Why the UK Defence Sector Must Embrace Digitisation 

Sectors around the globe have embraced digitisation, it is time for the defence sector to approach digital transformation with the same zeal as commercial businesses, says Frazer Ross, Head of Government & Military Training Solutions, Raytheon UK.

Across the globe, commercial businesses are continuously working to incorporate advanced technology into their operations to adapt to the digital world, recognising the short and long-term benefits these bring, and trading-off such capability enhancements against the investment costs. Increasingly, companies are using the cloud, artificial intelligence, and automation to enhance their processes, transform how they engage with customers, and adapt how they develop their employees. Not only is the implementation of technology enabling UK commercial businesses to adapt and ensure their workforces are ready for a digitised future, but it is also giving them a competitive edge.

The UK commercial sector is reaping the benefits of cloud systems, which are enabling businesses to adapt to remote working and allowing individuals to work from locations across the country, as well as ensuring effective staff training and development continues. According to the European Commission’s Statistical Office, around 70% of UK business reported that they were aiming to become fully cloud-based in the future.

A recent UK government report for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Automation and the Future of Work) identified that artificial intelligence and automation helps to bring efficiencies to businesses, enabling them to streamline processes and achieve operational accuracy. The report also found that automation was creating a more competitive manufacturing industry in the UK, due to AI helping to “re-shore” businesses in the sector back to the UK.

Not only are businesses embracing technology within their operations, but they are also looking at ways of digitising their training programmes. According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, companies around the world are postponing or cancelling in-person training programmes in response to COVID-19, with more businesses looking towards virtual learning as a more efficient and cost-effective alternative, maintaining and improving learning outcomes. But digital and virtual learning programmes were already on the rise before current events.

Helping commercial businesses digitise their ways of working to adapt to the future is something that we have been doing for decades, having worked with several leading automotive manufacturers to help them transform and revolutionise the way they deliver training to their staff.  For example, we have had a relationship with General Motors that has spanned over 25 years and has helped the business train its dealership employees across the globe. We have also helped other automotive dealerships train technicians and sales representatives throughout the world via virtual classroom training. This has boosted workforce training effectiveness, enabling the businesses to stay agile in changing times.

But as a UK defence business, we at Raytheon UK know that there is also a growing need for digitisation in the defence sector. The rise of new threats to national security such as new forms of artificial intelligence, non-traditional forms of warfare and cyber mean that the defence sector must act quickly in adopting new technologies, at a pace and rate not seen previously. Without such an approach, whether in so-called “hybrid warfare” or simply keeping up with the technological advances our people expect and demand, we will soon fall behind our adversaries and competitors (including in the “battle for talent”).

As a business, Raytheon UK has a reputation for delivering world-class training solutions for the UK government and military customers, with extensive experience leading large and complex transformative change programmes around the world. This includes our advanced training technology that is helping to boost the combat agility and proficiency of our armed forces in the UK and overseas, including in Canada and the US. We know first-hand that placing a focus on digitising military capabilities and delivering first-class training to personnel is critical to agility and success, maintaining the UK’s position as a global player.

It is imperative that, as a UK defence industry partner working with the government, we adopt digital capabilities and agile ways of working and training our armed forces. Only by doing this can we fully transform how we operate and protect the nation. We welcome the UK MOD’s focus on digitisation, through the creation of Strategic Command’s Defence Digital organisation, which is focused on implementing innovation and digital services, making sure that effective digital and information technology is put into the hands of the military and business frontline.

By implementing innovation across the UK defence sector and drawing upon the successes we have seen in the commercial world, we can help to digitise battlespace and operational capabilities fully, create more responsive cyber defence capabilities and deliver transformative training to optimise our key personnel on the frontline, wherever that is geographically or conceptually.

The UK defence industry must act quickly to embrace digitisation and adapt its capabilities to the modern world, and at scale, so that we do not fall behind. Resolving the resource and investment conundrum is a different topic and warrants a separate thesis. However, regardless of the resourcing challenge, innovating and adapting to exponential change is crucial to staying one step ahead and ensuring that we can withstand the known, and as yet unknown, threats and challenges we will inevitably face in the future.

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