The end of the year is a chance to take stock. To consider the year gone by and reflect on what might come next. Here, we sit down with a selection of leaders from across the UK public sector to hear their thoughts on the past 12 months.
Christine Maxwell, Director, Cyber Defence and Risk, Ministry of Defence
It’s been a busy year – I feel like I’ve got my fingers in a lot of pies and have been driving a lot of change. My leadership team is now fully in place which is great news and really provides bandwidth to get after more
We’ve also been driving improvements through the cyber transformation programmes. Some big things to note include the Escape Room that we launched as part of Cyber Awareness Month to further increase cyber awareness, behaviours and culture, as well as the Bug Bounty programme where we now use the hacker community as part of our security testing and many more. We plan to do more of this.
We also launched the Secure by Design programme and testing the future hypotheses against the pilot group of programmes. This is really about driving accountability for security across Defence and modernising how we accredit/assure against these – a huge task for Defence and industry.
In terms of the year’s greatest challenge, I’d highlight culture. This is about making wider Defence, including our supply chain, understand that everyone has a professional role. Doing the right thing shouldn’t be hard – we will keep going and really looking forward to the change.
Looking ahead to next year, my main ambition is the broader embedding of Secure by Design – moving to a Beta phase where we will expand across a broader range of programmes and will engage more broadly with Defence Equipment and Support and the Top Level Budget Holders.
And as for a Christmas present, I’d recommend a reusable coffee cup so we all do our bit to reduce waste.
Anit Chandarana, Chief of Staff for Network Rail
The past year has been about rebuilding following the tough time we all experienced in 2020, which really redefined so much of the way we live. But 2021 has continued to be a bit of a rollercoaster with so many highs and lows.
Last year, I recognised the need for me personally, as a role model for minority groups within Network Rail, to do more to make an impact. And I am grateful to have had more opportunity this year to do that, whether it was through speaking at various events and joining panel sessions, to talking about the importance of diversity or supporting Equality Diversity and Inclusion Charters. And more recently, I have been working with our leaders in Network Rail to push forward important initiatives such as the Stand up for Race equality workshops.
But the work is far from over, so as I begin to transition into Great British Railways Transition team, I commit to continue the conversation as we build the future of rail.
And for Christmas, I’d recommend a book by Susan Jeffers called 'Feel the fear and do it anyway'.
Rear Admiral Nick Washer, Director of Operations at Defence Digital
In my job, you’re jumping at shadows because you’re perennially waiting for something to go wrong. And so the biggest thing I think we have achieved this year is actually keeping the ‘lights on’ for all of the networks and services that the Ministry of Defence runs on a daily basis.
Our 280,000 users and the four million devices on the networks have been able to communicate on a daily basis by voice and data, and more often than not it is easy as opposed to really difficult. And that’s down to the people who have enabled that to happen across all three classifications – official, secret and top secret.
If you wanted to pick out some highlights, I would point to our Service Centre transition – moving away from a single point of contact to our service desk. This is a huge step forward because by doing that we become our own service integrator, responsible for our own destiny and the rules of the road on how we want our services to run. We’ve also supported a variety of deployed operations around the world, both with the armed services as well as the evacuation of Afghanistan which was a huge effort by everyone involved.
Looking ahead to next year, we’ve got a raft of things that we’ve learned about our services and we have to harness that data and use it appropriately. It will also drive and impact how we do our service management; an end-to-end assurance for all our services and this is going to change how our delivery teams across Defence Digital do their business too. They will cease to be called ‘delivery teams’ and start to be called ‘service executives’. I will be able to task, not just ask, them to do things because they will be effectively matrix managed while they are running the services across our live operations.
Having started changing the way we in service management are doing our business, then I think there is something about growing that as an enterprise approach across the whole of Defence. This will take a bit of negotiation because but we’re not a million miles away – it’s really just a refinement of what I do already but it will take a different mindset.
I’m lucky enough to work with brilliant people who are tireless and have a huge pride in what they do. They will continue to take things on and do the right thing because it is woven deeply into their DNA – they just make stuff happen and I will bask in their glory because they’re just a brilliant team.
For Christmas, I’d like a magic putter – the idea of never missing a putt on the golf course? Yes please!
Group Captain Blythe Crawford, Royal Air Force
2021 has been a year of turning challenge into opportunity.
This last year has not been without its challenges for all of us, but within the RAFX team we saw this as an opportunity for positive change. Knowing that we would progress to a new normal gave us the opportunity to define what that new normal would look like ourselves, rather than have it defined for us. If change is a constant, I’d much rather be in the driving seat than being subjected to it – right?
As such, we set up what we called Hacking for Recovery – where we ran a series of sprints over two months to define the new normal for us at RAF Leeming – specifically focused around four key areas – ways of working, communication, battle rhythm and finally, what we do and what we don’t – how many things do you continue to do at work ‘just because that’s the way it has always been’?
I was taken aback by the enthusiasm with which our Whole Force personnel embraced the concept, developing 19 MVPs, all of which are being addressed in some form or another. Some are local to Leeming, but others are more wide-reaching policy and cultural issues, which I’m pleased to say the Senior Leadership have embraced in the spirit of the RAF’s ASTRA initiative. We have done away with some ‘traditions’ which when examined properly, did not contribute to the ‘culture’ of the Service.
Leeming has been chosen as the pilot for a number of delegated and empowered authorities – a direct result of the team’s analysis, and we took time to put a value on….’time’! We take it for granted that our people are available 24/7 and treat it as a sunk cost. If we start to put a value on time we then start to critically analyse what we do with it – do we really need all those people at that meeting?
It also presented an opportunity for us to focus on some of our other transformational projects – most of which were going through the bureaucratic hoops one still has to jump through (rather than try to side step the bureaucracy, we decided to tackle it head on – you’ll never thaw the frozen middle if you try to get around it, you also ostracise all those who are part of it!).
My old Chief Scientific Advisor in The Pentagon used to tell me about bureaucratic steerage – to change direction by three degrees you need to oversteer by 15! Oh how right he was! Although this was time-consuming, it delivered value in the end – Leeming now has the first private 5G enabled Internet of Things testbed in Defence, and through Project VITAL will be the first Carbon Net Zero in the Ministry of Defence too.
So as I hand over to my successor, an exciting time ahead – RAFX and the Leeming team are taking on the Red Queen – we were running as fast as we could to stand still… we’ve now upped the pace!
Paul Kealey, Head of Cyber and Information Systems, Dstl
The past year has seen the largest increase in investment and focus on science and technology that has occurred in my Defence career. The investments and new strategies being made in cyber, space, data, and artificial intelligence indicate the fundamental change in sub-threshold constant competition.
We have also seen the Chief Scientific Advisor positioning investment for Generation After Next to secure our long term future with our military looking to experiment as they recognise the benefits that will yield. To meet this challenge, we all need to attract and train more world-class talent to work on defence and security’s biggest problems. This isn’t about staff balance in industry vs public sector, this is about bringing more people into science and more people into offering their expertise to our problems.
I see 2021 as the moment when Dstl, industry and academia have been set a challenge - a once in a generation challenge – and we must deliver the innovative science, and equally importantly, demonstrate return on investment for this opportunity given to us. This is an exciting challenge and it is pressing as government will, quite rightly, expect to see emerging benefits from this increased investment – we must jointly narrate the benefit quickly.
A key focus for me this year has been to make changes in how we collaborate. Collaboration for me is critical to our mission success, collaboration with private sector companies, education sector and military. I think there are opportunities to change and challenge ourselves to have even more mutually beneficial relationships and next year we must progress them further.
For me, in 2021 I have realised that architectures and standards as a topic is probably little understood by most senior people, underappreciated as key business enablers and something we all need to take more interest in.
This is also a topic where government often perceives poor industry behaviours, and I am told industry often feel government has not offered sufficient leadership. This is something we must focus on next year, this is an opportunity to demystify and work together for the benefit of Defence.
Dan Jeffery, Chief Information Security Officer and Assistant Director for Data, NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT)
As a no brainer, the biggest event of 2021 for me has obviously been the birth of my son, but from a professional perspective, I’m really proud of what has been achieved this year.
Our information governance team won a special recognition award for their work during the pandemic to support priorities such as convalescent plasma. I’d also highlight standing up the Cyber Defence Operations Centre on behalf of NHS Test and Trace, as well as the progress we’ve made at NHSBT from a wider security perspective.
In the space of about six months we established a Security Champions programme and our own Security Operations Centre – a team which is ingesting a number of different feeds and encompassing threat intelligence, incident response and a new security governance structure. With each of these initiatives supporting each other, we’ve made real progress in driving forward a culture of awareness and transformation across the business.
At the same time, though, we’ve been operating in an environment of considerable uncertainty. The ebb and flow of pandemic restrictions have made it harder to meet the team in person and really drive that kind of bond you get from seeing people face to face. I still haven’t met all my team in person but we’ve risen to that challenge by generating a really good rapport and teamwork over a common cause, even remotely.
Another challenge has been the sheer pace at which we’ve had to move to deliver technological change to support the pandemic effort. Making sure the security is built in and appropriately considered has been a real case study in meeting clinical need quickly, while also securing it for the long term.
Looking ahead to 2022, and depending on how things go with omicron, we want to finally have that all-team get together. The other priority will be to try and get into a more of a business as usual rhythm because the pace has been so relentless. If we can slow down a bit then we’ll reduce the chances of burnout, while also being able to make the most from our investments and prepare for the next round of development, delivery and enhancement.
And for Christmas my request and/or recommendation would be a neck pillow that passengers on aeroplanes often use. Speaking as a new parent, I think they could be used anywhere – have it around your neck at all times and then grab a nap as and when you can!
Disclaimer: The Christmas gift suggestions given in this article are the respective individual’s own suggestions and BAE Systems Applied Intelligence is neither promoting these products, nor can it take any responsibility for the products or services suggested.