Covid-19 Sparks Digital Transformation in Military Organisations

Covid-19 has forced military organisations to shrug off their reputation for bureaucracy and tradition and embrace digital technologies, says IFS.

Matt Medley, IFS
25 January 2021
 Covid-19 has "hit the accelerate button" on digital transformation within the military (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jaime Reyes)


It's all change as the military gets to grips with Covid-19. Despite having a reputation for being rigid and traditional , military organisations too have had to embrace new levels of flexibility in order to continue operations in a socially distant manner. Covid-19 is the driving force behind the rapid technology transformation of the military.

In a recent interview [paywall), senior figures from the UK military explained how the organisation had cut back heavily on bureaucratic processes in the wake of Covid-19. In their words they "hit the accelerate button” on programmes to take advantage of emerging trends and technology. In the US, the Department of Defense moved swiftly to roll out Microsoft Teams to millions of remote workers.

IFS research highlighted the central role digital transformation now has within organisations despite – but more likely because of – the economic challenges that have accompanied the pandemic. Over 50% of respondents across multiple industries are looking to increase their spend on digital transformation.

For military organisations in particular, there are four areas where we clearly see the effects of the pandemic acting as a catalyst for technological changes.

1. Lockdown calls outdated processes into question

Before the pandemic, the idea of flexible and remote working options would have been an unlikely prospect in the military. In the past there was a reluctance from higher-ranking officials to embrace remote working due to the deeply ingrained tradition of in-person, direct management and leadership.

But in a post-Covid world where new efficiencies are being realised, processes that were once deemed necessary are revealing themselves to be merely a force of habit. For example, the long-standing tradition of requiring physical signatures on formal documentation is being rapidly replaced with electronic signatures generated by automated workflows—drastically reducing the wait time between approvals and reducing total throughput time.

By reducing the number of total approval steps and raising authority thresholds for lower-level managers, employees are empowered to act, while freeing up valuable executive time to focus on more pressing strategic matters.

2. Remote working goes hybrid

With remote work increasing across the globe, connectivity has become more complex. Military organisations will be joined by civilian companies now seeking remote data access and the ability to continue working while offline and later reconnect and resync.

However, the common need to perform prolonged operations, often in unfriendly territory, with no connectivity, due to the lack of forward infrastructure and a critical requirement to maintain secrecy, is arguably unique to defence organisations. In this case, a robust Disconnected Operations solution is a critical feature of disaster-proofing the operation. Robust Disconnected Operations capabilities can capture, store and resync asset and workforce data regardless of connectivity. It could be the difference in an organisation’s ability to not just recover from planned or unplanned outages – including Covid-19 and other circumstances – but rather to continue operating seamlessly, even with workforce and assets globally distributed.

3. Increase efficiency and maintain headcount

As with remote working, many military leaders have been hesitant to welcome digital transformation and automation within the military, as they thought it would mean having to cut back on personnel. But in reality, digital transformation is more about optimising workforce efficiency rather than headcount reduction.

Before the pandemic, global militaries were under increasing pressure to reduce admin costs and decrease head count. The adoption of digital transformation and automation within an organisation streamlines administrative tasks and means more efficient back-office processes. More resources can be reassigned to the operations that matter, moving resources from non-value-added processes to core operations, which increase efficiency with no net change in force size.

4. Cloud choice and compliance critical

Compared to the rapid decline and slow recovery underway in commercial aviation, government defence spending has remained relatively stable, with large multi-year contracts still being awarded for major new programmes. But only those competitors with the right combination of demonstrated excellence across a variety of compliance areas such as ITAR, FedRamp, and CMMC, are allowed to compete on certain contracts.

And it is because of compliance that many aerospace and defence organisations are also hesitant to adopt cloud-only ERP deployments. A recent IFS webinar attended by key decision makers within aerospace manufacturing, revealed that only 3% of respondents deploy their ERP software using the cloud —whereas 64% said they use their software either on-prem or a mixture of on-prem and cloud-based deployments. With such importance attached to regulation, defence organisations must keep compliance top of mind if they are to transfer to remote operations on a more permanent basis. Remote operations require a flexible and secure software architecture and to adhere to regulations. 

From considerations to reality in a matter of months
For an industry that has many traditions and processes in need of updating, this Covid-driven fast forward will provide a huge advantage for the future. By embracing digital transformation and choosing a capable enterprise software solution, military organisations can realise the benefits of increased flexibility, efficiencies and streamlined processes, not just during the pandemic, but long into the future.



Matt Medley is a senior product manager at IFS