Every year, Accenture’s Technology Vision pinpoints the key technology trends that will reshape and reinvent organisations of all kinds over the next few years. This year’s top-line theme is “The Intelligent Enterprise Unleashed”. It’s a concept that’s hugely relevant not only to all businesses, but also – in my view – to armed forces the world over.
Why? Because, in the defence context, becoming a more intelligent military organisation is clearly a critical goal. And – as with any other type of organisation – it’s a goal that armed forces can only achieve by unlocking the data that’s currently held within silos and freeing it up to flow to the right place at the right time for the right use.
In today’s increasingly volatile operational and security environment, the ability to harness and exploit data in this way is critical to enhanced mission readiness and outcomes. Alongside the ability to fend off cyberattacks and state-sponsored subversion, today’s military also need to be able to operate intelligently across multinational coalitions. Witness NATO’s Federated Mission Networking, expressly calling for interoperability between people, processes and technology to create joint mission outcomes.
Advanced technologies will be key to making this interoperability happen – and in many emerging areas of technology, defence agencies need to catch up with their commercial counterparts. But technology alone won’t provide all the answers. New thinking and new organisational approaches will be equally vital, including focusing on outcomes and putting people at the center of the smarter, more connected and data-driven defence force.
So, what trends will power progress towards the new, more intelligent military? Our Technology Vision highlights five in particular.
First, Private AI – training artificial intelligence as an effective troop member. As AI’s capabilities and impact on people’s lives continue to grow, all organisations must “raise” their AI to act as responsible, productive and trusted members of society. For the military, AI’s ability to process and analyse vast amounts of information brings implications across the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop, opening up the potential to transform surveillance and situational awareness. In 2016, an AI “pilot” powered by a US$35 Raspberry Pi microprocessor defeated a seasoned combat pilot in successive simulated dogfights.
Second, Extended Reality – signaling the “end of distance” as a factor in military training, situational awareness, operations, and MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul). Virtual and augmented reality technologies are removing the gaps between people, information, and experiences. The results? To pick just one, maintenance engineers will see “over-the-shoulder” of the warfighter in the field, diagnosing any equipment problems and providing step-by-step guidance to fix them.
Third, Data Veracity – underlining the vital importance of trust. While transforming an organisation to run on data brings huge benefits, it also creates a new vulnerability: inaccurate, manipulated, and biased data can lead to corrupted insights and skewed decisions. In the military, such issues are literally a matter of life and death. To avoid them, what’s needed is “multi-level security” – which secures every data object individually, so it can be shared safely and responsively, without compromising the security of the related data.
Fourth, Frictionless Defence – built to partner at scale. Collaboration in response to common threats is now the operational mantra across defence agencies. Turning this into reality requires interoperable technologies and secure trusted data flows. Legacy systems were never designed to support this kind of collaboration, so defence organisations need to break out of the constraints by adopting more agile microservices architectures and using blockchain and smart contracts.
Fifth but not least, the Internet of Thinking – creating intelligent distributed systems. Robotics, immersive reality, artificial intelligence and connected devices are pushing intelligence into the physical world. Successful military strategies will depend increasingly on the ability to do this, both to support collaborative joint missions and stay ahead of adversaries ranging from rogue states to terrorists.
Looking across these five trends, they all point to one goal: enabling and empowering armed forces to respond to political volatility, new threats, and even new combat theatres such as cyber. But while emerging technologies will be key, one thing will remain the same: the need to combine technology with people to get the best from both – something the most effective fighting forces have done throughout history. Whatever happens with technology, that imperative will always apply.