The Ministry of Defence’s IT systems are “too fragmented, fragile, insecure and obsolescent” and its operators are “mired in industrial age processes and culture,” according to a new digital strategy document.
Published earlier this week, the Digital Strategy for Defence paper is full of the usual MoD management-speak while not once mentioning the word “budget”, raising immediate questions about how the latest glitzy vision of the future would be paid for.
The strategy boutique’s latest output replaced two separate digital strategy and doctrine publications issued in late 2019, and defence procurement minister Jeremy Quin MP noted the “bewildering rate” at which digital technology is upending the staid old Ministry of Defence.
“This Digital Strategy outlines the step-change in approach that is required for Defence to leverage Digital and our Data, as fundamental enablers, to facilitate faster, better decisions and improved Defence outcomes,” burbled the paper’s introduction, under the optimistic heading of “purpose”.
Big government IT has long been a plaything for ambitious managers looking to make a name for themselves on the way up the greasy pole.
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The document’s authors said the MoD’s “technology core is too fragmented, fragile, insecure and obsolescent” for modern-day usage, along with data being locked inside “internal and contractual silos” making it “hard to access and integrate”.
With the MoD being responsible for the new National Cyber Force and Britain’s burgeoning space agency, an IT refresh is probably no bad thing.
“The current lack of end to end visibility, poor awareness of what is in place and an inability to apply controls presents a huge risk and is not an acceptable position. We are compromised with respect to security, operational integrity, functionality and speed.”
Chief among the paper’s various new flashy Things of the Future is the creation of a Digital Backbone, described as cloud-based and embodying “common standards and architecture”.
The paper’s authors appear to understand the scale of the challenge they’ve set themselves, writing: “The core technical building blocks are the networks, gateways, hosting services, user interfaces (including identity management and access mechanisms) and middleware that come together to deliver data and information wherever and however we need to exploit it”.
Despite the evident state of internal MoD networks, however, there is one great big elephant in the room: who’s going to pay for it? Funding all the flashy headline-grabbing cyber stuff tore a hole in the ministry’s for the next decade, according to the National Audit Office earlier this year. Meanwhile, the Army has squandered billions trying and failing to buy new armoured vehicles, while the Navy has absorbed yet more billions for the two new aircraft carriers and supporting ships.
Ominously, the new Digital Strategy for Defence document didn't mention the word “budget” once – but did say the MoD will be treating data as “the mineral ore that fuels integration and enables a system-of-systems approach”. This ore will be mined by a Digital Foundry (er, are you sure they meant to say this? Ed.) that will “unleash the power of Defence’s Data,” presumably by adding random capital letters to nouns.
Less prosaically, the MoD’s digital strategy boutique reckoned individual services are going to pay for all of this through “top-level budgetholder [TLB] equipment programmes.” Whether top commanders will be prepared to divert funds from pet projects into a central IT system remains to be seen.
Whatever the outcome of the jargon-laden document, it makes a change from “data is the new oil” and hackneyed old marketing spiel about data lakes. The full thing can be read on the MoD website as a 41-page PDF. ®