Creating a safer world: Seven lessons from DSEI 2023

By Peter Lovell

Under the theme of ‘Achieving an Integrated Force’, DSEI 2023 provided a forum for governments, national armed forces, industry, and academics to discuss how the defence enterprise can come together to make the world a safer place.

We were proud to be the strategic collaboration partner because in an increasingly volatile world, we strongly believe a positive human future must be underpinned by a world that is safe, secure and sustainable.

Across the four-day event, we hosted eight collaboration zones with workspaces for delegates and ran specially curated sessions with our defence and security experts, and technology alliance partners. From those events and our conversations throughout the week, several key themes stood out:

1. Collaboration is essential

In today’s UK defence and security environment, the threats have changed, and the challenges have deepened. Keeping nations safe and protected calls for more than conventional, or siloed, thinking. No one nation or organisation can succeed alone. We need to be connected, coordinated, and collaborative. 

To collaborate to protect, we need the military, civil security organisations, industry, and academia to work together in a more balanced partnership focused on solving problems. Progress is not only vital to countering increasingly persistent and evolving threats – but also to create faster and bolder innovation; more responsiveness in the face of adversity; and better outcomes for all.

2. We need new commercial approaches

As collaboration and partnerships increase, the shortcomings of current capability development and commercial models will become more evident. Often, these act as impediments to the flexibility and fresh thinking needed to deliver at the pace of relevance.

To be successful, we also need to look internally at how our own organisations work. Tweaking will not be enough - we need a more fundamental shift in how we operate, overcoming unhelpful silos and better connecting those that protect vital differentiated capabilities. For instance, an 'enterprise integrator’ approach is a way to collaborate around shared purpose, founding collaborative behaviours, delivery at pace, and innovative commercial approaches.

3. New skills are needed to thrive in a digital world

In a session with Microsoft, we explored how to 'innovate to protect'. The hosts discussed the role of an innovation leader in defence today, the skills the sector needs for a digital world, and how these skills relate to workforce planning and the future of work.

According to a recent survey, recruiting people for technical roles is one of the most acute challenges facing organisations and business leaders today, with 69 percent saying they face a skills gap. This gap can be addressed through workforce planning, training, and also through increased collaboration – like inter-service sharing of talent. In particular, the latter would create a much larger pool of available talent.

4. A world that is safe and secure, is one that is cyber safe and secure

An important focus of the event was advancing the science and technology agenda, including the wide range of research and development DSTL do to keep defence at the leading edge, and the many ways that government, industry and academia can work together.

Modern warfare and battlefield engagement rely heavily on digital networks and computer-based solutions. From aircraft carriers and armoured vehicles to satellites, drones, and personnel on the ground, everyone depends on trustworthy information handled and distributed quickly. So, providing protection against cyber threats by safeguarding sensitive information and protecting critical networks is more important than ever.

5. Resilient supply chains are a strategic requirement

In the past, procurement was all about procuring for cost. But increasingly, the focus is moving to procurement for resilience – dual-sourcing or multiple-sourcing, and near-shoring and re-shoring to shorten and de-risk supply chains. For defence, flexibility and collaborative ability are being sought in partners and suppliers.

To deliver a smarter and more efficient defence supply chain, resilience is a strategic requirement. As national resilience expert Caroline Field covered at the International Business Forum, organisations can build resilience with a greater understanding of their end-to-end ecosystem, fostering a collaborative, less transactional partnership with suppliers.

6. We need to attract more women to defence

We were delighted to play host to Women in Defence UK in our collaboration zones. We're proud to be their founding partner and to be able to play a small role in helping them accelerate gender equality.

Their presence at the event coincided with the launch of their third annual report, which demonstrates progress towards their 30 percent by 2030 ambition for defence. Female representation is now at an overall average of 24 percent; 63 percent of signatories reported an improvement in female representation; and the number of signatories submitting data increased 35 percent.

While any progression is positive, it's clear that more remains to be done - and this is a shared responsibility for everyone in the industry.

7. Space saves lives and protects the planet

In a panel discussion on the Astra Carta ambition, the chair, AVM Paul Godfrey, UK Space Command, quoted our recent space roundtable report. He called out key areas where we believe more can be done to power space sustainability, including: mitigating the environmental impact of commercial launches; striking the right balance between regulation and boosting our space economy; improving public perceptions of space and the benefits it can deliver; and finally, but very importantly, fostering collaboration between industry, government, and academia to solve some of our biggest space sustainability challenges.

These takeaways remind us that a safe and secure future needs all organisations to stand shoulder to shoulder. It also requires an honest reflection about the challenges of collaboration across the enterprise; leaving no stone unturned when seeking improvements; and capturing the best of collaboration to achieve the right outcomes. While the global context gives a timely imperative to change, and change in the system has started, we must seize the opportunity.

About the authors

Peter Lovell PA Global Head of Defence and Security

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