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Features Hub Interview

On the frontline of IoT with the Ministry of Defence

Wed 13 Feb 2019 | Danny Wootton

How does the MoD deploy IoT at scale while enforcing an uncompromising approach to security? Techerati talks with head of innovation, Danny Wooton

As head of innovation at the Ministry of Defence, Danny Wootton is managing an IoT project that seeks to connect the UK’s armed forces under one system. That is, its monumentally expensive assets and invaluable human capital – soldiers. The goals? To improve supply chain efficiency on the one hand, but also to use predictive analytics to monitor both the human and material elements of its operation to improve asset performance and predict downtime.

Danny nevertheless is keen to approach his task as any other CTO might. And he is quick to underscore that the MoD is not as dissimilar to other industries as one might intuitively think.

“A large amount of the activities of the MoD are not that different to other large organisations in both public and private sector,” he says.

Frontline of Innovation

Danny joined MoD as head of innovation for Information Systems & Services in August 2016, working with the ISS teams and the broader defence community to create a proactive, repeatable and agile innovation model for ICT across MoD.

The activities that constitute the innovation team’s remit are innumerable and include technology scouting & “horizon scanning”, partner & SME engagements, leveraging innovation from wider industry, and running internal/external innovation hackathons.

Prior to joining MoD, Danny was director of IoT and Innovation at CGI and a large part of his role with the MoD is managing their IoT project.

Like wider industry – finance, healthcare, automotive to name a few, the MoD quickly realised the benefits that IoT deployment at scale across the defence ecosystem could bring. Namely, efficiency gains and effectiveness across its supply chain, transforming MoD locations into fully aware buildings; and using sensed devices for predictive preventative maintenance of its assets and workforce.

The MoD is already starting to improve the performance of its assets at base locations and in theatre (military-speak for areas with active military events).

Fully automatic

The MoD’s approach is to pinpoint the business value and deploy at scale across the organisation in an affordable and secure way. Even though, due to the mission-critical nature of its property (buildings, weaponry, ships etc.) it will always have a need for bespoke defence solutions, they still try wherever possible to leverage industry standards and common platforms.

“We need to focus on the benefits and not just get distracted by the technology, and therefore enable the identification of insights and then taking action, ideally in an automated way, on those insights has to be a fundamental part of our approach, otherwise, we are just ‘connecting stuff’,” Danny says.

Naturally, security is a chief consideration for the MoD. Danny says they are looking at “different approaches” to securing IoT such as a securing the data and connection rather than the device itself.

“We recognise our approach needs to be scalable and affordable across millions of devices right across the defence ecosystem,” he says.

“We will not initiate, own or manage all of the assets on our networks, and the data being generated is of value to all of our partners as well as ourselves. We work as an eco-system of partners and allies and therefore we need to take those into account.”

“The MoD must have a managed architecture in place that ensures the high volume of IoT traffic generates does not conflict with operational data traffic”

“We will not initiate, own or manage all of the assets on our networks, and the data being generated is of value to all of our partners as well as ourselves. We work as an eco-system of partners and allies and therefore we need to take those into account.”

Decades-long march

The MoD has been “doing” IoT for a number of years, but under the label of Machine to Machine and SCADA. Danny explains the current goal is to transform this complex set of systems into a connected set of systems built with analytics.

It has been running a number of alpha projects that are now moving into the beta phase: bringing them together under a common platform at a manageable scale. Next they will seek to solicit platforms and partners to turn them into fully functioning deployments.

“We have started to see early benefits from all of our areas. Our next phase is to start to scale those projects out, increasing the number of assets connected as well as expanding the number of use cases.”

“Our predictive maintenance project is an interesting example where IoT, data science and human interaction have come together under Project Nelson, to gather a wide range of data from our ships and use machine learning to help us move to a predictive and ultimately preventative maintenance model.”

When embracing IoT at scale there a number of technical issues the MoD must consider. To do this Danny tells me it breaks down its challenges into “business space” and “battle space”.

In the business space, the first challenge is establishing how to move to a trusted device but trusted data security model to reduce sensor costs while remaining secure at scale. Data traffic, edge processing and provisioning are also vital. For instance, they must have a managed architecture in place that ensures the high volume of IoT traffic generates does not conflict with operational data traffic.

And like any other at-scale deployment, establishing the best approach to automated workflow is a prime factor in operational success.

“In the battle space,” he says, “we have the added complexity of challenged comms environments where our assets and people do not or cannot have access to comms for extended periods of time, but still have a need for the operational and situational awareness provided by IoT.”

Join me at Smart IoT.

Danny is presenting at Smart IoT, taking place at the ExCeL London March 12-13th. Smart IoT and its colocated events attract over 20,000 IT industry professionals.

Experts featured:

Danny Wootton

Head of Innovation
Ministry of Defence

Tags:

IoT military smart iot
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