Offering UK defence an information advantage

US-headquartered research company Leidos is developing technologies and platforms which will allow governments to exploit the new information advantage paradigm for defence and national security. Leidos director of national security and defence,Al Potter, talks to Berenice Healey on the theme of information advantage in the UK defence and security sector.

Access to information and data has fundamentally changed how warfare is conducted and security preserved in the internet age. As the Ministry of Defence noted in its 2018 Joint Concept Note on information in warfare; “information is no longer just an enabler, it is a fully-fledged national lever of power and a strategic, operational and tactical weapon”. 

Al Potter joined Leidos in July to set up a new UK National Security and Defence division to focus on solutions for the Home Office, policing, Border Force, defence and intelligence. An important focus was anticipating what was coming out of the Integrated Review in a big move towards information advantage. 

// Alex Giles, CCO at Iceni Labs

Berenice Healey:

What were your goals in setting up the new division? 

Al Potter:

It depends on which area of security and defence you are in which label is attached to it. 'Digital policing' is the same as 'information advantag'e over in defence land and 'digital transformation' in the Home Office or 'future borders' in Border Force. When you look at the essence of each one, they all have a similar basis, which is stop programmes that lock in with one vendor, share information, stop stovepipes and be able to get the right piece of data to the right person at the right time. 

There are some milestones along the way so that we can gain traction and change the narrative around Leidos, because a lot of our customers only know our Logistics Commodities and Services Transformation (LCST) programme and tend to think of us as a logistics company. We delivered the digital information backbone for a  logistics solution, and it was an early adopter of information advantage applied to logistics. 

The 2018 Joint Concept Note looked at how information is an important driver for defence but there were few additional details in the Integrated Review (IR). What would you like the government to set out about the information domain? 

When the Integrated Operational Concept (IOC) came out, the Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Nick Carter gave a briefing describing how future warfare may look, from a phase zero warfare all the way through to large kinetic warfare that happens when you get it wrong. 

The IR set the framework for the IOC, which is where you'll get more definition of what data needs to flow around areas, rather than the government telling the MOD where its data needs to flow around. 

What we saw in the IR was that green light to focus more on information, and then it's up to the individual bodies to come up with how that works for them. You’ll see an emphasis change between the intelligence agencies and the MOD, for example; the IR creates the environment for that. 

Then it's up to companies like us who can help them. If you're working across the areas, you can also start to be critical in a ‘lily pad strategy’ of how you join the data up because you are engaged in so many different areas. 

You don't want somebody in the NHS, for instance, having full access to everything in MI6. There is an element of protection of the data, and allowing the right person to see it at the right time in the right place. All the technical bits are there to do it; now they've got to create the infrastructure, then the applications that do it, then the controls that allow you to limit who can see that data. 

So, creating that artificial stovepipe, but knowing that that pool of data is accessible across those systems, and then by interacting between those departments, you will get which ones will share their data, and ones which will compartmentalise some of it because it will have to be protected. 

The IR recognises that they have to sunset some physical things to pay for the information things. You might keep the big lump of metal, but if you haven't got the right information, it doesn't know where to go and you can't use it or even get it airborne or underwater at the right time, so it becomes irrelevant. 

How do Leidos’s products and services support that vision? 

Like most companies, we bid for work, and you end up being one of many in a particular area, so you can see the stovepipes and the vendor lock-ins happening. We took a different route; we started to invest in creating software factories that produce code, but we don't own the IP. The customer pays for it and the second we turn it over they can keep us involved if they wish, but they can also give it to somebody else to do the next phase. 

That's a model we rolled out across from the US into the UK and Australia, and we've got the first users of that. It breaks down that stovepipe and creates that layered service approach and the ability to chop and change who does what, so you're always trying to get the best value. 

How are you engaged in helping government customers share data but keep it secure?

One of our programmes that is public is the Home Office biometrics transformation. It’s a good example of taking it from an on-premises solution into the cloud to make it more accessible, but at the same time, creating the security around it so that your biometric data doesn't get into the wrong place. 

We've created a system that allows you to store data securely, but access it if given the right credentials to get to that data. And, of course, it's expandable and contractable because it's on the cloud.

In defence and security, what are the barriers to the effective use of data, and what are the untapped opportunities that the MOD et al should look into.

You’ve got to look back in history; 9/11 was a really good example of where all of the agencies had little bits of the data, but you couldn't put it into one picture to step back and go, 'Oh, hang on I think something is going on here!'. 

We're a lot further down that road now. The US has focused on trying not to repeat that, but it's easy to over-classify data so that it becomes compartmentalised. Even though you can technically get to that point, there's a cultural shift in how you classify, ingest and give access to that data, because that's probably going to be the next roadblock. 

Leidos's five-year growth plan is about trying to encourage the government and other organisations to put information advantage at the heart of what it does. How are you going about it, and what projects are you working on in the defence domain to support that?

You can expect to see us in competitions around defence intelligence projects, and we do engage with Defence Digital because they are becoming more aware of what we've got, and we’re investing in a software factory, which is split between Farnborough and Glasgow.

Some of the biggest things that we're winning in the US are not always applicable in the UK. The MOD keeps a weather eye on what the US is doing, but I heard this analogy; they can't bring the American muscle car over here. It doesn’t fit down our Cornish lanes, but it’s got a really good radio, and some of the seats are good.

So, we’ll take US software and put it into the UK version, which is smaller and more compact, a bit like a Mini perhaps, but its genesis is from the big American programmes.

// Images: Leidos develops information advantage technologies for defence and security. Credit: Leidos