The Defence IT conference held each year in the UK is one of the most fascinating conferences for me. The challenges the military face are just the same as those we face in business. Last year the consistent thread was configuration management. This year logistics is emerging as the common concern.
As the world’s military adjust to new missions in unexpected locations (who would have thought Britain and France would be providing air-to-ground support in Libya 12 months ago?) it demonstrates just how quickly modern fighting systems need to adjust. Just like their commercial partners today’s defence (in deference to my UK colleagues I will spell this post UK style) organisations have little time to respond to a shift in their mission.
The real issue for the military though is incredibly long delivery cycles: not just the time it takes to design and build a new weapons platform like the Astute-class nuclear submarine which was approved in 1991 but not launched until 2007, but also the political effort required to get a project like HMS Astute approved.
Given that, in 1991, we were concerned with removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait by force and now, in 2011, we are watching popular uprising across the Middle East and supporting those efforts with force. There is always going to be a need for some ability to project force at a distance. But who knows what that mission will be next time? And what will the infrastructure needs be for that mission?
What we can share with the Ministry of Defence (and the Department of Defense for that matter) from our experience in business is the successes we have achieved by breaking down the business silos, “stove pipes” as Major General Copeland called them today, and bringing automation to the processes we follow. Government, Her Majesty’s Government in particular and the Armed Forces especially, are notorious for being committed to paper-based systems.
A faster, more nimble, military can come from automating process, speeding up the lifecycle, setting and enforcing delivery to a timetable, creating visibility, eliminating meetings and tracking project in real-time. Accountability has never been an issue for the defence sector but it goes without saying that the ability to track quickly back to source decisions is essential in improving processes.
I’m looking forward to the next two days to debate this will the UK’s top technology leadership from all branches of the armed services.