Security Insights

The X’s and O’s of Intelligent Defence

According to the 2021-22 National Defence Departmental Plan: “Military and civilian personnel are our most important resource. A well-organized, well-trained, healthy, and motivated workforce enables us to deliver on SSE initiatives and ensures that we are an employer of choice within Canadian society.”

People join defence organizations for a variety of reasons. What is common is that they do so in part for the challenges and the opportunities. However, many of these challenges are not the ones that the members of the Defence Team expect to still exist in today’s world. 

Challenges with ill-fitting kit, technology not on par with those in equivalent jobs in the private sector, inadequate family programs, as well as those related with abhorrent and systemic deficit in human behaviours. The result is an erosion of operational effectiveness and resilience, low morale, attrition, and a lack of confidence in the Department’s leaders.

Many programs have been announced to address these challenges. What is important is that leaders, and the staff supporting them, are well equipped to proactively listen and adequately act within their span of control.

The way to do it is called Experience Management or XM. XM is the act of developing a holistic understanding of human experience through insights driven by operational data (O-data, telling you what is happening) and experience data (X-data, telling you why it is happening).


O-data is the data created and updated during operations. Aside from being used to log what is happening, and to provide auditable trails, it is also typically used to compute unit readiness. It is specific to staffing, training, medical/dental, capacities, and capabilities, but also to equipping, sustaining, and de-commissioning of weapon systems, and when aggregated, it represents overall unit readiness. Is a unit fully, partially, or non- operationally effective and resilient?


X-data is the sentiment gathered by feedback or surveys from the members of the Defence Team, and very importantly, their families. X-data (or human data) offers tremendous opportunities related to people centricity and can address issues with motivation, retention, inclusivity, and trust. It can serve as an early warning system and combined with O-data it can provide a more complete picture and lead to better decision making. 


On their path to becoming intelligent defence forces, military forces are beginning to take advantage of XM. For example, the US Air Force keeps a pulse on activities and services on their bases and has also conducted research into racial disparities. And Canada has begun this journey as well. For example, several bases have started to collect feedback after individuals interact with specific base services such as the clothing store, the Base Orderly Room, and the mess. Others have polled their workforce during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple other surveys have also been taken.

But more needs to be done. Better, and secure tools, need to be provided to leaders, and the staff supporting them, to combine human experience data with operational data in a consistent and coherent manner across the entire department. To learn how to close the gap in experience management for defence organizations, go here.

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