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Rich Pasco, Head of Consultancy

Defence data – 20 years of reflection

In October I will have been working for 20 years, and all of that has been within Defence Logistics and Support. As anyone says with these sorts of reflective blogs, a lot has changed over that time. Here are some key takeaways that I have recently been reflecting on. 

Data quality was lacking

When I started, I knew nothing about Defence, and if I am honest, not that much about analysis. My first reflection is that I was hugely lucky to find a working environment that was so welcoming and with a true sense of purpose, which is a rare find indeed.  

I don’t remember hearing much noise about data back then, only in the context of communications or large-scale IT procurements moving us on from Windows 95 (remember, this is a 20-year reflection after all!). I do remember being quickly frustrated over the lack of decent quality data and not understanding how figures like failure rates of vehicles were so sparse.  

How we overcame and made steps to improve

Nevertheless, I got stuck into the problems I could solve (again, because of the atmosphere of wanting to make things better) and found great satisfaction in turning what data I had into something powerful. We were limited in the tooling we had (Excel, plus a bespoke simulation package) but we achieved a lot by focusing on helping the military define their pain points, and then solving that problem in whatever way was best suited. 

I was also lucky to stay in one place for a long time to build my corporate knowledge and understand Defence’s unique set of challenges. Although there are things Defence can take from other industries, there are few firms or government departments that must continuously train their staff.  

Whether that’s highly technical equipment to be prepared for almost an unending list of tasks, delivering a wide range of routine activities at home and overseas, managing a large land estate, staying up to date with the latest technologies, or procuring a vast array of items without knowing exactly when they will be needed. Overlaying the very real danger that the worst case is that these forces must be ready for war, and I can now accept why data is a challenge! 

So, what’s changed today?

Today, there is an advent of more advanced data science platforms and tooling sitting on the MOD IT estate, such as DDAP, D2S and Palantir to name a few. They are a huge leap forward in what is possible, and they promise genuinely exciting new ideas, but are not the solution in themselves. Well-meaning exploitation of these capabilities also means there could be lots more data and noise blocking the ability to make decisions.  

Defence will always be living in the Congested, Cluttered, Contested, Connected, and Constrained world. We must start by understanding the challenge and then choosing the right approach or technology to provide Defence with Operational Insight.

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