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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

CIOs are always in the maelstrom of change as a result of technology or business developments, but as deputy CIO of the Army, Hill and his team are combating not only these changes but also a massive change in world events and therefore the Army's role. An armed force built in the Cold War and expecting to be deployed in a world war, the British Army has seen many conflicts over the past 20 years; each has been different and changed the Army's requirements drastically each time.

"What will be the coalitions of the future? We don't have a year to plan any more, so the contingency is always to be ready to go. Now the question is, is the deployment peace support, combat operations or intervention?

"We have to be prepared to operate with any nation, which means your processes and technology have to be templated first, then adapted to meet the situation. You have to be good at risk management and you have to have your backup systems prepared," he says of both the need for physical and process fall-backs.

"So we have to be as efficient as possible and be really hard-nosed about business cases. We are constantly changing," he says in reference to recent announcements of redundancies, expansion of the Territorial Army and the closure of bases in Germany.

"All of this requires a really shrewd business understanding and it is hard to quantify value when there is no P&L."

On CIO's day with Brigadier Hill, the one-star rank is never an issue. Hill is a confident communicator keen to allow a voice to those serving him and not dominate the conversation himself.

And he never avoids the difficult subjects. Over the course of the day and the interview he freely admits the Army has suffered problems with the handling of Iraqi detainees, that Bowman wasn't perfect on launch and that the Army is about young people who have to be deployable — a harsh reality for those seriously injured.

"I'm an IT person, but not a deep technologist," he says of his role. "I'm business-aware and that is why I have a great team of technologists. This is an utterly people-driven business; they need to understand the technology and talk to me because they are the experts," he says of his team.

Hill joined the Royal Signals as a direct entry officer and has been with the corps all his career. He became the commanding officer of the 700 men in the 3rd Division Signal Regiment in 2005 with frontline experience of commanding in Iraq. "At times it got too close to the rockets for my liking," he laughs.

 

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