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Brigadier Alan Hill enabling frontline intelligence

Mark Chillingworth | Nov. 8, 2013
British Army deputy CIO Alan Hill talks about the transformational challenges of recruiting and leading a digital army that deploys information as a weapon on the battlefield

The Army operates internal training and has a Cisco Academy at its training school. "To train people is expensive, but it is important we invest in the soldiers, officers and commanders."

The rise of technology means the Army is training its sights on digital skills. After the Iraq War of 2003 the coalition forces found they needed technology skills and that the local population was not as benign as the politicians had thought they would be. As a result the Army relied on IT contractors instead of local skills, but as contractors are civilians they require protection, therefore increasing the overall workforce.

"We were hit by a technology boom and you have to answer that need," says Hill. He aims to carry through an Army digital revolution. "Dominating the information space through the collection, communication and exploitation of information is the strategy. We already dominate the battle space."

UK permanent joint headquarters staff run operations like Afghanistan, making demands on all three armed forces. "We put together a package and permanent joint HQ operate the battle," Hill says.

The digitisation of the Army isn't just in the battle space, it is also in what Hill calls the business space, the essential back office that keeps the Army marching.

And with the Ministry of Defence cutting 25,000 armed forces personnel and 29,000 civilian staff by 2015, in the biggest round of cuts to the military since the end of the Cold War, that back office has come under heavy pressure.

Those staff reductions were set out in the government's 2010 strategic defence and security review. The Army, a public sector operation with an annual budget of £10.5 billion, employs 140,000 people not only across the UK, but also in Germany, Kenya, Canada, Brunei and Afghanistan.

To make the Army more efficient, secure and able to achieve its complicated mission, in 2005 the Army and MoD launched the defence information infrastructure (DII) programme. DII is one of the rare large IT project successes to be found in the public sector.

He says that in 2000 the Army and MoD found themselves with a large number of different IT systems and a changing role. Outdated and bespoke systems were becoming ever more costly to run and upgrade, not to mention unable to meet the information exchange needs of a rapidly changing organisation — a classic CIO scenario.

DII was created by the Atlas consortium of Fujitsu, HP and Cassidian and provides 300,000 users across all three forces with access via any device to Ministry of Defence information systems. The National Audit Office has announced its overall satisfaction with the programme and praised it for delivering important benefits despite some implementation difficulties. It also praised the defence community for mitigating risk, learning from other large technology projects and having "robust commercial, governance and decision-making structures".


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