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This is a guest authored article, written by Valtteri Vuorisalo, Industry Innovation Senior Principal within Accenture Defence Services.

Digital change is accelerating at an unprecedented pace, dramatically disrupting industries, touching every aspect of defence organisations.

Those that equip their personnel with new skillsets will have unparalleled ability to create fresh ideas, develop cutting-edge products and services, and disrupt the status quo.

Getting past the digital culture shock that so many defence organisations are experiencing today may sound daunting. But, fortunately, there are private and public sector role models to help guide the way. Not only have many large technology companies established thriving digital cultures, but there are also early adopters in government and other industries.

Accenture’s annual Technology Vision report, which surveyed more than 5,400 business and government leaders worldwide to pinpoint the emerging technologies that will have the greatest impact in the next three to five years, identifies five trends that are essential to success in an increasingly digital security environment.

1. AI is the new UI

Artificial intelligence (AI) has evolved beyond its status as a back-end tool and is taking on more sophisticated roles within defence organisations’ technology interfaces. From autonomous military vehicles that use computer vision to live translations made possible by artificial neural networks, AI has become increasingly important for defence organisations faced with converting huge amounts of data into understandable and actionable information. Rapid access to insights is key for decision-making and operational agility, because managers can spend more time reviewing results than struggling to produce them.

We are seeing the rise of AI in defence, both in planning and operations. The U.S. Department of Defense’s science research division recently produced a report about how AI and autonomous robotic systems will be a crucial to future defence strategy. The U.S. military already uses a host of robotic systems in the battlefield, from reconnaissance and attack drones to bomb disposal robots. However, these are all remotely-piloted systems, meaning a human has a high level of control over the machine’s actions at all times. The report also suggests that there may be tactical advantages to having humans and purely self-driven machines work together in the field. And this is just the beginning.

2. Ecosystem power-plays

Platforms are completely changing the ways in which both private and public sector organisations operate and compete. Organisations are increasingly integrating their core functionalities with third parties and their platforms. Forward-thinking leaders are leveraging these relationships to expand their roles and capabilities for the digital age, and as they do, they’re designing value chains that will transform their organisations and industries.

The defence industry should follow the private sector’s lead and increase collaboration to secure innovation. Working with industry, governmental organisations, academia and others will allow defence to tap into new skill-sets and thinking that was previously impossible. Platforms are key to achieving this level of collaboration across an ecosystem. For example, U.S. defence agencies utilize the Joint Information Environment, a single, joint, secure and agile command, control, communications and computing environment.

3. Workforce marketplace

The future of work has already arrived, and digital leaders are fundamentally reinventing their workforces. Driven by a surge of on-demand labour platforms and online work management solutions, legacy models and hierarchies are being dissolved and replaced with open talent marketplaces. The resulting on-demand enterprise will be key to the rapid innovation and organisational change needed to transform for the digital age.

Defence agencies will clearly benefit from access to on-demand resources to acquire skills and expertise as and when needed. Also, to become an attractive employer to millennials, agencies need to offer more flexible work practices and exciting career options in roles they may previously not have recruited for or invested in. As defence agencies experience constant fluctuations in readiness requirements, today’s level of mobilization might not be adequate tomorrow, or may be too extensive next week. To continuously adapt, these organisations must be able to extend their pool of talent resources, buying and hiring skills as needed through flexible and efficient sourcing mechanisms.

4. Design for humans

Technology today is more intelligent, and it’s adapting to how we behave and learn. In defence, this type of design thinking needs to catch up. Most weapons systems have become highly complex and the user interfaces are overly complicated. A human-cantered user interface makes decision-making easier, and can accelerate reaction times to incidents.

Military training – particularly in extreme weather conditions – is one area that would benefit from intelligent user-centric design. Technology could be used to detect symptoms of hypothermia or exhaustion, ultimately keeping troops safer. Improved design and enhanced functionality of mobile devices used in ground operations is also needed to support war-fighters. In an environment where every second counts, an intuitive, efficient and easy to navigate user interface could mean the difference between life and death.

5. The Uncharted

In today’s rapidly evolving digital economy, organisations are facing new challenges and are under intense pressure to adapt. Defence agencies are no exception; geo-political disruptions combined with fast-paced technology change have led to a new era of digital defence and a new breed of cyberwarfare.

Defence agencies must be bold and harness new technologies to advance mission success. This requires devising a digital strategy for their organisation that includes new rules and operating standards for the digital age. Those entities that take the lead and innovate will establish their place at the centre of the new digital ecosystem – while those who don’t will likely be left behind.

Valtteri Vuorisalo is an Industry Innovation Senior Principal within Accenture Defence Services. Valtteri completed his PhD in the development of future military capability and has published internationally on security and technology related topics.

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