Key UK sectors face barriers to digital advantage

97% of UK government, defence and aerospace organisations face barriers to achieving digital advantage.

Achieving a digital advantage is more important than ever, with factors including climate change, the COVID-19 crisis and Brexit accelerating digital strategies. This is one of the findings in a new report published 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.

‘Digital advantage’: not a nice to have, but essential for the protection and advancement of UK society

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%) of decision-makers see digital capability as key.

James Hatch, Chief Digital Officer, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence commented: “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.”

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.

Lifting the lid on digital barriers for government, defence and aerospace

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

These include:

● Organisations are struggling to attract and retain talent, facing a number of external obstacles. Decision-makers said the Great Resignation (38%), changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic (36%) and changes to working patterns (36%) are key threats facing their organisation.

● There is a lack of confidence around current digital capabilities. For example, over two-thirds (70%) of respondents said they need to ‘completely overhaul’ or ‘significantly improve’ their ability to innovate, their agility (68%) and their security savviness (67%).

● Nearly half (46%) 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%) of respondents said that using data ineffectively would prevent their ability to solve challenges within society.

● A third (33%) cited more sophisticated threats from external vectors / enemy states as a key data barrier preventing them from becoming more digitally mature.

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.”

Sneha Dawda, Research Fellow in Cybersecurity and Cyber Threats, RUSI said: “Governments have traditionally struggled with a lack of digital agility and a large amount of bureaucratic processes that slow down innovation. Disjointed procurement has been another challenge, whereby different departments speak to different people and use different technology which not only slows down innovation but can also lead to cybersecurity issues. There needs to be a degree of centralised management to accurately calculate and manage cyber risks.”

Higher stakes but higher rewards

Despite the many challenges to achieving digital maturity, 83% of respondents agree the reward in doing so is worth it.

Hatch concludes: “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 cybersecurity.”

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