In the UK, data is now a “strategic asset second only to people”

The strategy includes goals around treating data as a strategic asset for the next four years.
30 September 2021

In the UK, data is now a “strategic asset, second only to people.” (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

  • The goals set out in the Defense Data Strategy are aimed at evolving the way data is organized, shared, and utilized
  • The UK government sees data as the key to the success of existing digital initiatives within the defense industry, and for advancing technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The UK Government has decided on a set of goals and strategies over the next four years in which data will be treated as an asset,  playing a central role in overall defense decision-making and efficiency improvement. The end goal is to ensure data is treated —  fast and at scale — as a “strategic asset, second only to people.”

The Ministry of Defence’s (Defence) new Data Strategy for Defence document, released this week, outlines the government’s vision for data as well as setting targets to be achieved by 2025. MoD’s second permanent secretary Laurence Lee said in the report’s foreword that “Data has always contributed to success in Defence, it’s fast becoming our lifeblood.”

The MoD also stated the growing focus on data is aimed at providing better decision-making and results, providing a battlefield advantage, and for making departments more efficient. Basically, the UK government sees data as the key to the digital backbone of the local defense industry and will aid the success of existing digital initiatives and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Given how every decision made is increasingly data-driven, “from multi-billion pound investment and divestment choices to life-or-death situations handled in a split second on the battlefield, to defending against the increasing volume of cyber threats,” according to Lee, who said he found this plan necessary.

Moreover, with an increased flow of curated data, the MoD expects to promote national and international integration, across the domains of maritime, land, air, cyberspace, and even space. This would enable Defence to take advantage of the power of its data.

Data as an asset — a challenging endeavor.

Diving deeper into the plan, it is stated that one of the key points of the plan is around the data challenges in Defence. Problems include the lack of accessibility to data in internal or contractual silos — as well as lack of skills, inconsistent governance, and control along with non-standardized exploitation and data delivery.

The paper stated that these hurdles have been understood and that the department is finding it “harder than ever” to isolate insight from the information. The response to those challenges includes setting up a central data office, part of Defence Digital, as well as a Defence Data Framework to transform Defence’s culture, behavior, and data capabilities.

Besides that, another strategy pillar stated in the paper is that Defense will also treat and adhere to the same data criteria, with improved accountability and ownership, standardization, exploitation and curation, and security of digital data across that value chain. It was also outlined in the Data Strategy that enablers would need to transform Defense into a data-driven enterprise. “These include leadership in driving and delivering data vision, adoption of a data-driven culture, data governance, and control.”

In addition, the policy paper outlines a desirable data leadership structure across all defense organizations. The plan will also work to improve partnerships with allies, industry, and academia to strengthen the way the British defense complex uses data.

It is fair to note that in 2019 alone, the UK spent £38 billion on defense initiatives. That is about 2.1% of the country’s GDP — more than any other European country. To top it off, earlier this month, the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) launched a consultation outlining its proposals to extensively reform the UK’s data protection and privacy regime, following its departure from the European Union.

The new data protection rules proposed for the UK would see the country deviate from the standards that apply in the EU under the European General Data Protection Regulation and would loosen restrictions on the use of data in the UK, with the purpose of engendering growth and innovation.