UK Defence and Cyber security

Government, defence and aerospace facing barriers to digital advantage, says BAE

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Ninety-seven per cent of UK government, defence and aerospace organisations are facing 'double challenge' barriers to achieving digital advantage, according to a new survey from BAE Systems Digital Intelligence.

Achieving a digital advantage is more important than ever, with such factors as climate change, the Covid-19 crisis and Brexit all accelerating digital strategies. This is one of the findings in a new report, published today, by BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, which has found that digital advantage is critical to protecting UK society and maintaining the public’s trust.

The report – 'Unlocking Digital Advantage in High Trust Sectors' – looked at the challenges faced by over 120 senior IT and business decision-makers within the UK’s aerospace, government and defence organisations when it comes to using technology to gain an advantage.

For high-trust organisations, having a digital advantage is seen as mission critical to protecting UK society and maintaining the public’s trust in today’s landscape. The research found that the vast majority (85 per cent) of decision-makers see digital capability as key. 

Respondents also highlighted the consequences of not having a digital advantage, citing an increased threat from adversaries, slower innovation and a reduced ability to protect and serve democracy as potential severe societal impacts.

However, almost all (97 per cent) said they are facing significant people, technology and data barriers when it comes to achieving the digital advantage required today. 

These barriers include struggling to attract and retain talent, facing a number of external obstacles. Decision-makers said the 'Great Resignation' (38 per cent), changes resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic (36 per cent) and changes to working patterns (36 per cent) are key threats facing their organisation.

There is also a lack of confidence around current digital capabilities. Over two-thirds (70 per cent) of respondents said they need to "completely overhaul" or "significantly improve" their ability to innovate, their agility (68 per cent) and their security savviness (67 per cent). 

Nearly half (46 per cent) of decision-makers dealing with secret or top-secret data said the nature of this highly sensitive information makes it harder to advance their digital capabilities. Over half (53 per cent) of respondents said that using data ineffectively would prevent their ability to solve challenges within society, while one-third (33 per cent) cited more sophisticated threats from external vectors and enemy states as a key data barrier preventing them from becoming more digitally mature.

James Hatch, chief digital officer, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, said: “High-trust organisations are responsible for handling the country’s most sensitive and secret data, delivering services to citizens and safeguarding democracy. Society fundamentally needs, and expects, to be able to have faith in these organisations. They therefore have the double challenge of accelerating their digital advantage while continuing to deliver critical value to society reliably and responsibly.”

For many of the respondents surveyed (55 per cent), having an advantage aligned directly with agility, namely having the ability to quickly and easily change processes to keep up with advances in today’s connected world. Other potential outcomes include accelerating innovation and transformation (48 per cent), meeting and exceeding organisational goals (45 per cent), ensuring seamless delivery of essential services (45 per cent) and staying ahead of the adversary (35 per cent).

Data breaches were, inevitably, named as the biggest threat facing their organisation by 51 per cent of decision-makers, with over half (52 per cent) also citing climate change as a geopolitical factor which has caused them to accelerate or attempt to accelerate their digital strategies over the last 12 months.

People issues are also a factor, with adopting a digital culture with which employees are on-board highlighted as the top people roadblock (36 per cent), followed by attracting STEM talent (34 per cent), the ability to implement a hybrid working model (33 per cent) and finding DevOps employees that work in a secure way (33 per cent).

Air Commodore Julian Ball OBE, head of defence space capability at the UK Ministry of Defence, said: “A major barrier today is when people look to deliver digital transformation, they still default to thinking about the hardware first. In the space context, everyone will straight away start talking about how we can optimise the satellite. But it’s not about the hardware, it’s about the data that runs behind it.

“What I’m interested in is how we can get the information from the satellite to the ground and the end-user safely and securely. We therefore need to optimise the data-management layer first before we start thinking about developing sensors or getting the ship into space. Satellites are useless if the data isn’t doing its job. It’s the ability to use and understand the data in a meaningful way that will deliver digital advantage.”

Despite the many challenges to achieving digital maturity, 83 per cent of respondents agreed that the reward in doing so is worth it. 

Hatch concluded: “For high-trust sectors, the stakes for unlocking digital advantage are higher, but so are the rewards. If we collaborate as an industry, the future will host a richer and safer society and the UK will have an increased global influence, across defence, technology and science, and cyber security.” 

Launched in 2022, Digital Intelligence is part of BAE Systems and is home to 4,800 digital, cyber and intelligence experts, working across 16 countries to collect and understand complex data for governments, nation states, armed forces and commercial businesses.

The report was compiled from information gathered by independent market research agency Vanson Bourne on behalf of BAE Systems Digital Intelligence. The study was conducted between May and June 2022 and surveyed 120 senior IT and business decision-makers from organisations with 1,000 employees within the aerospace, defence and government sectors.

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