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Securing the nation’s data — Today’s most important defence

Paul Leahy from Qlik explains how Defence can best execute its new data strategy and build the nation’s resilience in today’s threat environment.

user iconPaul Leahy
Wed, 25 Aug 2021
Securing the nation’s data — Today’s most important defence
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Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie recently announced the Department of Defence (DoD) is creating a new data division and appointing a Chief Data Integration Officer (CDIO) as part of its inaugural data strategy.

By implementing a comprehensive strategy that is built on improving data literacy and security with leadership support, the DoD has a great opportunity to enhance its data maturity and build a pipeline of accurate, up-to-date information in a culture driven by data.

While the department has historically had its challenges, I believe the strategy it has implemented is as close to a blueprint for data transformation as you can get.


Assistant Minister Hastie was candid in his assessment of the DoD’s current challenges regarding data, noting low data literacy and siloed data across the organisation has resulted in much of the national security data the DoD collects to be either useless or vulnerable due to poor data hygiene, while internal politics has resulted in fragmented data sets, causing an inability to deliver the right information to those who need it in a timely fashion.

The Department of Defence’s understanding of the challenges it faces, coupled with lessons learned from plenty of other large legacy organisations that have undertaken comparable transformations, has resulted in a comprehensive plan that should set the organisation up for success.

Putting the pieces together

The Department of Defence has been working towards an improved data strategy for some time now, announcing plans in December 2020 to transform its approach to data, recognising the criticality of data to everything the organisation does.

This plan will implement a strategy composing of 27 initiatives across five pillars, designed to uplift data management and interdepartmental data sharing, improve data literacy, and secure sensitive data. These are key issues that impact the entire defence force.

By improving data sharing, all arms of the defence force can act on the most recent and relevant information. But in order to act on data, one needs to be able to read, analyse and utilise it.

It is therefore crucial to improve data literacy across the Defence Force through educational programs.

Finally, those who handle data must engage in appropriate data hygiene to ensure it is stored, shared and erased securely, to reduce vulnerability of sensitive information and secure sensitive information from potential threat actors.

To realise this transformation, leadership is crucial to keep the strategy on track and build a data-driven organisation.

Leadership is key

By appointing a data czar, the DoD will be able to implement strategies, develop data literacy and build new data pipelines much more effectively as the seniority allows for visibility on decision making, and can drive top-down cultural change.

With the CDIO reporting directly to ‘the diarchy’ – Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell and Defence secretary Greg Moriarty, data will be at the fore of decision making, dramatically improving agility, data hygiene and the overall data maturity of the organisation.

In many situations, regardless of stakes, it can be easy for data to take a backseat in the decision-making process, but as we as a species have learned over the past eighteen months in our approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, data moves quickly, and will either be your strongest asset or your greatest weakness.

By appointing a data czar in such a high-ranking position, they will have visibility and be able to inform decisions, allowing the organisation to overcome challenges around effective access and implementation of data.

The importance of agility and short-term goals

The Department of Defence’s data transformation plan is undoubtedly significant in size and ambition, and so it’s crucial that the organisation introduces this strategy incrementally.

As many large organisations will testify, it’s easy to be inhibited from successful implementation of new strategies by trying to conquer everything perfectly at once.

If you wait for all supporting frameworks and structures to be in place before executing a plan, you’ll never start. The world moves too quickly for this approach to be effective anymore.

Instead, the Department needs to put things to work incrementally, building momentum by setting measurable goals, identify good use cases and develop proper data maturity step by step.

In order to draw active intelligence from data, agile data pipelines need to be introduced for dedicated outcomes. By collecting the right data in the right context, decisions can be made based on information that is accurate, timely and actionable.

Once these strategies are introduced, the Department needs to be quick to show their wins and build momentum to drive further success.

This will enable the department to overcome the perception that coordinating its data is ‘too hard and too complex’, and effectively harness data to support effective decision making.

Data informs everything

Nothing is more critical in defence than timely, accurate data to inform planning, logistics and decision making.

The DoD has implemented a strong strategy which will enhance its data maturity over the coming years with leadership support enabling improved data literacy and data hygiene.

Ultimately, this will allow the Department to optimise the strategic, operational, and tactical uses of its information resources and become a more data-informed defence organisation.

Paul Leahy is the country manager A/NZ at data solutions firm Qlik.

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