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What can we learn from a Network Based Defence?

Time for the last part where we talk about different management principles.

Thank you all for the feedback and “grading” on your self-assessment of where you are. Quick summary gives an average score of 7.3, where 1 is fully command-driven and 10 is fully mission-driven.

This feels good, but it is also clear that not all organisations are as developed as one might hope.

Unfortunately, there are still organisations led by managers who believe that the command structure leads to success. They would rather look to their own need for control and to be the one to set the rules, than to the good of the business.

But how can we make it work better than with good mission management?

Network Based Defence

Well, to answer that, I return to the Armed Forces, which I have also used as a starting point for previous weekly letters. There is a concept that emerged in the early 2000s. It is called Network Based Defence, NBD for short.

NBF is about building a network of all actors in the business (the defence of our country) where information can flow freely within the network.

Actors become “nodes” in the network, able to both produce and consume information. Technology development is needed to make it work. We call it Digitalisation. Back then, in the early 2000s, the technology that the Armed Forces saw in front of them to make it all work did not exist.

For example, what they wanted were drones, both in the air and on the ground, sometimes controlled by humans and sometimes fully autonomous. In addition, hand-held small devices on the soldier’s arm, digital maps in quantities with current situation, visors with projected information inside, and more.

Back then, much of this was still science fiction. Now, just a few years later, much of that technology exists. We use it many times in civilian life, both for utility and pleasure. We have tablets and smart phones, as well as simple drones that interface well with our tablets and phones. All at a relatively low cost.

For NBD, we need equipment that can collect and reproduce information. In addition, we also need the ability to allow information to flow freely across the network, with a few exceptions. For example, to ensure that particularly confidential information only reaches certain nodes.

Production of information

To produce the information required access to a range of information-gathering gadgets, such as sensors on the ground, in vehicles, on soldiers and so on. In addition, drones in the air and on the ground, and of course the possibility for individuals to report information.

We see today in Ukraine how this is a force used by the Ukrainian army. Small, relatively inexpensive flying drones that provide images directly back to various units about the situation in an area have an information advantage.

This is information that has never before been seen by the smaller players and on a wide scale. So far, it has only been for the superpowers that have had access to expensive satellites, reconnaissance aircraft or high-altitude drones.

Now with lower costs and simpler systems, this can be applied down to smaller units and on a larger scale.

Consumption of information

The idea within the NBF is that the information produced should then be passed on into the network for others to consume. This is also done through relatively cheap technical equipment. Being able to consume information in a simple and distributed way is the beginning of something completely different from what we see in a command structure.

In the command structure, we start from the top, where the “great leader” gathers information and makes decisions, and then gives orders from the bottom up. Information gathering needs to take a long way from the bottom level up to the top. Many people will compile it in different levels, polish it to make it look good, and then send it on.

Then it is expected that a decision will be made which will be sent back down through all levels. Even there, it has to pass through many layers that have to interpret, filter and distribute decisions and orders.

Long way up, and long way down.

When you consume information in the NBF, you get almost all the information that concerns my area in real time. With the right culture and the right training, individual nodes can both filter out what is important and then make their own decisions about how to act.

Decision and implementation

In a NBD, decision-making is distributed down to the lowest level. Single infantry soldier is a node. A tank with crew is a node. A so-called fire unit, such as an artillery or anti-aircraft unit, is a node.

With the right assumption about WHY we exist and WHAT needs to be solved, the nodes exemplified above can decide for themselves what needs to be done to achieve set goals. If the wrong decision is made, immediate feedback is provided via the information produced. Corrections can be made immediately and results can be monitored in real time.

Here you go from having a long time up with reports and a long time down with new orders, to having full control of the situation at all times and the nodes making decisions themselves.

Do you see the big difference in the governance and management structure? What could it look like in your company?

More than mission management

NBF, as you see, is the next step beyond mission management. It’s based on the same culture where we believe in people’s abilities and we as leaders are willing to let go.

But whereas in mission management we often still have a clear hierarchical structure, in the NBF we have a much more distributed way of solving the task. It is not a man at the top who controls and sets the details. Without it, the distributed entities (nodes) operate on the basis of a given understanding of purpose and goals, and access to instantaneous information about the current situation.

Learning in civilian life

What lessons can you take away from the NBF? What do you need to get in order to make it work?

Some of the things you need to succeed are:

  • A clarity within the business about WHY you exist and WHAT you will achieve.
  • No hidden agendas, but straightforward pipes and transparency.
  • Technological tools where information is easily accessible, at the right time, to those who need it.
  • That information flows freely throughout the business, and does not need to be manually moved between systems, or compiled and reported.
  • A culture of trust that individual employees can make decisions for the good of the whole.
  • An opportunity to see at a glance how the business is doing, both overall and in the desired details.
  • To constantly evaluate and improve the whole flow, so that you are constantly getting better at all of the above.

I have talked in other newsletters about the importance of understanding and developing the digital environment. This includes using all the “cool stuff” that is out there that can support your business. But don’t forget the fundamentals of making it all hang together.

To succeed, you must:

Understand your value creation flow, i.e. your processes. Because that’s where everything else comes from.
Ensure that all system supports are open so that information can be retrieved and passed between them, and that you can use them where you need to.
Make sure to drive and monitor your processes, as this is the prerequisite for “mining” data to measure and monitor the real state of your business.
Setting up clear dashboards for each process and then compiling views of the whole and tailored to different roles in the business.

With the above two checklists, you will be able to take the next step in developing your business and, in civilian terms, use the same thinking as described in the Armed Forces Networked Defence.

Easy? No. There are a lot of things that need to come together and the hardest part is building the culture.

Quickly? Well. It is faster than many people think to get many digital conditions in place. However, again, it takes many times longer to build the culture than to fix the technology.

But remember that we tend to overestimate how quickly improvements can be introduced.

But at the same time, we underestimate the time it takes for things to have an impact on the business once we have created the conditions. That is, it’s a bit slow at first, but once it happens, it goes away.

Need I say that Clean Stream and I are here to help you get better order and control in your business, and to create a better working environment?

Wishing you a great week,