How an adaptive approach can help secure information advantage for the UK
The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (the Integrated Review) has set out a comprehensive vision for securing Britain’s sovereignty, security, and prosperity by making use of the UK’s full spectrum of governmental, diplomatic, military, economic, and foreign policy levers; and by becoming more engaged and active in the international arena as a sovereign nation.
It asserts that Britain must achieve an information advantage by improving its ability to ‘detect, understand, attribute and act’ in response to threats across the spectrum, and calls for greater data-enabled capabilities in the future frontiers of cyber and space. This includes countering threats posed by states who engage in sub-threshold information operations that undermine the traditional rules-based international order. Espionage, sabotage, assassination and poisonings, electoral interference, disinformation, propaganda, intellectual property theft and other such tools are often used in ‘hybrid’ combination with more traditional hard power methods.
The review implicitly recognises that the UK must regain the initiative against competitors who have become more adept, agile, and assertive in their deployment of sub-threshold activity; in short, those who have seized the ‘information advantage’. Moreover, the review challenges the UK, through its science and technology acumen, to be an international champion of information, ensure the free flow of data, and enable secure, trusted, and interoperable exchange across borders while maintaining data protection standards.
The Prime Minister’s introduction to the review set out the vital requirement for agility and speed of action to deliver for the UK’s citizens and enhance the nation’s prosperity and security. These traits will be vital as the UK aims to catch up, and keep up, with adversaries in a world where the pace of change in the information space is faster than Government’s ability to consistently respond.
The concept of ‘information advantage’ and better use of shared information across government is already in place. But the UK’s current approach and capabilities won’t be sufficient given the scale and pace of change. To play a central role in the new vision for the UK’s security, defence, development and foreign policy goals, government and industry need to become more adaptive, and that requires:
Designing for cross-government, cross industry co-operation from the outset
As the future frontiers of cyberspace, emerging technology, data and space evolve, so will the UK’s collaboration needs. Being able to adapt the shape and combination of government and industry responses to threats and opportunities will unlock our ability to gain and maintain information advantage.
The UK’s ongoing ability to ‘Detect, Understand, Attribute and Act’ will require government, industry and allies working together to deliver a common objective. The adoption of common architecture standards facilitates this and also gives new entrants access to government to provide new and innovative services that challenge current suppliers and enhance UK capabilities. Facilitating the flow of Information across organisational boundaries is key to making this work, and will continue to break down barriers across government and industry.
Creating speed of manoeuvre with adaptive architectures
All too often governance and control of the systems that government puts in place equates to rigidity and delay. Adaptive architecture breaks that pattern by applying the right level of control together with the right combination of solution building blocks to meet the threat challenge. As the threat evolves, so do the controls and combination of building blocks.
Pace and agility will come from using this adaptive architecture approach to integrate our digital capabilities, truly exploit technology, and introduce new ways of working that respond faster than our adversaries. This will give the UK the flexibility to keep pace with rapidly changing threats.
Equipping Government employees with the tools and processes to innovate faster than the UK’s adversaries
Investment in science and technology, and greater outreach to new, diverse pools of talent, will bring in an influx of new skills. All too often, though, government loses skills to the private sector because the latter is seen to provide faster pace, more interest and greater pay. Retaining skilled employees means giving them the opportunity to flourish, move between government and industry roles, and continue to develop their skills. This will only happen if complex processes and tools designed for the old world are replaced with ones fit for the digital age.
Delivering the UK’s digital age foreign policy and security ambitions set out in the IR is challenging enough – and an order of magnitude more so in times of heightened geopolitical and economic uncertainty. In such a climate, the nation’s transformation and spending priorities should focus on the systems and capabilities that can make the most versatile contribution to global influence through information advantage – the competitive superiority that comes from using information to its full potential.