The five pillar strategy – Govern, Trust, Discover, Use, and Share – signals an intention by Defence to manage data in a more deliberate and disciplined way. It affirms the criticality of taking a strategic approach to how data is governed, collected, organised, stored, accessed, analysed, interpreted and visualised to support decision making processes.
While vast volumes of data are being captured and collected across Defence assets and there is clearly a growing awareness of the importance of data, there is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed. Raw data alone has little organisational value – to be useful, data needs to be transformed into relevant information and insights, and these need to be put in the hands of decision makers.
At a practical level, raw data needs to be continuously extracted, structured, combined, analysed, interpreted and reported. Setting up the processes and infrastructure to achieve this requires an understanding of the Defence context and organisational drivers, combined with digital, data and analytics expertise and deep knowledge of relevant technical disciplines such as engineering, design and asset management.
For many organisations, unlocking the power of data is hindered by barriers to accessing and organising it efficiently. This is especially true in large, complex organisations with diverse data sets. Their data is often difficult to find and access because it is highly distributed and fragmented across the organisation or trapped in proprietary systems and ‘opaque’ containers such as spreadsheets and documents.
Once accessed, the data may be difficult to use because it is poorly structured, inconveniently formatted or has quality problems such as being inaccurate, inconsistent, incomplete or outdated.
The rapid pace at which data is accumulating amplifies this problem due to a lack of adequate data engineering tooling and capability. A further complicating factor and long-term risk is the fact that the ‘keys’ to certain types of data, including the knowledge of how to access, interpret and use it, may be held by just one or two employees, or an external contractor.
The Defence industry also faces a particular challenge in terms of heightened security requirements. A delicate balance must be struck between keeping data secure while embracing new technologies and the latest tooling (which typically exists in the cloud). Striking the right balance will help to manage large volumes of sensitive data safely and efficiently, enhance organisational agility and ultimately support better, faster decision making.
To tackle these challenges, and unlock the full power of data, requires putting in place a set of building blocks over time. Having smart data capture techniques is one piece of the puzzle, but to make sense of that data, and do it well, requires combining organisational context with technical expertise.
Technical expertise in working with and analysing data is rightly viewed as a powerful enabling capability, but without organisational context it is largely impotent. Before value-adding insights can be extracted from data it is critical to provide a foundational understanding of your organisational goals and your operating context.
This context makes it possible to connect data to organisational value, because it helps define what data is relevant and where analysis should be focused. For example, it provides the necessary context for analysing where you are relative to your goals, what the key drivers are for achieving these goals, and what data is required to undertake this analysis.
Knowing what data is relevant makes it possible to decide what data to collect and to keep. It also makes it easier to identify precisely what data you need from your partners, and what data they need from you.
Collecting and keeping the right data is an important part of the puzzle, but there are others. Wrangling data into shape and putting it to work requires specialised skills. For example, data engineers specialise in accessing, organising and integrating terabytes of information using modern data processing methods and tools.
Data analysts and data scientists have the necessary coding, statistical, data visualisation and reporting skills to uncover valuable relationships and insights, derive meaning from the data, and report and visualise it in a compelling way.
Domain experts in disciplines such as asset management, programme management, and geotechnical, electrical, civil and mechanical engineering can provide a deep understanding of the meaning and significance of the data that they work with daily. Their input is often essential in identifying opportunities to analyse data in a way that supports key operational, planning and sourcing decisions. They also provide an independent view on priorities for addressing key data collection, quality and availability deficiencies.
Working closely with Defence teams, these specialists can accelerate value realisation by:
When analytics is done well it can transform decision making and operational management. For example, in the context of Defence Estate, robust analysis of the vast amount of data that has already been collected could enable many improvement opportunities including:
Good data and robust analytics also provide a solid foundation for more advanced digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and autonomous systems. These data-hungry technologies are becoming increasingly important for Defence. They can enable new capabilities such as automatic condition inspection and fault detection, predictive maintenance, and autonomous optimisation of asset performance and energy consumption.
This creates significant opportunities to improve productivity, sustainability, safety and operational effectiveness and help Defence deliver on its strategic objectives.
A strong data analytics capability is a powerful insights engine that Defence can harness to help reach its strategic objectives. But as we have discussed, it is fundamentally important that these goals are well articulated and that the analytics engine directly supports the decisions that will guide defence towards these objectives.
It is also important that the fuel supply for this analytics engine is efficient and that the fuel is the of high quality. In other words, the right data needs to be efficiently collected, processed and retained, and this data must be made readily available to analytics teams.
To fully realise the potential of data analytics this end-to-end capability needs to be repeatable, efficient and scalable. This will require upfront and ongoing investment in building and maintaining the entire platform. In particular, it will be necessary to enforce rigorous data management standards, invest in modern scalable and interoperable technologies, and build automated data pipelines.
While Defence has vast reserves of data at its disposal, these reserves have been largely untapped. Data has been treated as a by-product of operations rather than as an asset that can help Defence to achieve its strategic and operational goals. Defence now has the intent and opportunity to change this, and to use the power of analytics to unlock the organisational value in its data.
Eric Louw is Managing Principal, Data and Analytics at Aurecon. He has thirty years of international experience with leading management consulting firms and as an executive in the telecommunications industry, focusing on business strategy, technology strategy, digital transformation, and data analytics. He is the co-author of three business books, as well as numerous articles and academic papers.
Julieanne Saxty is a dedicated program manager with experience working across large sustaining capital programs, in both Australia and the United Kingdom. With cross market experience, Julieanne has advised Clients within the Defence, telecommunications, retail and Emergency Services industries. Julieanne is a senior leader in Aurecon’s Defence team, leading and delivering Aurecon’s Project Delivery Services (PDS) Program.
Tim Plenderleith has over 20 years of experience in the industrial, commercial, infrastructure and Defence sectors. He has completed projects throughout Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Africa across business advisory and multidisciplinary engineering and management. industries throughout Australia, New Zealand Asia and Africa. I am involved in advising clients on matters of business strategy and development, supply chain improvement and project design and delivery strategy.
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