The May/June 2019 issue of Foreign Affairs contains an article by Christian Brose, titled "The New Revolution in Military Affairs".
What struck me while reading the article is how much of an analogy can be drawn between what is happening to businesses worldwide, and what the author writes about the future in military technology and its trailing adoption in the United States of America's military.
The transformation he describes is about the core process concerning militaries, the so called "kill chain". Thanks to technological advances, including artificial intelligence, that process can be rapdidly accelerated, offering a competitive advantage to the owner of the technology.
Following quotes struck me in particular:
Instead of thinking systematically about buying faster, more effective kill chains that could be built now, Washington poured money into newer versions of old military platforms and prayed for technological miracles to come.
The question, accordingly, is not how new technologies can improve the U.S. military’s ability to do what it already does but how they can enable it to operate in new ways.
A military made up of small numbers of large, expensive, heavily manned, and hard-to-replace systems will not survive on future battlefields, where swarms of intelligent machines will deliver violence at a greater volume and higher velocity than ever before. Success will require a different kind of military, one built around large numbers of small, inexpensive, expendable, and highly autonomous systems.
The same could be written about so many companies that haven't taken up the strategy of competing on analytics.
Replacing the U.S. military with banking sector for instance, formerly very profitable and seemingly unbeatable big banks have over the past decade found their banking software to be too rigid. Instead of investing in new products and services, they continued to rely on what they had been doing for the prior hundred years. They invested in upgrading their core systems, often with little payoff. While they were doing that, small fintech firms appeared, excelling at just a small fraction of what a bank considered its playing field. In those areas, these new players innovated much more quickly, resulting in far more efficient and effective service delivery.
At the core of many of these innovations lies data. The author likes China's stockpiling of data as to that of oil, but the following quote was particularly relevant in how it describes the use of that stockpile of data to inform decisioning.
Every autonomous system will be able to process and make sense of the information it gathers on its own, without relying on a command hub.
The analogy is clear - for years, organisations have been trying to ensure they knew the "single source of truth". Tightly coupling all business functions to a central ERP system was usually the answer. Just like in the military, it can now often be better to have many small functions be performed on the perifery of a company's systems, accepting some duplication of data and directional accuracy to deliver quicker, more cost-effective results - using expendable solutions. The challenges to communicate effectively between these semi-autonomous systems are noted.
Not insignificantly, the author poses "future militaries will be distinguished by the quality of their software, especially their artificial intelligence" - i.e. countries are competing on analytics, also in the military sphere.
The article ends with some advise to government leadership - make the transormation a priority, drive the change forward, recast cultures and ensure correct incentives are in place.