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Digital Mastery in Defense

Har Gootzen
28 Feb 2023

During the October 2022 meeting of NATO partner’s Defense Ministers in Brussels the allies approved NATO’s first Digital Transformation vision. By 2030 NATO aims to enable its partners to conduct joint multi-domain operations, ensure interoperability across all domains, enhance situational awareness, and facilitate political consultation and data-driven decision-making. An ambitious plan which relies on the digital strategies and initiatives of its partners to become Digital Masters. But research conducted by our team at Capgemini shows that, despite making progress, many organizations are falling further behind the leaders in digital transformation.

It starts with “good” strategy

In his bestseller “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” Richard Rumelt describes the kernel of a good strategy [1]. This kernel is a must for success and consists of three elements: a clear diagnosis of the problem (the “WHY”), the guiding policies for action and overall approach to cope with the problem (the “WHAT”), and finally a set of coherent actions (the “HOW”). In defense the “WHY” is mainly driven by the changing nature of modern warfare, and because the access to and processing of real-time data is becoming increasingly crucial in securing military advantage. NATO partners must adopt emerging and disruptive technologies at speed and scale to modernize and innovate their operational concepts. However, data are often kept internal and in platform silos and hard to access and share. Plus, there is an urgent need to remove technology debt by fragmented and non-secure legacy technology. Digital transformation is a strategic necessity and essential to move data vertically from the strategic to the tactical level and horizontally across all domains.

Pointing the way – some examples

The guiding policies are “pointing the way” because they direct actions and measures in certain directions without defining exactly what is to be done. These can be described in various forms and are dependent on a partner’s starting point for the transformation. In the Digital Modernization Strategy of the US DoD the policies are listed in the form of goals and the objectives to accomplish a goal. [2] But goals and objectives don’t make a strategy. It is the over one-hundred strategy elements in de strategy that describe the specific, focused initiatives needed to accomplish a particular objective that make the strategy. These are the coherent actions. The goals and objectives describe what needs to be achieved and the road leading to them. In the UK MoD’s Defence Digital strategy the guiding policies and coherent actions are stated in the form of outcomes: the realization of a digital ‘backbone’, a digital “foundry” and an empowered digital function. In October 2022 the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) published the findings of an audit on the UK MoD’s Digital Strategy. Overall, the audit is positive, the MoD is doing a good job and the digital strategy was found consistent with good practice. Although the Department has individual plans supporting each of the individual workstreams and programs, it has not brought these together to provide a complete picture of progress across the strategy. [3] The backbone, foundry and digital function are clearly inspired by the MIT’s five building blocks of digital transformation: Operational Backbone, Digital Platform, External Developer Platform, Shared User Insights and Accountability Framework. At least the definitions are quite similar [4].

Digital Mastery framework

We established our digital transformation framework in 2011 in partnership with the MIT Center for Digital Business. This initial model has evolved into what we now refer to the “Digital Mastery” framework and it addresses both digital capabilities and leadership capabilities. [5] What has changed significantly are the nine digital capabilities. Digital capabilities are the use of technology to change how the organization interacts with its users, partners, and stakeholders, how it structures its organization and people, operates internal processes, or defines its business model. Leadership capabilities consist of creating the necessary conditions to drive the digital transformation in the organization. It also includes the transformation vision and purpose, the governance model to lead the journey, the necessary technology and business relationships to produce the results. New is also the talent and organization pillar which addresses identifying and retaining digital talent and skills and managing organization change.

Adjustments to the generic model are necessary to make it applicable for a mission-driven organization like defense. The primary goal of defense is not to earn money, but to fulfill a mission and the primary metrics of success is not revenue. Cost Value as a success factor of innovation is therefore replaced with “mission achievement”. And Defense does not have customers but instead it has beneficiaries represented not only by the warfighter, but also by the government, a nation’s people, alliance partners, NGO’s, etcetera.  

Figure. Building Blocks of the Capgemini Digital Mastery framework.


To become Digital Masters defense organizations must prioritize the User / Warfighter experience, Talent management and Organizational Change, and Operations. We believe that at least these pillars and nine building blocks must be addressed in a good digital strategy. And link the digital capabilities to leadership capabilities. The interrelated building blocks offer a solid structure of capabilities for a digital roadmap. But our Digital Mastery framework is not the Holy Grail of digital transformation. Nor is it a ready-to-use template for a digital strategy for defense. As Rumelt states: using templates only leads to bad strategy. Each building block in the framework requires a set of initiatives, and its development is a journey in itself. A well-developed set of building blocks is related to greater innovativeness and of digital offerings and delivers more effects, profits, and customer satisfaction. It takes experience and knowledge of the defense sector and the military to define and tie the right strategy elements to these building blocks.  

Finally, we conclude that data are a strategic asset, and that Digital Mastery goes hand in hand with Data Mastery. It is best practice that a Digital Strategy in Defense is supported by a Data Strategy, which sets the rules for formatting, and managing data and to allow it to be more easily accessed and exploited across the armed forces.

Har Gootzen

Enterprise Architect, IT Strategist and Solution Director Strategic Deals
Har is an Enterprise Architect, IT Strategist and Solution Director Strategic Deals. He defines architectures and solutions to guide and govern the digital transformation process of organizations. Especially in Defense and Public Security. He is experienced in Agile architectures, Cloud concepts, Product Development, DevOps and Security. Covering both Infrastructure and Applications

    References / Literature

    1. Good Strategy, Bad Strategy – The difference and why in matters, Richard Rumelt. Profile Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-1781256176
    2. Digital Modernization Strategy – US Department of Defense, July 2019.
    3. The Digital Strategy for Defence: A review of early implementation, UK National Audit Office (NAO), ISBN: 978-1-78604-449-5. NAO, 19 October 2022.
    4. Designed for Digital – How to architect your business for sustained success, Jeanne W. Ross, Cynthia M. Beath, and Martin Mocker. The MIT Press, 2019.
    5. Digital MasteryHow organizations have progressed in their digital transformations over the past two years”, Capgemini Research Institute, 2020.