Government announces data strategy for defence

The plan sets out the goals around treating data as a strategic asset to be achieved by 2025

The UK government has announced a strategy where data will be taking centre stage in decision-making and efficiency improvements across defence over the next four years.

Goals set out in the Data Strategy for Defence published today (27 September) by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) aim to evolve how data is organised, shared and used. The objective is to ensure data is treated as a “strategic asset, second only to people”, and enable that to happen fast and at scale.

According to the MoD, the increased focus on data aims to deliver better decisions and outcomes, providing battlespace advantage and making the department more efficient. The government sees data as key to defence’s digital backbone, and the success of existing initiatives around digital and efforts around technologies such as artificial intelligence.

“Data has always contributed to success in Defence, it’s fast becoming our lifeblood,” said Laurence Lee, second permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, in the report’s foreword.

“Every decision we make is increasingly data-driven; from multi-billion pound investment and divestment choices, to life-or-death situations handled in a split second on the battlefield, to defending against the increasing volume of cyber threats.”

With an increased flow of curated data, the MoD expects to promote national and international integration, across the domains of maritime, land, air, cyber and space, enabling Defence to take advantage of the power of its data.

However, this is not a simple endeavour. One of the key points of the plan is around the data challenges in Defence. According to the paper, these hurdles have been understood: the department is finding “harder than ever” to isolate insight from information. Problems include the inaccessibility to data in internal or contractual silos, as well as lack of skills, inconsistent governance and control as well as non-standardised exploitation and data delivery.

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According to the strategy, the response to these challenges include the set up of a central data office, part of Defence Digital, as well as a Defence Data Framework to transform Defence’s culture, behaviour and data capabilities.

“Data will be the horizontal enabler that will optimise operational and business outcomes, informing better, faster decision-making and command and control, nationally and internationally, across all five domains and with our partners across government, allies and industry,” the document says.

The end state for defence data for 2025, has been defined. This includes the following strategic outcomes:

  • Curation and integration of data from human and machine sources to enable the digitalisation of the battlespace
  • Data to be treated as the second most important asset only behind people, and considered in all defence activities
  • Defence people are data-literate and are able to optimise data exploitation
  • Defence is able to lead the space and drive innovation with partners, allies and industry

Another pillar of the strategy is that Defence will treat and adhere to the same data criteria, with improved accountability and ownership, standardisation, exploitation and curation, and security of digital data across that value chain.

Over the last few weeks, the MoD has been at the centre of a data management scandal whereby data has been exposed on hundreds of Afghan interpreters who were awaiting relocation to the UK – their personal safety being at risk from Taliban reprisals should they remain in Afghanistan.

The data strategy also outlines the enablers required to transform Defence into a data-driven enterprise: these include the leadership to drive and deliver the data vision, the adoption of a data-driven culture, data governance and controls.

The enforcement of standards, practices and policies to preserve and enhance the value of data as well as the ability to exploit data that is ready for exploitation are part of the set of success factors required to enable and facilitate that shift.

Moreover, the policy paper outlines the desired data leadership structure across all defence organisations. The plan will also work on improved partnerships with allies, industry and academia to enhance the way UK defence uses data.

In March 2020, the MoD released a data management strategy, which supports the department’s goals to be a data-driven organisation, and outlined ambitions to enhance its existing data setup and create new opportunities for wide data exploitation.

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