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The Digital Strategy for Defence: A review of early implementation

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report into the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Digital Strategy for Defence.

The Strategy, published in May 2021, set out how the MOD intends to transform its use of technology and data. This includes achieving three strategic outcomes by 2025:

  1. Developing a ‘digital backbone’ – this is how the MOD describes the technology, people, and organisational processes that will allow it to share data seamlessly and securely with decision-makers across all the military and civilian domains
  2. Creating a ‘digital foundry’ - a software and data analytics development centre. This will use the capability and access to data provided by the ‘backbone’ to rapidly develop digital solutions in response to emerging needs
  3. An empowered digital function – a skilled and agile community of digital specialists who will help deliver digital transformation and closer integration across Defence

NAO assessment of Digital Strategy Implementation

  1. The MOD does not have a complete plan to implement the strategy or a clear way of measuring whether its implementation of the strategy is on track
  2. The MOD has substantially improved the governance of its digital function, which has begun to align Defence organisations to common digital standards and approaches
  3. The MOD has improved its core IT services and has plans to improve services further
  4. Defence Digital’s historically poor reputation for project and programme delivery has been a barrier to integrating digital activity across Defence
  5. Defence Digital has recognised the weaknesses in its project and programme delivery and is taking action to begin improving them

Strategic challenges for MOD

  1. To make the strategy affordable, Defence Digital increased its efficiency targets and reviewed its costs, which it found to be lower than it originally forecast
  2. Defence Digital is on track to exceed its efficiency targets for this Spending Review period and aims to identify up to £790 million more by 2032-33
  3. The MOD does not have enough people with the right digital skills, which is affecting delivery of the strategy
  4. Defence Digital is trying several initiatives to fix its skills gaps, but its progress has not been fast enough to match the problem and a different approach is required
  5. The MOD’s CIO and Defence Digital are accountable for leading the implementation of the strategy, but they do not have all the organisational levers needed to do so

Recommendations for MOD

The NAO’s report highlights the progress the MOD has made in bringing together and aligning digital practitioners, and recognises that Defence Digital, the organisation responsible for leading the implementation of the strategy, has exceeded its efficiency targets. However, the report also points out that performance in delivering major digital technology programmes must improve, and makes recommendations intended to support the MOD in implementing the Strategy by its target date of 2025.

The report recommends that the MOD should immediately create a clear delivery plan for the Digital Strategy which:

  1. Integrates the Digital Strategy with wider efforts to transform the department, deliver efficiencies and exploits technology;
  2. Identifies and prioritises all the activities needed to achieve its strategic outcomes;
  3. Identifies what people, skills and funding it will need to deliver these;
  4. Develops a set of leading indicators to show the prospects for future progress and;
  5. Sets out and agrees a consistent set of performance information for use across the digital function and the wider department

To read the whole document and gain insight into the key findings of the report, click here

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