Victoria Knight and Andrew Harwood reflect on the development of digital ecosystems and identify the key factors in their construction
The technology world is changing. Robotics, 5G, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality – the list is endless. One phrase that keeps popping up, though, is “digital ecosystems” but what does it mean exactly?
It’s about the collaborative culture and relationships that have been or can be developed across many internal aspect of organisations, and it ranges across external suppliers, customers, trading partners, and third party service providers.
At BAE Systems we have been through this process ourselves – how have we done it?
Developing relationships with small, medium enterprises (SME) has been key. It starts with our customer playbook – an evolving register of customer mission focused problems and challenges – which our teams and clients feed in thoughts, views and ideas to ensure it is up to date. We work with a range of investors, and garner recommendations from our people working on government programmes to continually discover new SMEs to partner with.
We have also built strategic relationships with a series of scale up accelerator organisations in the UK largely funded by DCMS – such as TechNation, Lorca, CyLon and Digital Catapult – to horizon scan for potential partners. The future direction of our relationships with the SME market is growing and in multiple directions. We are developing a culture that embraces and welcomes their expertise – rather than viewing them through a lens that’s too difficult, too risky or too hard to progress.
To the gleaming spires
As BAE Systems has evolved we have established close and successful relationships with a number of leading academics and institutions. We now have an established University Collaboration Programme and now have valued relationships through five primary strategic academic institutions; Cranfield University, and the Universities of Manchester, Birmingham, Strathclyde, and Southampton.
Our relationship with academic institutions extends to collaborative engagement to deliver social value. For example, earlier this year BAE Systems staff, along with Manchester and Chester Universities, GCHQ, Marie Collins and Youth Federation, ran an interactive evolving scenario based live event to help educate young people aged between 11 and 14 about online issues and develop their skills to recognise potential online harms.
But what other types of strategic partnerships within a thriving digital ecosystem can offer value to its members?
More than half of all businesses and charities (54%) have a basic technical cyber security skills gap, falling to 18% in public sector organisations. Given the inherent nature of cyber threats to a digital economy, such a capability gap is not sustainable and means we all need to make the perception of working in cyber as attractive as possible.
At BAE Systems, we’ve recruited almost 800 apprentices this year, and we’re hiring around 250 graduates. We also reach out to young people not in education, employment or training by utilising the Movement to Work programme, which provides high-quality work training opportunities to help create sustainable employment.
Building a client-focused ecosystem
The tempo of the technology revolution is out-pacing government organisations’ traditional approach to systems development. As a result, we are looking to show how an ecosystem of customers and suppliers can create an extensible dynamic environment, predominantly built around open source technology that leverages the latest innovations.
We categorise the key steps of creating an ecosystem as:
- Entrepreneurial behaviours – Adopting and leveraging agile ways of working is crucial – engaging with partners and SMEs in a collaborative way is fundamental. Most importantly, knowing when to recognise failure and accept when stopping something is the right thing to do.
- Wider market lens – Other markets, be they financial, retail, manufacturing or entertainment, continually innovate. Why shouldn’t governments do the same?
- Risk appetite – Start small and iteratively experiment to mature ideas – use agile, DevOps or other appropriate methodologies. Don’t bet on one horse – spread your bets and then back the stronger options.
- Rapid innovation – SMEs and academia are excellent incubators of ideas but can lack understanding of the complexities of scaling, securing and integrating into large operational environments. BAE Systems can rapidly craft and deliver robust complex solutions at scale.
- Diversity of thought – Collaboration is key. Leverage proven application of technology from other sectors and apply them to government problems.
- Appearing to be normal – Providing the citizen with an experience of government interaction that is as professional, intuitive and as valuable as possible – emulating interaction experienced whilst using Amazon, Netflix and other industry leading services.
Commercial partners clearly form the backbone of our ecosystem, and range from SMEs to large multi-nationals, each bringing something unique and to the ecosystem community.
We want to achieve diversity within the ecosystem – to enable effective collaboration – and develop a complementary and supportive team. Through experimentation we found it important to develop a blend of partner types: some offering point solutions to a problem; whilst others provide supporting capability in the way of technology or consultancy.
Any ecosystem should be dynamic and evolving – subject to review and reflection, subject to what technologies and skills the client needs, but it thrives on diversity of thought. It’s not easy, but get it right and the benefits will continually ricochet across this constellation of partners, large and small, public and private.
About the authors
Victoria Knight is a Strategic Business Director at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
Andrew Harwood is a Future Technology and Innovation Specialist at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence.
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