As a Brigadier in charge of 4,500 people Michael Lithgow had many objectives in his MoD career – with none more important than protecting lives.
But ultimately Lithgow wanted a different, more intellectual challenge – which led him to analysts Gartner.
“The commercial world offered an opportunity where I could continue to go on working in the defence community and add my experience and knowledge,” says Lithgow.
“I had a lot to offer the defence services as they go through such a challenging period, as I have been part of that operational community and know it very well,” he says.
These challenges have arisen because of the fundamental changes to defence. “It had used a stove-pipe approach, but as defence has more network enabling capability it has evolved a centralised need to know and need to share. The business and the battle are more connected, and there are now more tours,” he adds.
Lithgow has considerable experience of critical programme management, information management, IT/IS policy and governance. He has worked in fielding communications and IT networks in hostile environments to support combat, intelligence, logistics and multi-national operations. He has also worked with various government departments on classified tasks, which have included ‘homeland security’ and counter-terrorism.
He and his team at Gartner will be offering the MoD assistance in understanding business issues. “This will include areas like how business is structured and how to transition, if they so wish.”
He will also be handling industry suppliers, and matrix organisations like airlines, telecommunications and offering help and advice to develop relationships between the different sections.
The MoD is a massive consumer of IT. In the annual CIO survey of the largest users of IT in the UK it is consistently in the top three, and has a projected budget of £33.4 billion for the 2007/08 year. It has been in the midst of major restructuring since 2000, when it tried to build a single asset management system. The scope of this project was so vast, and the governance at the time so poor, that the project was suspended. The positives to emerge were that very robust change management and governance procedures were put into place before embarking on another even larger project, the Defence Information Infrastructure. The 10-year DII project is designed to support MoD operations with a common secure network, and will eventually support 2,000 MoD sites with 150,000 fixed or mobile terminals and 300,000 user accounts. At the crux of the IT project, however, is a fundamental shift in the way the MoD operates, from a three-service IT provision to a single shared environment.
“Defence is very good at urgent operations requirements – equipment programmes, user requirements, document systems requirements, tenders, contracts, and people,” says Lithgow. “The defence supplier industry is also very supportive in urgent circumstances. For Iraq a new network, six security domains, with 3,500 accounts and a space segment were put together in just nine weeks. There is a real sense of community.”
But there are struggling areas, like warehousing. A ‘contract for capability’ system is now in place to address this. “All of this is underpinned by IT and IS,” says Lithgow. “Operations and optimisation of defence, and the availability of support operations on the ground are driving change. We will be supporting the MoD communications and information services (CIS) in acquisitions, in moving to new environments, and in replacing legacy equipment.”
The idea is to help, as Lithgow puts it, ‘turbo charge’ decision-making. “The nature of the threat and environments like Iraq and Afghanistan means that IT military support and homeland security has to be agile, integrated and cover a wide variety of tasks,” he says.
Lithgow believes that to be effective, an industry strategy in partnership with the defence industry is the key. “This means working with and understanding a different set of skills and confidence. It needs independent measurements of value and effect. Defence does need to change and there is a great need to measure investment. There can be a great conspiracy of optimism in the MoD, but recognition exists that there has to be structural changes, like the Defence Logistics Organisation and the procurement agency. But there is still a need to measure whether it is effective or not.”
There have been formal successes posted already, most notably the contracts that have replaced some of the commercial transactions. “This is very different to straight commercialisation, which involves changing equipment. Contractualisation involves moving contract workers as well as equipment to theatres of operation, and post Iraq was the first time this was done in a non-benign environment. The commitment from industry and the corporate entity was slightly surprising, and involved the level of risk they were prepared to take with civilian workers.” says Lithgow.
Using the defence industry in this way could reduce the number of service personnel in theatres by 60 per cent, and offer higher quality services and technology refreshes, according to Lithgow.
There are clear implications for MoD CIS, including maintaining a clear command structure. “If you have 45 civilians in the team, they are not used to military law, and have a different way of operating,” says Lithgow.
“The skill is to incorporate them so they are an integral part of the operation, just with a different level of skills and knowledge. Trust and confidence is critical in the relationship.”
But contractorisation doesn’t mean there is no risk to the MoD. If a company doesn’t deliver it can’t really be fired, and operational risk can’t be delegated through the mechanism of the contract. Gartner’s aim is to help a long-term relationships develop, which will give the military the assurance of investment and support.
Assessing real value is also critical, explains Lithgow, finding out whether a product or service is right or not right, and what needs to be done. “The MoD is accountable to Parliament, so an independent validation to show it has made the correct decision to deliver on the right things is important,” he says. In one case Gartner was asked to do an independent validation by both the MoD and the defence contractor. It found the project needed six weeks of significant restructuring for a software upgrade programme. “The thing is to seek an understanding of what is needed, not necessarily an agreement,” he says.
The government sector has additional requirements to satisfy in order to be accountable to Parliament, and the level of scrutiny and programme management on cost has to be transparent. For this reason it is estimated that the productivity rate of projects in commercial organisations is 30 to 40 per cent higher than government projects because of the overheads of accountability that are associated with supporting government. At least knowing the cost of accountability for government processes means that a conscious decision on whether the overhead is worth it can be taken, he thinks.
Lithgow believes that there is a capability to reduce this overhead using Gartner knowledge. “Reviews of the process, acquisitions, partnering and financing are all areas Gartner is good at. The MoD has to have a greater commercial awareness and astuteness,” he says. “However, the military is very good at running competitions for suppliers, with a good process, which is very transparent and very fair. It does need a more commercial direction, and to do that it needs to bring organisations in to assist with, and speed up decision-making.”
In commerce there is an obvious measure for failure. But for the MoD this is demonstrably more difficult. “If the MoD makes a number of bad decisions it will fail to be a potent and effective force, but it is not going out of business. The justification of business benefits in defence in areas like enterprise architecture is difficult. Defence is still struggling to come to terms with quantifying the benefits. “The business benefits of enterprise architecture in commercial terms makes for a more agile business, but the MoD has to work within its structures.”
Because Gartner is not specifically targeted towards the defence environment Lithgow believes that the consultants can give things a different perspective, because they have a wider common knowledge. “Not being pure defence is good, it tempers things a bit. For example before writing a RFP (request for product) we will find out what relationship with the vendor the MoD wants. It is too late once a contract has been signed,” he says.
Despite so many years in the MoD the change wasn’t too much of a culture shock. “I had changed job every two years in the MoD, and those jobs involved completely different skills and dealing with different people to be effective. The culture and ethos is very similar and both are very committed organisations.”