Asking questions from the customer point of view is the behavioural innovation for sustained mission effect
In this era of unrestricted and highly competitive warfare, the U.K. Ministry of Defence faces relentless and demanding challenges. Many threat actors can now acquire sophisticated capabilities previously available only to well-resourced nation states. The MoD has artificial intelligence, machine learning, software-defined networks, digital platforms, digital twins, synthetics, cloud computing, and other tools in its arsenal. But is this new technology aimed at combating these threats delivering successful outcomes for the MoD?
MoD adversaries are leveraging rapid advances in emerging disruptive technologies and using them to pose new, evolving and ongoing threats ― particularly in space, cyberspace, and computing. To stay competitive in this environment, its technologies must evolve faster than those of its adversaries. And that means delivering solutions at the speed of relevance.
The very real threat posed by disruptive technologies has been driving the private sector since the age of the internet – but it leads to another question: Are innovation and the technology roadmap keeping up with the vulnerabilities of our customers?
It starts with a question
The Chief of Defence Staff, Permanent Under Secretary, and Commander of UK Strategic Command all have stated that current approaches by the Defence community are not enough for MoD to meet its very broad national security goals. The Chief of Naval Operations recently called out defence companies for behaviour that he views as counterproductive to the needs of the military in driving spend in excess of needs, saying “It’s not helpful.”
We must challenge ourselves as a defence and industrial space sector to deliver what is needed to make these adversarial threats irrelevant. We do this by staying one step ahead and redefining the relationship between industry and defence.
The path forward starts with one very difficult question for industry: What is the problem that the defence customer is trying to solve in delivering its mission?
This question starts a chain reaction of questioning, listening, trialling, and iterative solution work that is solely focused on learning, adapting, and delivering required mission effects collectively. It focuses both industry and the customer on the prioritised mission, which ultimately is to make the adversarial context irrelevant, rather than using broad endeavours to deliver every aspect of the defence environment equally. The question sets the mission objective and desired outcome, not the technology.
Ascertaining the problem statement requires a trust-based partnership between industry and defence. It requires the sharing of vulnerabilities and an agreed-upon, accurate definition of the mission outcome being sought. This starts with examining the customer journey through its mission and operational processes, and at each stage knowing why processes are followed and what value or hinderance each delivers.
These journeys create a dot-to-dot drawing and virtual process of the mission with those areas of value and hinderance. It highlights what’s important for driving desired outcomes on the battlefield instead of technology or processes. Together, defence and industry leaders can start asking the difficult and challenging questions of each process step and method of achievement. These questions allow this partnership team to create a hypothesis of how to improve the mission effect. The hypothesis is an integrated solution (rather than a new technology) and the mission effect is the unit for measuring success, failure, or stagnation.
Each hypothesis is then enacted, whether simulated or physically delivered, and the process of the customer’s journey through this new operational environment is measured against the desired effect. This partnership and joint process measures those elements of the mission that have been successful and those that have not, including areas that should be halted or considered for further iteration.
Often referred to as spiral or iterative development, the question has most importantly moved the focus from technology innovation to the mission innovation. In addition, the challenges for success involve and are dependent on the defence customer, as each iteration offers improved solutions that demand redirection of operational methods and improvements to processes. The spiral development partnership is now as much about improving the way we operate as improving the technology and tools that are used.
As with all hypotheses and change, it is vital to understand and record all the value offered by the recalibrated solutions. Whereas technology is often evaluated by way of a single economic measure of purchase price that meets specification, the mission outcome process measures total sustainability:
- Proven delivery of mission effect
- The reduced time to deliver the mission effect
- The total cost (saving) of the new solution
- The operational savings, both direct time and in indirect redeployment of personnel and other equipment
- The savings in future change now that the product is integrated by design
With a partnership approach, the solution design is collectively owned, removing much of the prior adversarial relationships formed when outcomes are segregated from technology design needs. The customer journey and its outcome-focused solution delivers value innovation to the MoD through solutions rather than just technology. The spiral journey facilitates sharing of the appropriate rapidly advancing private sector innovations whilst the problem-sharing process helps shape decisions for market investments that augment defence needs.
The bottom line is that focusing on the fundamental problem to be solved will lead us to a different conversation that is no longer technology focused and siloed in nature. Instead, we’ll focus on the total desired effects and capabilities that are needed by industry and defence to accelerate the final outcome we want for warfighters – for the mission and way we operationally evolve.
Changing the relationship
So, does changing the relationship dynamic work? It does when it delivers efficiencies on tactics, techniques, and procedures that are all focused on making the adversarial threat irrelevant.
The changing world requires that industry and defence redefine their relationship. Success starts with asking the most important question rather than proffering technology. Listening, customer journeys, and collective solution and operation innovation will define the appropriate technology for the desired effect and will deliver integration by design.
Who is up for the challenge?