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AI: a strategy for success

Posted 7 June 2023

For those investing in artificial intelligence (AI), Anna Lewis, a Principal Consultant in Atkins’ Aerospace, Defence, Security & Technology division, lauds its transformative potential but advises caution.

Image courtesy Atkins

We all interact with artificial intelligence (AI) through our online lives, it is woven into social media, our online banking, shapes our music and film choices, filters our emails and informs our virus protection.

AI has been a revolutionary technology for many industries and the defence sector is no exception. Its application has been instrumental in helping the defence sector to develop more efficient and effective solutions for national security, such as the British Army utilising predictive analytics on exercises in Estonia and the British Navy defeating missile attacks at sea. Its power and potential means that AI is, quite rightly, being touted as a key future enabler in Defence.

In 2021, General Sir Patrick Sanders (Chief of General Staff) highlighted that military advantage will increasingly lie in the ability to sense, understand and orchestrate certain actions, where AI will be ‘an accelerant to every other field of emerging technology’. The commitment to unlocking the potential of AI in Defence was demonstrated in July 2022, with the opening of the Ministry of Defence’s AI Centre (DAIC). A collaborative centre aiming to ‘enhance Defence’s ability to harness the game-changing power of artificial intelligence to achieve strategic outcomes’ ¹ , it brings together existing cyber security and military programmes using AI to advance protection and mission systems.

For Defence sector organisations who are considering following in MoD’s footsteps, investing in AI systems for their businesses and the surrounding governance is important, but it is understanding how AI can help achieve the organisation’s strategic outcomes that is key to success. Without a clear vision of how the integration of AI will support and drive the achievement of organisational goals, by supporting and empowering people and transforming processes and capabilities, its potential and value may not be fully realised. In fact, technological research company, Gartner, predicts that lack of preparation and a data science skills gap means 85% of AI projects will ultimately fail to deliver on their intended promises to business² .

Drawing on data to deliver wisdom and realise benefit
The recent Defence Digital Strategy³ describes MoD’s aim to transform Defence into a data-enabled organisation by capitalising on the ‘modern expertise and capability in AI, Analytics and Data Science to identify and exploit newer sources of battlespace and business insight’.

The value and potential of AI lies in its ability to discover knowledge that people cannot find, drawing insights from data that have not previously been identified. It can help in the gathering and analysis of data, harnessing the power of big data through triage and prioritisation. The conversion of data to information can be actioned much faster using AI than by humans, enabling us to gain knowledge and, from that knowledge, to use the insights gained to apply wisdom to support decision-making.

Knowledge and wisdom are insights that only humans can apply and it is that differentiation between where to use AI to maximise an individual’s output that will truly make the most of AI.

The transformative potential of AI is vast, using prediction and automation to enable and empower people, not to replace them. AI can cut down time-consuming tasks, enabling people to increase the time they have available to enhance decision-making, applying their expert wisdom and knowledge to increasing the value that humans bring to a role or function and leading to better business outcomes. Whilst it can support people to do their existing jobs more effectively, its transformative nature also means that it drives innovation, allowing us to tackle activities in novel, cutting-edge ways to achieve previously inconceivable successes.

Approach to adopting AI
In order to realise those successes and business ambition, a strategy to guide an organisation’s adoption of AI is essential. In contrast, simply buying a single AI tool or service is unlikely to provide a solution to organisational challenges: indeed, without a clearly defined strategy behind the purchase, it may create more problems than it solves.

Whilst a strategy is essential, how it is approached, however, is key to its success. AI is transformative and changing so rapidly that we have found it requires a different way of thinking and approach. The classic approach to strategy, which considers future states in five years’ time, will be out of date before it is even published.

Instead, alongside a long-term vision, a ‘requisite’ strategy is what is needed, which addresses creating the environment in which effective AI adoption and integration can happen.

Predicting the future of AI development is challenging but setting out a holistic approach to strategy development which places people at the heart of any investment decision, and addresses hygiene factors and key enablers to success, lays the right foundations to make the most of AI.

These foundations: understanding the appropriate governance of AI, developing future behavioural outcomes as a result of AI igniting demand, and understanding the art of the possible, will provide the necessary flexibility and ability to adapt and respond to the needs of the organisation in its current operating environment.

The requisite strategy should be in just enough detail to adopt the most appropriate approach to take for a period of time that may be shorter than that addressed by a conventional strategy. As the environment changes, an iterative approach to assess what is requisite will be needed and this ‘stratops’ approach, similar to DevOps, will enable a defence organisation’s AI strategy to keep pace with the rapidly developing capabilities of general-purpose AI.

Strategy before solutions
The UK Government’s AI strategy⁴ proposes a ‘10-year plan to make Britain a global AI superpower’, aiming to fully unlock the power of AI and data-driven technologies. Within the strategy is a call to businesses, encouraging them to harness the power of AI to help ‘make the UK a(n) … AI-first economy’ similar to Google, Meta and Amazon. MoD has started on that journey.

For defence sector organisations wishing to realise AI’s potential and to gain a commercial edge over their competitors, the first step to successfully adopting and implementing AI is a requisite strategy to understand drivers and key strategic outcomes, rather than a technology driven investment into new capabilities.


¹ From Defence Digital blog:

² From Gartner, Feb 2018: Gartner Says Nearly Half of CIOs Are Planning to Deploy Artificial Intelligence

³ From Defence Digital Strategy, May 2021:

UK Government, National AI Strategy, May 2021:




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