If there was ever a case for reducing spend on ‘special for government’ technology then surely Defence IT, with high levels of security and robustness at its heart, must be the toughest nut to crack. So it may surprise you to learn that the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) is embracing the Cabinet Office G-Cloud, SME and agile development agendas.
At the UK GovCamp workshop earlier this year I learnt that in the keynote of the upcoming Defence Information ’15 conference, the MOD’s CIO Mike Stone would be discussing his passion for transforming ICT procurement through the use of commercially available commodity cloud solutions. Given our successes across other parts of the public sector with Kahootz on the G-Cloud, I was keen to hear what Mike and other senior MOD ISS (Information Systems and Services) staff had to say, so I decided to attend this event which was supported by more traditional Defence IT suppliers such as IBM, HP, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Fujitsu.
Surrounded by a display of tanks and missile systems at the Defence Academy, it soon became apparent that Team Defence (Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force) are serious about putting the cloud and mobility at the heart of everything they do, facilitating new ways of working, stimulating innovation and driving better value for money.
Transformation through simplification
In his keynote, building on the already published Defence ICT Strategy, Air Vice-Marshal Mark Neal (UK MOD ISS Design Director) highlighted all the things wrong with traditional ICT procurement - projects are typically overly complex, too expensive and often take so long that the technology is out of date by the time the procurement exercise completes, given Moore’s Law. The MOD has also realised that bespoke or ‘special for government’ solutions and proprietary standards drive up costs further down the supply chain, increase delivery times and impose restrictive technical and commercial constraints.
As with the wider public sector, budget reductions across Team Defence are actually helping to accelerate the ICT transformation agenda as organisations look to move to a new style of Enterprise IT that increases the procurement of commercial off-the-shelf ICT and use of open standards. The Air Vice-Marshal also suggested that the current imbalance between infrastructure (product) and services (bespoke development) is wrong and needs to be addressed. The business case is simple - if the MOD spends less money on technologies that are effectively commodities, it can use more of its limited budget on ‘special’ technologies when it needs too.
Following the UK Government Digital Service’s (GDS) lead, the MOD’s desire is that use of the Digital Marketplace and the G-Cloud procurement framework will enable future ICT procurements to be completed within only three months instead of years.
Cloud, mobility and innovation
Developing this ICT Strategy further, Mike Stone explained his vision of a catalogue of pre-approved, user-centric, integrated services that make use of open architecture and standards. This will enable the MOD to become master of its own destiny via an in-house Design Authority who will validate all information projects to agree the fit with the technical architecture. Importantly for secure collaboration vendors like ourselves, Mike also stressed that cloud, mobility and improvement in new ways of working are at the heart of everything they now do.
To ensure savings and re-usability, the service catalogue will help to create a variant of the recently announced Government as a Platform service - Defence as a Platform (DaaP) - that can be used across Team Defence to empower users and line-of-business project teams, helping them to innovate and develop in-house digital skills. It is hoped this new approach will help to address the disparity between the ICT that staff use in their civilian and defence lives.
A more agile MOD?
I was really impressed with this new vision, especially from a government organisation that is well known for lengthy, over specified, expensive ICT procurement projects. It is clear that Team Defence and ISS are serious about a new style of ICT deployment that uses cloud, mobility and big data to speed up business innovation and improve collaboration and flexibility.
Robin Riley, Head of UK MOD Digital Transformation, succinctly summarised MOD’s objective: “We want to make it simpler, easier and faster for everyone in defence to get things done.”