Agility needs to be our watchword for best-in-class defence capability

Andy Scott

Andy Scott

Managing Director Defence, UK


The threats to our defence systems are increasingly advanced. Technical expertise needs to be matched by a revolution in our ways of working to improve efficiency and agility across the industry’s ecosystem.

Photo credit:UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

We are less than halfway through the 2020s, but this decade has already seen a huge increase in the scale, number and complexity of security threats.

We have witnessed the outbreak of war in Europe and the conflict in Ukraine, which shows few signs of drawing to a close as it recently marked its second anniversary. In the past six months, there has also been a surge in tensions in the Middle East, with countless ripple effects throughout the region and wider world.

The nature of threats is changing too, with a combination of cyber and drone warfare coming to the fore. Amid these uncertainties, one thing is clear: each part of the industries that contribute to our defence must be agile and ready to respond to increasingly diverse challenges at any given moment.

This of course relies on physical equipment for defence teams when on operations. However, agility also hinges on effective and innovative programmes for the supply and operational deployment of equipment, keeping armed forces at a state of readiness.

Success will come down to our ability to be outcome-focused and to work collaboratively. In doing so, we must harness the power of data through digital systems to drive better decisions, and to build teams with the appropriate technical skills and behaviours to create the environment for success.

More effective defence collaboration

In our drive for agility, we need to reconsider how we think about defence capability – not as a series of individual organisations and suppliers, but as an ecosystem, stronger than the sum of its parts. This includes the Ministry of Defence and its supply chain, as well as international allies, partners and other public sector bodies that ultimately contribute to the UK’s security.

The web of partnerships that support our defence is more multi-faceted than ever before. Traditional supply and demand relationships of the past are increasingly not fit for purpose because contracts need to allow for greater flexibility as programmes adapt to changing circumstances.

This applies to major programmes of the scale and ambition of those being delivered through the AUKUS partnership, through to the provision of smaller critical components and personal equipment.

Lessons can be drawn from successful delivery models developed in other industries. This is the case particularly in regulated sectors including aviation and utilities  water, power and telecoms. These sectors work towards programme-level outcomes across fixed regulated periods. Typically, these run over five years, but in fact, utility regulators are now looking at 25-year horizons for business planning purposes. This long-term approach establishes supply chain partnerships that foster innovation and outperformance through incentivisation at programme level.

Defence’s secure programme pipeline, mature supply chain and the clarity of purpose around the outcome required makes the adoption of similar incentivised partnership models an obvious choice. Given these conditions, this new approach to working together would have a significant impact on efficiency and improving outcomes.

Driving performance through digitalisation

When it comes to driving agility through closer collaboration, we have game-changing new tools becoming available using increased digitalisation to provide improved visibility and insight across programmes and portfolios.

The use of a digital programme platform to collate and interrogate data improves reporting and delivers the insight to drive performance improvement. These systems can be built around existing client software and interfaced using apps and business intelligence tools to gather and share more accurate and timely project insights. This will in turn drive performance and pace.

Again, lessons can be learned from other industries that manage a complex asset base, including in aviation.

At Heathrow Airport, the collection of data from cost, schedule and risk software – all of which has been interfaced with client systems – has improved reporting and reduced operational costs.

Linking the defence ecosystem at programme and portfolio level into digital programme platforms like this is an imperative, helping drive effective decision-making, while ensuring accountability and visibility.

Building skills for today and tomorrow

Implementing new systems and ways of working are essential. But these will be of little value if the technological and behavioural capabilities for success are not developed for the long term. That relies on investment in skills.

Making the most of digital tools will first require addressing the shortfall of skills in this area, ensuring we maximise the investment. We also need to prioritise other complex technical skills, particularly in nuclear systems. It is estimated that 135,000 qualified and experienced nuclear personnel must be recruited across the civil and defence sectors by 2030, according to the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group. This will rely on collaboration across these industries.

While we can identify the areas where our teams need development, we must also turn our attention to the image of the defence sector. Demonstrating that the industry is increasingly inclusive, diverse and open to new ways of working will support efforts to attract new talent.

Ultimately, the agility we need to achieve across defence can be secured. However, it relies on a greater emphasis on collaborative ways of working, and drawing on expertise across other complex industries when it comes to setting up high-performing partnerships. This needs to be supported by the adoption of digital systems and cultivating the right skills that we need for the future.

As the threat matrix intensifies, getting this approach right is becoming an ever-greater imperative for UK security.

For further information contact:

Andy Scott

Andy Scott
Managing Director Defence, UK