Technology has been at the forefront of almost every organisation’s plan to deal with the coronavirus crisis and the impact it has had across multiple industries internationally. Specifically within defence, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst, forcing organisations to fast track plans for digital transformations and embrace the changes that come with it—something that will benefit the industry for years to come.
Previous traditions of hierarchy and rigid processes had to be abandoned by defence organisations during the pandemic as they were forced to adapt to new ways of working. Remote operations, flexibility and, most importantly, technology had to be at the heart of all contingency plans to continue operations during the height of the pandemic—and provide emergency support to health services.
Defence organisations across the world have been reported to be integrating transformational technologies into their operations and accelerating digital transformation plans following the crisis. For example the US Department of Defense is piloting 5G technology for operations as well as using augmented reality (AR) in MRO and training, the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has fast tracked their adoption of 3D printing and in Australia huge investments are being made to foster collaborations between academia, military and industry and using data insights to promote dramatic change across shipyards and their supply chains.
According to IFS research, organisations across a range of industries, not just in the military sector, have reported an increase in the importance of digital transformation due to the pandemic and its economic impact—50% of organisations are set to spend more on digital transformation efforts in the future.
It is clear that the turn to technology has not been the only advancement within the industry, it has allowed defence organisations to analyse and overhaul operations that, in reality, were the cause for wide-spread inefficiencies. Although it caused disruption, the pandemic offered the industry a rare chance to momentarily down tools and address problems within organisations. As a result, there will be four major areas of advancement in the industry.
There are two types of connectivity and bandwidth issues: planned and unplanned. Most organisations, civilian or defence, experience planned or unplanned outages on occasion for system maintenance, natural disasters, physical damage, or hardware failure, and in the case of defence organisations, physical attack. On these occasions, organisations will have contingency response plans for these scenarios and can be quite efficient in restoring their networks afterward.
However, the common need to perform prolonged operations, often in unfriendly territory, with no connectivity due to the lack of forward infrastructure and a critical requirement to maintain secrecy is arguably unique to defence organisations. In this case, a robust Disconnected Operations solution – capable of distributing and reconsolidating data and technical records when connected and logging data autonomously when not connected – is a critical feature of disaster-proofing the operation.
With remote work increasing across the globe, connectivity has become more complex. Military organisations will be joined by civilian companies now seeking remote data access and the ability to continue working while offline and later reconnect and resync. As a formal risk mitigation technique, defence organisations need to harden their network solution with a true Disconnected Operations mode. Robust Disconnected Operations capabilities can capture, store and resync asset and workforce data regardless of connectivity. It could be the difference in a defence company’s ability to not just recover from planned or unplanned outages, but rather to continue operating seamlessly throughout—even with workforce and assets globally distributed.
Lockdown calls things into question
The idea of flexible and remote working options would have been an unlikely prospect pre-Covid. As well as the commitment within the defence sector to rigid processes, in the past there has been a distinct reluctance from higher-ranking leaders to embrace remote working due to the deeply ingrained tradition of in-person, direct management and leadership.
But the coronavirus crisis has made a new working paradigm necessary for survival. Now that remote and flexible working has proved itself to be an efficient means of operating, it raises the questions of whether traditional processes and policies within defence organisations have been hindering productivity in the past. In a post-COVID world where new efficiencies are being realised, processes that were once deemed necessary are revealing themselves to be merely a force of habit.
For example, the long-standing tradition of requiring physical signatures on formal documentation is being rapidly replaced with electronic signatures generated by automated workflows—drastically reducing the wait between approval steps and reducing total throughput time. As a natural extension to that, many organisations are finding that lengthy approval workflow processes don’t empower their employees to act, but rather do the opposite. By reducing the number of total approval steps and raising authority thresholds for lower-level managers, employees are empowered to act, while freeing up valuable executive time to focus on more pressing strategic matters.
The defence sector can learn valuable lessons from the pandemic. If the defence industry continues to embrace change and realise the benefits on non-traditional working, it has the opportunity to further streamline processes and increase efficiencies across organisations—all while empowering the workforce to focus on results.
Digital transformations to increase efficiencies – not reduce headcount
As with remote working, many leaders within military organisations have been hesitant to welcome digital transformation and automation within the military, as they thought it would mean having to cut back on personnel. This has been holding back the progress of administration and headquarter reform for years.
But in reality, digital transformation is more about optimising workforce efficiency rather than headcount reduction. This has two main benefits for defence organisations. Firstly, the coronavirus crisis has added additional pressure to existing budget cuts so companies want to retain the personnel they have so heavily invested in. This preserves capacity for business to ramp back up as the crisis resolves—while protecting the livelihoods of their workers and families. Secondly, removing waste through densification of value-added work results in real time and cost savings that can be reinvested into other activities.
Defence manufacturers face this challenge daily. Despite rapid advances in Industry 4.0 technologies, these companies must still maintain large human labour forces that cannot work from home and are often hired to support specific programmes. When those programmes get delayed – whether due to a crisis like COVID-19, budgetary shortfalls, or other severe disruptions – those skilled labourers must often be reassigned to other programmes or let go to preserve cash. The companies best able to match their labourers to value-added work have the best chance of retaining them, preserving critical skillsets, and the right technology solutions can help highlight those opportunities for workforce realignment.
Before the pandemic, global militaries were under increasing pressure to reduce admin costs and decrease the size of headquarters. Organisations were unsure how to manage this without losing personnel. But the coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that this can be possible. The adoption of digital transformation and automation within an organisation streamlines administrative tasks and means more efficient back-office processes. Consequently, more resources can be reassigned to the operations that matter: moving resources from non-value-added processes to core operations can increase efficiency with no net change in force size.
As change is implemented, compliance shouldn’t be left behind
Compliance was once seen as a nuisance, but it is rapidly emerging as a barrier to entry for large government contracts, which makes the aerospace and defence sector poised to best weather and recover from the current global crisis. Compared to the rapid decline and slow recovery underway in commercial aviation, government defence spending has remained relatively stable, with large multi-year contracts still being awarded for major new programmes. Only those competitors with the right combination of demonstrated excellence across a variety of compliance areas such as ITAR, FedRamp, and CMMC are allowed to compete on certain contracts, and to the victor go the spoils.
With such importance attached to regulation, defence organisations must keep compliance top of mind if they are to transfer to remote operations on a more permanent basis. Therefore, remote operations require flexible software architecture and filing to adhere to regulations. And it is because of compliance that many A&D organisations are also hesitant to adopt cloud-only ERP deployments. A recent IFS webinar, attended by key decision makers within aerospace manufacturing, revealed that only 3 per cent of respondents deploy their ERP software only using the cloud —whereas 64 per cent said they use their software either on-prem only or a mixture of on-prem and cloud-based deployments.
For defence organisations to continue to embrace remote working and unlock further efficiencies while remaining compliant they need a tailored solution. With a managed cloud or secure hybrid enterprise software environment for critical compliance areas such as ITAR, organisations can explore remote capabilities knowing compliance is not an issue.
The coronavirus crisis has forced defence organisations to escalate digital advancement efforts from mere plans to a reality in order to survive and keep militaries operational. The industry had to leave their traditions behind and welcome change quickly during the height of the pandemic—and have realised the benefits.
If the industry continues to welcome flexible working and integrate transformational technologies into operations, they will further fast-track change to increase employee empowerment, efficiencies, and productivity for years to come.
Note: Matt Medley is a Senior Product Manager at IFS.