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Getting Started with Defense


Today, defense is in the midst of fundamental transformation, as organizations adapt to new challenges. International security threats are no longer limited to single states and large forces—often, they involve non-state actors and are fluid and asymmetric. Those challenges are increasingly varied, as well. Defense organizations have to think about terrorism, complex conflicts in regional hot spots, decaying situations in failed states, and natural disasters.

Meanwhile, missions are increasingly likely to involve a changing cast of multinational coalition partners, non-governmental organizations, and private-sector contractors. And the missions themselves can require a complicated mixture of capabilities: As they conduct warfighting—the most traditional role for military personnel—defense organizations often need to support stability/peacekeeping operations and humanitarian operations at the same time. These can take place within a small area, or be spread across the globe.

Overall, fragmented, fast-moving challenges have largely replaced the traditional monolithic security threats—and that means that the traditional monolithic response is no longer enough. In a shifting and unpredictable environment, agility has become key.

Agility relies on a combination of elements. An increasingly vital factor in that mix is the individual—or the “strategic corporal.” Military units have long been familiar with the certain individual who knows where to find things and how to get results, regardless of formal rank or channels. The strategic corporal is a metaphor for that type of individual—for the everyday soldier, sailor, airman, airwomen, and civilian within a defense organization who can get things done. In today’s environment, virtually all individuals need to be able to operate that way—to make connections, link up resources, and move quickly. That is, everyone needs to be something of a strategic corporal.

Such individuals are critical because the effective and efficient performance of their day-to-day activities can have a powerful impact on the outcomes of larger operations and the overall mission. Using systems and processes to empower the strategic corporal to be more agile will in turn make the defense organization itself more agile.

Driving Collaboration and People-Centricity

In the effort to enable and support the strategic corporal—and increase organizational agility—business process experts need to keep two fundamental qualities in mind: Collaboration and people-centricity.

Collaboration has become a watchword in the industry. Increasingly, defense organizations need to operate in coalitions made up of several countries and joint missions that involve the army, navy, and air force working closely together. At the same time, collaboration has to include suppliers and contractors who are more likely to be found in forward positions, even on the battlefield, providing weapon-system support, infrastructure management, and security services. With broader missions involving humanitarian and peace-keeping activities, coordination with non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross/Crescent and World Food Program is also vital.

People-centricity is of course fundamental to empowering the strategic corporal. Business process experts need to design systems and processes around individuals, rather than organizations or technologists. To a large extent, process experts need to think in terms of delivering the right information to the right person at the right time—information that is understandable, timely, relevant to the individual’s context or circumstance, and actionable. Access to information needs to be provided through easy-to-use, flexible interfaces, and cannot be limited by the types of back-end systems involved or front-end device being used.

Making Agility Real

Business process experts need to translate those high-level principles into day-to-day realities. As David Alberts and Richard Hayes note in their book, Power to the Edge: Command and Control in the Information Age, “Agile organizations do not just happen. They are the result of an organizational structure, command and control approach, concepts of operation, supporting systems, and personnel that have a synergistic mix of the right characteristics.” As business process experts work to bring greater agility to individuals, the organization, and the entire defense ecosystem, a number of fundamental concepts are entering the picture. These include enterprise service-oriented architectures, event-driven management, and performance-based logistics.

Enterprise Service-Oriented Architectures

An enterprise service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a technical framework for rapidly building software applications that use services that are available via network. In an SOA, applications are designed to use web services as the standard means to communicate well-defined information with an array of applications. The architecture provides a framework for linking seemingly disparate application components, and enables defense forces to assemble new applications from web services over the connected infrastructure.

The enterprise SOA paradigm promises to support increased efficiency, flexibility and innovation, and to play a significant role in enabling defense organizations to respond rapidly to changing operational demands, support new strategies, and enhance interoperability at a relatively low cost. It will also support the emerging confluence of battle-management and resource-management systems by helping organizations bring together capabilities from the commercial sector, such as supply chain management and aircraft maintenance; the public sector, such as accounting and procurement, and the military, such as mission management and command and control.

Event-Driven Management

The growing use of sensors and RFID tags is creating what has been called an “Internet of Things” in which equipment, supplies and other objects are electronically identified and tracked. In essence, this Internet of Things links the individual to the global, physical world. For the defense organization, however, the resulting wealth of data can be difficult to manage—and for the strategic corporal, it can be overwhelming.

Event-driven management systems allow the technology to track key performance indicators, essentially ignoring normal activity and alerting individuals to exceptions and problems, such as late shipments, low fuel supplies, and so forth. This approach filters out routine information and events that require no intervention, allowing the individual to focus more effectively on identifying and solving problems that might have a negative impact on the mission. In other words, it helps ensure that the strategic corporal has information that is relevant, timely and actionable.

Performance-Based Logistics

Defense organizations are increasingly interested in having contractors not only deliver products or services, but also manage end-to-end processes and take on responsibility for final outcomes. For example, an aircraft manufacturer may be required to maintain and service its jets in the field for their entire lifecycle, and guarantee that those aircraft will be available for a certain number of flying hours. In essence, the defense organization is outsourcing responsibility for streamlining processes, managing cost and complexity, and integrating suppliers. This type of approach is used in both the Joint Strike Fighter and the Airbus A400M programs. Success in this arena requires sophisticated and collaborative supply chain management processes that allow various organizations to work together seamlessly to achieve the desired end result, rather than simply focusing on their respective areas.

These are by no means the only concepts that business process experts need to consider going forward. Each organization will find its own path to agility, based on its own strengths and goals. By staying on top of the evolution of these and other emerging concepts, business process experts can take a leading role in helping their organizations chart that course.

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