The desired outcome of digital transformation can vary depending on an organization’s purpose and goals. For defence organizations, digital transformation is about ensuring a competitive advantage in a complex global security landscape where the nature of conflict is rapidly changing – it’s mission critical. For these organizations, the stakes are high, and the threats are real, dynamic, and ever evolving. So how can defence organizations set themselves up to be “future ready” in such a rapidly changing global security landscape? There’s only one answer. They have to change with it.

Defence organizations around the world are embarking on their digital transformation journeys, with the goal of disrupting not only their adversaries, but also themselves – to maintain a position of agility and rapid innovation in the face of today’s challenges. The UK’s Royal Navy is embracing this change and they are already seeing significant value.

“Today, if we were to operate as we were ready to fight even a few years ago, we lose. We will not be able to save those who we are entrusted to protect,” said Brigadier Dan J. Cheesman, Chief Technology Officer, Royal Navy. “Simply put, we need to be faster and better at delivering change to the hands of the war-fighter and we know effective technological transformation is the way to make this happen.”

Practically speaking, the management of digital transformation is easier said than done, but there are some best practices that can make the journey smoother. This starts with organizational change management. It’s imperative to understand that digital transformation is not just about technology, but it’s also about people, process, and culture. For this reason, there is no one-size-fits all approach.

Among industry and defence professionals, there seems to be consensus that inspirational, transformative leadership is the key to driving real change and supporting people through the transformation journey – including when things go wrong (and they will; failure is part of the process!). There are few things more detrimental to digital transformation than leaders who lack the ability to inspire change. For the Royal Navy, the key to success is strong leadership that guides a culture shift by embracing change and agility.

“We follow certain methodologies that help us succeed by making us comfortable with constant change,” says Cheesman. “And the people who are embracing these models need the constant support and protection of effective leaders, otherwise they will feel like they’re ice climbing up a sand dune every day.”

It’s important to remember that these approaches and best practices extend beyond just one organization. To drive significant change at a rapid pace requires partnerships across industry – including defence industrial base, big tech, and non-traditional defence vendors. There are many conditions that lead to productive partnerships in the defence ecosystem, including agile and reformed procurement methods, common platforms, and architectures to enable interoperability and data sharing, and above all, a culture that focuses on mission outcome.

At Microsoft, we are proud to have been a part of some great examples of this, such as in defence software factories where defence forces are sitting side by side with commercial software developers, working together to develop on a common platform, as one team with shared goals and mission objectives.

“In effect, we are trying to get over ourselves and ask industry to show us the way. It’s whole new level of trust,” says Cheesman. “Some things are just obvious and embracing digital transformation with a strong technology partner is one of them.”

For more information on how Microsoft is fuelling innovation in the defence industry, please visit