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07 5 2016

Innovation, Resilience and Warsaw

What is the relevance of innovation to what NATO Heads of State and Government discussed at the Warsaw Summit?

A key theme for Warsaw was resilience. The Allies examined gaps in critical NATO and national infrastructure, including IT, and outlined plans to address them. The aim is to ensure that – in an era of hybrid and cyber warfare – the Alliance can maintain the capacity to access the right information, rapidly consult and make decisions. After all, what is the use of having an expensive Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) capturing an incident at a border, if you can't transmit that data to the Ambassadors when they need to decide on a response? The problem is that the notion of resilience is not static. In today's world of fast-paced technological change, what is resilient today could be obsolete tomorrow.

Never rest

Military history offers many examples. NCI Agency General Manager Koen Gijsbers often quotes the example of the Stelling van Amsterdam. A massive, 40-year state-of-the-art project in the fortification of Amsterdam. It redefined what was possible in the area of fortification and was judged to be impenetrable. The only problem was that by the time it was complete, aircraft came into use and the concept of sitting behind mass fortifications was rendered obsolete by aerial bombings.

What is the solution? Embrace the notion that true resilience is dynamic and hinges on a permanent, agile ability to innovate. To give one example, a leading global bank replaces its entire IT infrastructure every three months. Their logic is simple: even with the best-in-class defences, they believe that in three months their network will have been compromised in one way or the other. This modern 'cyber' mind-set translates both into boardroom attention and budgeting; even though they are a bank, 30% of their operating costs go to IT.

Three steps to true resilience

1. Mindset: Accept the premise that today's solution could be outdated tomorrow and seek continuous improvement. Hubris is perhaps the greatest challenge for any organization dealing with technology. Today, that is pretty much every organization, including NATO.

2. Abandon the notion of perfection: Another example from Dutch history – the Dutch East India Company dominated trade in the 17th century because they opted for one standard ship design that could be mass produced. It was not the fastest, not the biggest, nor did it have the largest number of canons. But because it could be produced rapidly, in large numbers, it gave the company dominance. Their innovation was to standardize, speeding production vs. aiming for 'the perfect ship'.

3. Engage Industry at the outset: The 2014 Wales Summit already provided the way forward for this through the NATO-Industry Cyber Partnership. Taking this initiative forward, the Agency conducted a pilot cyber incubator in 2015, which resulted in the development of – in partnership with both large and small companies – ground-breaking new technologies in the space of three months.

The pilot concluded that greater mutual understanding through real-time collaboration with industry can both speed up and de-risk acquisition. It allowed the Alliance and its private sector partners to gain more clarity on the other's view of specific cyber challenges that are highly relevant to NATO. So we can do it – the challenge is to make this not an exception or a pilot, but a continuous process.

What is the relevance of innovation to the Warsaw Summit agenda?

In the information age, NATO being able to innovate rapidly lies at the core of the challenges that will be discussed in Warsaw. The Alliance will only be truly resilient if – in the IT and C4ISR domain – it embraces the notion of permanent and continuous innovation and has the mechanisms to do so.


This article originally appeared in the Innovation Special Edition of the NCI Agency Communicator Magazine. Download the magazine here or read a digital copy here.

Innovation, Resilience and Warsaw