DI23: a clarion call

will it be heard?

Defence 21 Jul 2023 by Ali Nicholl


Driving Adoption of Trusted Interoperability  & Digital Cooperation at IOTICS.

DI23: a clarion call

The message was clear, the MOD is ‘changing, and fast’. A couple of weeks ago I attended the Defence Industry 23 event, a well-attended forum for discussion between industry, military, and His Majesty’s Government (with star turns from the MOD’s Defence Digital leadership team).

Chatting with attendees and listening to the presentations, themes emerged with repeated articulation of a strategy focused on shifting a capital-intensive business to a software-defined business. The MOD and their military colleagues were unequivocal – defence cannot continue to operate in silos as it always has done: this is the beginning of a step change from discrete project focus to service focus.

The context of today’s operating environment is a primary driver for the demand for change. Ukraine and Sudan have highlighted opportunities, and challenges, in the interoperability of platforms, services, and non-defence technologies. Defence organisations can and have adopted cloud, integration patterns and interoperability approaches – and while the UK has a significantly different risk profile, adoption of a specific technology in two weeks (Ukraine) vs five years (UK) isn’t good enough.

During the DI23 event, we were given a glimpse into how this evolution of data might be achieved from Caroline Bellamy, MoD’s Chief Data Officer, who stated ‘This is all about the faster time to value and decision making’. Accelerating the OODA loop and adoption of new technologies requires that the defence industry demand more of itself and focus on the pace of innovation and technology adoption we all see in our daily lives.

The mechanism for delivering the transformation required was articulated as data fabrics.  The commitment to data fabrics was outlined by Caroline Bellamy, who described her visions as ‘not ‘fabric’ singular, but rather ‘fabric’ in the modular sense. Federated architectures that can be applied to defined patterns. The use of the word pattern (in opposition to cookie-cutter solutions), spoke to an overarching desire to co-create solutions, to move from detailed upfront requirements specifications, to challenge statements empowering people ‘to the point you feel uncomfortable’.

This approach requires the data fundamentals and core technologies to be in place. IOTICS’ prioritisation of metadata, and use of decentralised ID was reflected in talks highlighting that metadata is the vehicle to data mesh and data fabric, with identity a must do. Federation and self-sovereignty will enable the defence industry to share information securely and selectively at the right time to the right individuals, with the right permissions, security and control. I particularly enjoyed the analogy of the limitation of findability without accessibility – like a phone book without any numbers.


Our view at IOTICS wholeheartedly matches that of the Defence Digital team.

Caroline Bellamy’s note that the federation within data fabrics should follow the same pattern as federation between data fabrics mirrors my colleague Fabrizio’s idiom about IOTICS as ‘same pattern, different scale’. The predominant concept of modular, delaminated, federated architectures particularly synergise with our view of how data can be morphed and sculpted into patterns that increase productivity and yield, enabling the possibility of working across Data Fabrics to share data securely and selectively gives opportunities for even greater insight from up and down a supply chain, even as far as the operating environment.

Think of implementing LLM in a secure federated architecture which spans across Data Fabrics! This offers a glimpse into how we may navigate and adapt to the rapidly accelerating pace of technological change.

The content was brand new, the US Department of Defence has been calling for data fabrics and interoperability of data meshes since at least 2021, and AVM David Arthurton, Defence Digital’s Director of Strategy and Military digitalisation, highlighted that the strategy is a recalibration and refinement of previous plans. However the clarity of vision and alignment across MOD and military colleagues was notable and spoke to a clear sense of purpose across people, process, procurement and technology.

While the ask, and challenge, were clear I’m not sure everyone at the event heard the intent behind the nomenclature. Whether talking about data fabrics, data meshes, agile or interoperable services, change is coming to all aspects of the industry. Dina Kakaras, Defence Digital, Commercial Head of Software talked about the need to retrain industry on how and what to sell and Major General Richard Spencer, Defence Digital’s Director Delivery: Intelligence and Expeditionary Services was explicit about not wanting top to bottom technology stacks, and instead driving at agile capabilities.


Some industry attendees pointed out that their stand alone platform product could deliver a mesh, or collaborative working environment, suggesting that the seed of new ways of working, with secure – but truly cooperative – ecosystems and data fabrics, may have fallen on stony ground in several cases.



The call to arms was heard, however, by Gareth Hetheridge, CIO at Leonardo, who in the last industry response of the conference, drew attention to the importance of bringing in generational diversity, a broader range of individuals and approaches, SMEs from within and without the defence sector supported by new commercial frameworks.

Across the two days I was struck most by the phrase ‘no B Team’. If defence with its nationally important mission, clear vision and purpose, dynamic technical and engineering challenges, can’t engage and retain the brightest minds, and bring technological advancements and innovation to bear, quickly, securely, and cooperatively then I’m afraid we’re sunk.

However, if we can adopt the patterns and approaches that are delivering results across the built environment, infrastructure, transport, and wider industry. If we can leverage core technologies, frankly like IOTICS, that deliver the capability to share data across ecosystems securely and selectively, then we will have an environment in which better decisions can be made faster, to the greater benefit of all. We’re ready to help answer the call.

Connect with Ali Nicholl and read more insights here.


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