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The Art of War and Business

The Art of War and Business

The IT chiefs at the Australian Defence Force are marshalling their troops for a new kind of battle: delivering a helicopter view of information to the decision-makers at the top.

"Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never know peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant of both your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril" - Sun Tzu 500 BC.

Overtime, says Director-General Defence Information Environment (DIE) Brigadier Michael Clifford, Australia's intervention in East Timor will be recognised as the watershed it really was. In that tiny emerging nation the Australian Defence Force (ADF) commanded an operation for the first time in its history. Pity then, that the information strategy the entire ADF was working to was based on something utterly different from that reality.

East Timor showed that if information technology was going to continue to meet Defence efforts into the future, some things would clearly have to change.

The strategic shift, which in some ways mirrors and in other ways leads the evolution in strategic thinking on information management under way in many leading-edge corporations, has major implications for Australia's contribution to the international coalition against terrorism, especially any future involvement in an attack against Iraq. It has led to some fresh reasoning and action around the disciplines of IT governance, architecture and information integration. And it has reinforced in Defence's mind the value that can come from having both a CIO and CTO contributing to IT policy.

Clifford says with nothing until East Timor to challenge traditional Defence thinking on IT, Defence's entire information strategy had been predicated on the notion that in the defence of Australia, the country would inevitably be working as a junior partner in a coalition. Having command brought with it an enormous reality check for Defence, one that's been reshaping information strategy ever since.

Until Timor, Defence's information construct had Headquarters, Australian Theatre, in Sydney, as both operational commander and customer for everything to do with warfare. Like the constructs that have been slowly unravelling across many businesses since the dawn of the "e", the problem was that Defence had entirely forgotten the strategic level " the enterprise level. In short, the construct failed to provide a "top-down" view of Defence at its broadest, with the Chief of Defence Force (CDF) and the Secretary of Defence as the true customers for information.

"I think probably subconsciously or consciously all of our white papers policy-wise had the view that in the defence of Australia we would be working in coalition," Clifford says. "If you'd said to anybody [that] Australia would command an operation, they could never have imagined it. [Former Prime Minister] Bob Hawke in a paper said for the government to make a decision to deploy the Defence Force is a big decision, but to do it when you're actually leading and building the coalition really brings the focus to what the business is all about."

The thrust of the Hawke remarks, made in the context of a possible future attack against Iraq, was that for any Prime Minister the decision to deploy the ADF is a huge and risky one that can only be made when all possible information about capabilities - on both sides of the battle - is available. The recognition driven home by East Timor is forcing Defence to "really reinvent" the notion that the Chief of Defence Force and the Secretary of Defence must be able to take a top-down view of the organisation and the business.

Provision of technology to troops on the ground in East Timor was not much of a problem, Clifford says. Sure, there is always a desire to provide more of it, because the Defence forces have long recognised the role of technology in minimising risk exposure, but the troops got enough, and it worked. The real issue was that taking command forced Defence to transition from looking at information from a CTO perspective to a true CIO view.

"What Timor really brought on, as well as just the challenges of the demands of government, is [the realisation that] we really had to take a broad top-down view of information. It wasn't just hardware and IT-although that was an important dimension of it - but [what was needed] really was an understanding of what the information environment was in Defence, and what decision-makers needed to be able to give best advice to government," Clifford says. "It's an issue of really starting to get a view of the organisation: that you had to bring the organisation together in an information sense, from back-end systems to weapons systems. At the top level that's the information they need."

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