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CIO interview: MoD’s DII replacement will feed government as a platform

Mike Stone, who will soon be leaving his position of CIO at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), explains how the MoD’s DII replacement will feed into government as a platform

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Mike Stone, CIO for the Ministry of Defence, hopes the replacement for its Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) will act as a feed into the government’s plans for government as a platform (GaaP).

In 2015, Stone began renegotiating parts of the MoD’s long-term outsourcing deal with a consortium led by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) as part of what Stone says is a “seriously complex and comprehensive transformation portfolio”.

In doing so, Stone hopes the MoD will be able to bring some of its services in-house, such as architectural design, integration capability and many of its security functions.

“It’s not that we’re going to be doing away with support from industry,” says Stone. “We actually need it, but we need it in a somewhat different way.”

Stone explains MoDNet, the replacement for DII, is already in beta, and everything that is built will be provided to the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) common tech platforms as design templates, which can be used to build similar systems in other departments.

This fuels the GaaP plan for ensuring departments do not have to build siloed, in-house services for something that has already been built elsewhere in government.

Moving away from traditional IT

“Everything we are doing with the new style of IT will go into common tech services,” says Stone.

Stone intends for the MoD to “dock fully” into GaaP, and hopes to build a model for Defence as a Platform.

This will create a new way of working for the department, breaking down once siloed and vertical ways of working between the MoD’s different departments, as well as between the army, navy and air force.

The long-term plan for DaaP is to enable those with appropriate permissions to be able to log into any of the MoD’s systems from anywhere with a single set of credentials, have access to data and content, and gain appropriate insights.

In developing the platform, Stone also aims to deliver “evergreen services” at a hardware and software level, as well as reduce supplier lock-in.

“We are not going into big, monolithic contracts of the sort we’ve done in the past,” says Stone. “What I’m seeking to do with the second era of Defence as a Platform, which will go to market in 2017, is acquire standard service packages.”

But Stone says that while many have viewed DII as “old, expensive and inflexible”, the project has in fact delivered in its original goal of bringing the department together as a global enterprise.

The drive behind technology change

The MoD first entered the Defence Information Infrastructure contract in 2005, and Stone says that at that point in time workplace technology was better than anything people could have at home.

Now individuals expect much more of their workplace technology as their own devices offer a more effective way of working.

To avoid dangerous instances of shadow IT, something the MoD needs to be more careful of than some other organisations, tech in the workplace needs to keep up with tech at home.

But with long contracts and hardware shelf life, this can be difficult.

Read more about government IT

The MoD is using and implementing daily updates of Microsoft’s Office 365 and Azure datacentres to tackle some of this.

As part of a deal with Microsoft, the MoD is allowed access to product changes and product roadmaps up to six months in advance, and as part of its relationship with HPE, it can choose to quarantine the service it uses for up to three months if the firm is coming into major business change.

But this isn’t the only “evergreen tech” he’s after, and Stone expects the same high turnover of radios for troops, or tablets being used in the field.

With high technology turnaround comes learning to use new devices and software, so the MoD provides training to make sure employees are up to date.

“We’re going to be working on the basis that much of this is intuitive,” says Stone. “We live it and breathe it at home. If we find something we can’t deal with, we talk to somebody or go online and ask questions of a virtual agent, and we’re delivering a virtual agent as part of this as well.”

Handling data with Splunk

Much like any organisation in the modern day, the Ministry of Defence is becoming overloaded with data.

In some instances, it is generating terabytes of data per day – most of the department’s vehicles and platforms in the field have sensors that are constantly collecting data, all of which needs to be processed and analysed.

The MoD uses Splunk for data collection and processing, generating insights to determine how the department can operate more efficiently and effectively.

“Not only do we need to operate our networks, we also need to defend them,” says Stone. “In doing so, we need to collect all the digital exhaust that comes from various logs and sensors, and analyse that to get insights to derive operational intelligence.”

The world is moving towards a platform economy, and Stone believes the department is well suited to this.

“I want to take the friction out of the way we do transactions, to build ecosystems with our services and build ecosystems internationally with our allies, and exploit other platforms,” he says. “In this case, Splunk is one of those.”

Finding the talent that can move with the times

Many organisations find that the older generation in their firms can stand in the way of technology transformation.

Although Stone admits the demographic of the MoD is “of a slightly higher age group”, his entire department is on board with the changes being put in place.

But the MoD is still trying to find young, passionate people, and brings in 100 apprentices a year in search for its workforce of the future.

Stone is highly aware of the skills shortage, particularly in areas such as data science and information assurance, but is working to re-train people or find people who can fill current and future tech roles.

“We need to create a proper workforce strategy, so that I’m not designing an organisation just for today,” he says. “I need to be designing it for what the demand shows we’re going to need in three years, so we are recruiting people with the right skills while also investing in the future.”

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