Mention “defence” and most people think of the world of combat operations: what military specialists call the “battle-space”. However, many of the day-to-day activities of the MOD are actually conducted in a “business-space” that is recognisable to any large organisation. Defence, as much as business, relies on a very well defined value chain.
Technology, and in particular information technology, has revolutionised military operations. Nowadays, thanks to the availability of powerful, portable computing devices and good communications networks, data can be collated, fused into a coherent set of information and presented in a way that enables rapid decision-making and action. Used in this way, information becomes a “force multiplier”: it enables people to do more, faster, and with fewer resources.
Businesses capture and store more information than ever before. However, this information can act as a force multiplier only if it is delivered to the right people at each step in the value chain. Like defence CIOs, business CIOs need to make sure that value chains are defined, understood and shared: It is then much easier to direct the right information to the right end user.
The “force multiplier” effect is proven to work in the battle-space, and the business-space is quickly catching up.
The limiting factor is no longer (as it once was) the availability and the cost of technology but, instead, the organisation’s very own legacy systems and processes. For example, with cloud-based virtualisation, a complex IT architecture can be made available to a business simply by describing it. The challenge lies in being able to describe that architecture and transform it so it delivers business value.
However, streamlined systems mean nothing if they aren’t used in a streamlined way. Effectiveness in the battle-space is achieved by highly-collaborative, task-oriented behaviours, where initiative is encouraged and where participants are focussed on outcomes rather than mechanisms. Legacy organisational structures and cultures sometimes inhibit these behaviours in the business-space. Business CIOs willing to seize similar benefits may consider taking a lead in educating the organisation about collaborative, network-based behaviours, and being prepared to set out transformational programs accordingly.
The internet has opened up enormous opportunities for business, but it also provides more opportunity for malicious activity. Security is now one of the most serious issues facing commercial CIOs.
Security awareness has always been at the core of any kind of defence work.
Defence agencies have always had to protect information that could, in the wrong hands, damage national security. Consequently they developed well-defined procedures for handling information and instilled security awareness in their personnel. Technology augments this but doesn’t replace it.
Businesses are now also on the front-line and need to raise employees’ risk awareness and culture. They are routinely subject to concerted cyber-attacks, either by organised crime or by groups with political and strategic aims. CIOs need to educate staff about security and the steps they can take to guard against cyber-threats1. Security technology needs to be backed-up by a fostering a security-conscious culture. That way, routine security procedures naturally become a vital part of everyone’s job.
The internet and related digital technologies provide much more than just a communications network. For the military it provides a new "cyber" frontier for military operations.
For commercial organisations, the "cyber domain" is an environment that allows them to interact dynamically with suppliers and customers. It is fundamentally interactive: it enables companies to listen to their customers as well as talk to them. A successful cyber-strategy has to exploit the whole range of social media platforms to establish that dialogue. To execute the strategy effectively requires an understanding of the technical architecture that underpins the entire customer experience. That no longer means simply the corporate infrastructure - it includes the increasingly powerful technology in the hands of consumers. That technical know-how must be combined with creative skills, requiring tight coordination between the CIO organisation and marketing team2.
Leveraging the available digital technology and platforms to build relationships with customers more effectively that the competition is an example of "information superiority". CIOs are usually in the best position, in terms of technical awareness of trends and in influence, to shape the way their organisations exploit innovative ways to exploit the cyber-domain3.
Companies increasingly self-identify as “information businesses”: organisations that “live or die by the extent to which information flows freely to those that need it, when and where needed”4. In a military context, that’s not a figurative statement – lives really do depend on information. That’s why the military places such importance on the quality and speed of information flow.
Information businesses require CIOs to focus on the valuable end of the IT system – the part where the information gets to where it can make a difference. CxOs need information to make strategic decisions, management needs it to make tactical decisions and customer-facing staff need it to provide good service every time they speak to a customer.
Having an infrastructure that can provide the right information, in the right place, at the right time, confers an advantage because it potentially enables information consumers to make decisions, and therefore take action, faster than the opposition. That’s true whether it’s in the cockpit of a combat aircraft or at a trading terminal. The MOD calls this “Information Superiority”:
“The competitive advantage gained through the continuous, directed and adaptive employment of relevant information principles, capabilities and behaviours.”5
And what commercial CIO wouldn’t be happy to deliver that?
1 - “Re-launch of '10 Steps to Cyber security' “, GCHQ, 15 January 2015
2 - “Adidas CIO Plays to Win at Digital Marketing” CIO, 16 February 2015
3 - “e-Leadership: Skills for Competitiveness and Innovation” a report prepared by INSEAD on behalf of the European - Commission Enterprise and Industry Directorate General, 2013
4 - “The information business", Ade McCormack, Financial Times, 15 January 2013
5- "Joint Doctrine Note 2/13: Information Superiority", Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), MOD, August 2013.