WASHINGTON —To achieve a digital advantage in the future, the British military must change how it architects and buys systems, according to the British Army’s head of information exploitation and chief data officer.

Speaking during the DSEI defense show, Brigadier Stefan Crossfield said the military is focusing on setting standards from the beginning.

“Rather than reengineering and refactoring later, we want to work with you up front to help you with that,” he said. “As a result, we now have a chief information architect, an information design authority. … That is a massive step forward for the army. We’re here to help have those conversations early.”

Crossfield also noted the importance of data in the future. To be successful, he said, the data must be in the right place and easily accessible.

“It’s not about the technology, it’s not about the data, it’s about an organization moving from an industrial-age posture to an information-age posture where we turn to the data first,” he said. “And to do that, we’ve got to get the data right.”

This sentiment was seconded by Charlie Forte, chief information officer for Defense Digital within UK Strategic Command.

“At the moment, no one’s really got a clue what data actually exists across defense,” he said during the same conference. “One of the core things we need to get our arms around is actually getting data transparent and visible and whichever stovepipe it’s currently sitting in and then begin to think about how do we make the metadata available that allows people to understand what we got … and ultimately get most of it onto a cloud-based platform that gives us the ability to do something with it.”

Crossfield said the army is working to get enable secure, democratized access to this data.

Working with industry

Both officials stressed the importance of cooperating with the private sector.

“We only have one choice if we are going to compete and win. And that choice is that we need to completely overhaul our ambition in the application of game-changing digital and information technologies,” Forte said. “To do this to its maximum potential, we have to embrace the notion that this is a team sport. It requires us to work together in very, very different ways than we have in the past.”

One critical area is software. Forte said the service needs to shift from a platform-centric view to the integrated systems-centric view that is mostly software enabled.

Forte also vowed to be a better customer for industry.

“I need to recognize that if you want to have world-class partners, you need to be a world-class customer and we are not yet,” he said. “My commitment back to industry is that we will continue to drive to put ourselves in the position of being world-class customers.”

Moreover, Crossfield said the military needs to be more transparent about available opportunities, acknowledging officials haven’t been as open in the past as they could have been.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.