those that only focus on invention.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas on this year’s Tech Vision. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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