How the defence sector can ensure its tech is up to scratch

Charles Damerell, senior director UKI at SolarWinds discusses the challenges facing the defence sector and dives into what employees in the sector think about their IT environments.

Posted 31 May 2022 by Christine Horton

The defence sector is at the forefront of digital transformation, with innovative solutions and technologies at the very heart of the industry. This was reinforced by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), which announced last summer it would invest £1.6 billion in ‘People, Processes, Data, Technology, and Cyber’ over the next 10 years to build a ‘digital backbone’ for the department.

This innovation and ability to absorb new technologies across the sector on a regular basis, however, has become a double-edged sword, with organisations having to run and maintain numerous legacy systems. This can be both arduous and costly, so increasing the effective utilisation of digital technology has become a key priority.

Consolidating IT systems offers the opportunity for defence organisations to maximise value and minimise costs while improving IT operational efficiency. However, implementing these digital transformation strategies has come with its own challenges as the sector prepares for a new digital-first future.

In our latest research of 79 organisations from across the U.K. defence sector, we discovered the biggest operational challenges facing IT departments today and compiled the following five areas the defence sector should focus on to ensure its tech is up to scratch.

Reassessing Current IT Environments

To keep up with technological developments, defence organisations have onboarded niche solutions. These have solved some challenges but created others when assessing the collaboration of systems and collation of data.

These organisations have adopted new solutions as technological advancements have been made, but little has been done to manage the overall structure of this IT ecosystem. This has caused them to lose time to data management and consolidation requirements.

For defence organisations to truly realise their digital potential, they must first holistically reassess their current IT environments by looking at the bigger picture with a micro and macro approach. A micro approach should look at the technology available within the organisation or at a project level, and the macro approach should look at the wider environment and consider trends such as demographics, urbanisation, and automation.

Consolidating Your Complex IT

Once the current systems have been assessed, consolidation should be one of the top priorities for defence organisations. This will help combat the opportunities for inefficiencies and errors arising from complex IT infrastructures.

Interestingly, 43 percent of the respondents in our survey either have no consolidation strategy or are unaware if there is one, suggesting this issue needs to be addressed across the sector. This statistic is particularly remarkable when you consider the many acknowledged benefits a consolidation programme can bring.

Though these benefits were widely recognised in our survey, there are certainly some barriers to adoption. Sixty percent of our survey respondents highlighted the perceived cost of change as a barrier, and 58 percent said the risk of service disruption is holding them back. These barriers should be analysed and understood if defence organisations are going to solve their IT problems.

Digital Performance and Automation

Automation is an area capable of transforming the defence sector’s IT capabilities, yet it’s currently holding itself back by not utilising this tool.

Just six percent of the respondents in our survey report said all their basic tasks are automated, with staff thereby able to pursue more meaningful tasks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 30 percent of organisations in our report haven’t automated any tasks and are missing out on the efficiencies and staff productivity gains they could secure.

In fact, 34 percent of the respondents said they spend a significant proportion of their working day dealing with digital performance issues, and 26 percent said they don’t know how much time they lose. Educating the defence sector on the need for automation is of critical importance if the sector is to achieve its IT goals.

Making Best Use of the Cloud

Cloud migration is another key area of suggested transformation for the defence sector—but again, it’s one lacking in pace.

Only 19 percent of those surveyed had completed a cloud adoption strategy, leaving a large percentage without the benefits of a full cloud system. Furthermore, just 21 percent of our respondents are at the beginning of their cloud journey and are looking for the best way to approach adoption.

There are many benefits of a full cloud system, such as reduced IT costs, scalability, business continuity, collaboration efficiency, and flexibility of work practices. So it’s concerning 17 percent—nearly one in five—haven’t adopted cloud or aren’t looking into it. Though it’s understandable why some organisations are reluctant to migrate to the cloud, as it can be a complex initiative, delaying this action may harm efficiency in the long term.

To provide support, the MOD’s Defence Digital department—set up in 2019 to oversee the delivery of effective IT tools and services to military personnel—is responsible for providing the defence community with access to certified and assured private and public cloud services. This is through the delivery of its MODCloud initiative, and the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure platform has now been added to the list of providers the defence community can access through it, which also includes Amazon Web Services  (AWS) and Microsoft.

Keeping Risk Factors Low

Finally, security of—and access to—data is a major issue for defence organisations. In fact, 45 percent of the respondents ranked it as one of the top three challenges of their current IT environment.

The sensitive nature of the defence industry places security concerns uppermost in most organisations’ plans, and the expansion of remote working has seen companies need to prioritise secure communication and transfer of data. If the defence sector is to make the most of its IT, it needs to properly structure and manage its systems to ensure its network and digital assets are safe.

IT consolidation has been a high-priority government initiative for many years. Though many organisations are already on board—or are onboarding quickly—it’s clear from our report a high percentage of respondents still don’t feel their organisation has a solid IT consolidation roadmap in place. While those consolidating their IT efforts are already benefiting from more centralised systems and the ability to collaborate more easily, with more education and training in place, the defence sector could take its IT to the next level.