What systemic issues would you change in the MOD or in the single Services?

It was Fujitsu that supplied the dodgy kit that sent quite a few postmasters to prison.
I rather think that any technical shortcomings in the system paled into insignificance in comparison with management inflexibility and a complete inability to identify the shared characteristics of a recurring problem.
 
I rather think that any technical shortcomings in the system paled into insignificance in comparison with management inflexibility and a complete inability to identify the shared characteristics of a recurring problem.
Sounds familiar.......
 
If the Home Office had paid Fujitsu, they would have got what they wanted rather than the utter clusterfcuk that a particular system became.
FUJIT AND SU= Suck it and see. The amalgamation of IR with HMCE into HMRC then the transition to HO. Oh boy what a laugh. Lets see I computer system for E mails, I system for pay matters, another system for seizures. No matter what you wanted to do log in log out four different systems, no one talking to the other. I think one was OASIS, we'd have been better off with Osmosis.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Resurrecting this thread as I didn’t want to make a new, more pointless, one.
Taking on boards all of the opinions above, do you think there’s a solid future in JHub? Asking as civilian looking to join as a mid rank CS. Never served, or been a CS.

I've known a good number of people who've worked there from the early days (as, I think, has @Caecilius), and I've also spent a bit of time in the startup world. None of my JHub interaction has been professional, in case the following sounds like sour grapes: I have had no dog in this fight, ever. It's just a small world.

It appears to be a good idea with mediocre to poor implementation. No real indication that it is capable of escaping the gravitational pull of CS and military bureaucracy, which is the fundamental requirement for any Defence innovation hub. Many of the JHub people and outputs I've seen mirror Silicon Valley culture and 'innovation' in established companies only (the Facebooks of the world): large tech corporations using the language of innovation to cover an increasingly incoherent and mundane corporate bureaucracy, little different to any other large bureaucratic organisation. JHub doesn't seem to share qualities with genuinely innovative organisations, companies or sub-groups. With the personnel, I heard a lot of classic management consultancy type bluffery, people who have learned how to speak the language but have a purely superficial understanding of what they are talking about. Scratch the surface (i.e. if you happen to actually know what they are talking about) and they are lost, and quickly pivot away. In this, it's really not much different to what you will find from a random sample of MOD Main Building or Andover (Army HQ) on any given day. Presentation trumps both understanding and output.

If you aren't a CS or serving, I'm baffled why you would want to work there. It may be an upgrade from some posts you will have in those jobs, but if you are external to the blob, interested in working in 'innovative' environments, and presumably live in London, it is certainly massively inferior compared to many better options on your doorstep.
 
I've known a good number of people who've worked there from the early days (as, I think, has @Caecilius), and I've also spent a bit of time in the startup world. None of my JHub interaction has been professional, in case the following sounds like sour grapes: I have had no dog in this fight, ever. It's just a small world.

It appears to be a good idea with mediocre to poor implementation. No real indication that it is capable of escaping the gravitational pull of CS and military bureaucracy, which is the fundamental requirement for any Defence innovation hub. Many of the JHub people and outputs I've seen mirror Silicon Valley culture and 'innovation' in established companies only (the Facebooks of the world): large tech corporations using the language of innovation to cover an increasingly incoherent and mundane corporate bureaucracy, little different to any other large bureaucratic organisation. JHub doesn't seem to share qualities with genuinely innovative organisations, companies or sub-groups. With the personnel, I heard a lot of classic management consultancy type bluffery, people who have learned how to speak the language but have a purely superficial understanding of what they are talking about. Scratch the surface (i.e. if you happen to actually know what they are talking about) and they are lost, and quickly pivot away. In this, it's really not much different to what you will find from a random sample of MOD Main Building or Andover (Army HQ) on any given day. Presentation trumps both understanding and output.

If you aren't a CS or serving, I'm baffled why you would want to work there. It may be an upgrade from some posts you will have in those jobs, but if you are external to the blob, interested in working in 'innovative' environments, and presumably live in London, it is certainly massively inferior compared to many better options on your doorstep.
I sat in on a presentation on JHub (from a Major) and the biggest attraction seemed to be the attraction to wear casual clothes and grow a pointy beard. And network like F&ck for his post-Service career.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
I sat in on a presentation on JHub (from a Major) and the biggest attraction seemed to be the attraction to wear casual clothes and grow a pointy beard. And network like F&ck for his post-Service career.
Sounds standard.

You can't just take a lot of people who have been indoctrinated in a particular way of thinking, speaking and being, call it an innovation Hub, and expect miracles. That said, I don't begrudge the attempt or even a lot of the intentions of those in it. I just think it lacks both the conditions for innovation, and the ruthless drive from the top to cut away superfluous processes and people. It is quite possible that those in charge simply cannot conceive what is required, because that would require admitting some uncomfortable truths about themselves, their organisation, and their values.

Ultimately that will be the fate of any 'prestige' project within Defence. As soon as it becomes the place to be, it will be captured by careerists whose interests are aligned with the status quo. Successful innovation hubs in large organisations tend to stay in ghost mode, it's one of the key characteristics identified by those who have studied them. My reading list from that period is on another device, and I forget the modern case studies, but Eric Ries (Lean Startup) has written extensively on this. In defence, Skunk Works & Lockheed were the classic example: brilliant, world-leading innovations, until Lockheed corporate became interested in it.

It is a bit sad seeing junior officers with bright ideas desperate to get to JHub, and then the ones who make it discover that it is all a bit like where they just came from. I know of at least one case where it was disillusionment that led to the post-Service career as you describe above, rather than calculation. Although that is clearly the plan, for some, from the outset.
 
I've known a good number of people who've worked there from the early days (as, I think, has @Caecilius), and I've also spent a bit of time in the startup world. None of my JHub interaction has been professional, in case the following sounds like sour grapes: I have had no dog in this fight, ever. It's just a small world.

It appears to be a good idea with mediocre to poor implementation. No real indication that it is capable of escaping the gravitational pull of CS and military bureaucracy, which is the fundamental requirement for any Defence innovation hub. Many of the JHub people and outputs I've seen mirror Silicon Valley culture and 'innovation' in established companies only (the Facebooks of the world): large tech corporations using the language of innovation to cover an increasingly incoherent and mundane corporate bureaucracy, little different to any other large bureaucratic organisation. JHub doesn't seem to share qualities with genuinely innovative organisations, companies or sub-groups. With the personnel, I heard a lot of classic management consultancy type bluffery, people who have learned how to speak the language but have a purely superficial understanding of what they are talking about. Scratch the surface (i.e. if you happen to actually know what they are talking about) and they are lost, and quickly pivot away. In this, it's really not much different to what you will find from a random sample of MOD Main Building or Andover (Army HQ) on any given day. Presentation trumps both understanding and output.

If you aren't a CS or serving, I'm baffled why you would want to work there. It may be an upgrade from some posts you will have in those jobs, but if you are external to the blob, interested in working in 'innovative' environments, and presumably live in London, it is certainly massively inferior compared to many better options on your doorstep.
The challenge I can see is exactly the same one as every other innovation incubator faces; how to take a workable bright idea into a viable, profitable business.

That does not depend on the people with the bright ideas or the people nurturing those ideas. It depends on whether there is money to invest in bringing the product to market. Either defence money for a military special or venture capitalists / angels willing to invest in the bright idea. The former depends on getting a line in the equipment program. The latter depends on whether there’s viable a market for the product beyond defence.

Its the classic challenge; how do you get a concept into the equipment program from the bottom up, when the program is funded top down?
 
The challenge I can see is exactly the same one as every other innovation incubator faces; how to take a workable bright idea into a viable, profitable business.

That does not depend on the people with the bright ideas or the people nurturing those ideas. It depends on whether there is money to invest in bringing the product to market. Either defence money for a military special or venture capitalists / angels willing to invest in the bright idea. The former depends on getting a line in the equipment program. The latter depends on whether there’s viable a market for the product beyond defence.

Its the classic challenge; how do you get a concept into the equipment program from the bottom up, when the program is funded top down?
We sort of got there with UOR process during the heady days of Afghanistan. There was a fail fast logic, and resources weren't constrained as the cost was not borne by the sS or the MOD.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
The challenge I can see is exactly the same one as every other innovation incubator faces; how to take a workable bright idea into a viable, profitable business.

That does not depend on the people with the bright ideas or the people nurturing those ideas. It depends on whether there is money to invest in bringing the product to market. Either defence money for a military special or venture capitalists / angels willing to invest in the bright idea. The former depends on getting a line in the equipment program. The latter depends on whether there’s viable a market for the product beyond defence.

Its the classic challenge; how do you get a concept into the equipment program from the bottom up, when the program is funded top down?
Disagree on almost all points, actually.

The 'business' in this case is already viable. Nobody is arguing that it will die, with or without the innovation hub. The innovation hub exists to make it work better. This does not imply the innovation hub itself needs to be viable as a standalone.

Innovation hubs are much more comparable to loss leaders than a standalone startup. They - theoretically - add something unique and valuable to the larger organisation, but may not meet all the output metrics of that organisation. They are subsidised in this function by the larger organisation.

Your argument seems to suggest the fallacy that all departments or sub-groups in a large organization must be equally productive using the same metrics, i.e. any given department could be cut away from the main and still be viable. It's simply not true.

That's not to say there isn't some value in bringing a bit of rigour to running the thing like you suggest, but it's not, at all, the same as "does the innovation hub have a business model".
 
Disagree on almost all points, actually.

The 'business' in this case is already viable. Nobody is arguing that it will die, with or without the innovation hub. The innovation hub exists to make it work better. This does not imply the innovation hub itself needs to be viable as a standalone.

Innovation hubs are much more comparable to loss leaders than a standalone startup. They - theoretically - add something unique and valuable to the larger organisation, but may not meet all the output metrics of that organisation. They are subsidised in this function by the larger organisation.

Your argument seems to suggest the fallacy that all departments or sub-groups in a large organization must be equally productive using the same metrics, i.e. any given department could be cut away from the main and still be viable. It's simply not true.

That's not to say there isn't some value in bringing a bit of rigour to running the thing like you suggest, but it's not, at all, the same as "does the innovation hub have a business model".
I think you’re missing my point. I’m not suggesting that JHub needs to be successful as a stand alone; certainly not whilst it has a benevolent investor like the MOD. But there are plenty innovation hubs that do have to stand up as a business; their funding is dependent on them producing a pipeline of viable projects. By no means all will go beyond startup, but enough have to make the process viable.

But, irrespective of the commercials of the hub itself, it has to do more than produce working concepts. It has to produce viable, investable ideas. And either that investment comes from the MOD or it comes from established corporates, venture capital or angels.

So to clarify my point about innovative defence ideas; unless there’s either a mechanism of sparking a defence program or the organisation is finding commercially investable ideas, it’s a vanity product.
 

WightMivvi

War Hero
Apologies for a long post, but MOD IT, careers, JHUB, and what needs to improve is a complex subject. I am no longer in tbe MOD, but my views may be useful.

My MOD Civil Service career went from a bottom-of-the-heap data inputter to mid-management IT support services troubleshooter, via Top Level Budget (TLB) finance, Business Analyst, Small Systems, system development, ITIL Release Management, web developer, and Information Management policy and implementation.

I probably had the ideal geek career - embedded within non-IT teams and expected to come up with solutions to support the rest of the team, without much supervision, with lots of time to experiment and play, and several promotions thrown in.

I have zero IT qualifications and developed my skills in my own time via trial and error.

My experience of MOD IT / IS is that it’s a lot less fun than it used to be. Whereas I would be building networks one day, repairing laptops the next, then programming client/server systems the next, modern MOD IT/IS wants narrow focused specialists. They want people with deep skills in specific areas and develop those staff in those areas. If you want to be a specialist working in the same area for years crack-on. If you want to develop multiple IT/IS skills, go elsewhere.

The more “professional” MOD IT/IS has become, the less fun it has been to work there, and the worse the user experience (UX) has become. This is because the “becoming more professional” created a gap between the geeks and the ordinary users, with centralised geeks focusing on the needs of the centre rather than the needs of the users.

This lead me to conclude that the problem MOD has with IT/IS is down to this gap. What is needed is to re-embed the geeks with the local users, so the geeks can understand the needs and challenges users have and then find ways to exploit the IT to help improve how people work.

As an example, the MOD has a mandated electronic file name format. From an IS point of view, it makes a lot of sense; consistent naming means it’s easier to link records. For users though, it’s counterintuitive to give email titles like “20210408-My MOD IS Experience-unclass” when they could just type “My Experience”. Filing the emails meant having to manually rename every email in your mailbox after first manually weeding the emails to get rid of duplicates or emails from earlier in the email discussion.

One day, on my one-hundredth manual renaming (and losing the will to live), I decided to automate it. There was a way to programmatically identify the last email in a discussion (and delete the earlier ones), change its name to include the email’s date and classification, apply standard terminology, add classification, then export the emails to a folder for filing. What could take weeks of manual effort could no be done in minutes. My tool spread by word of mouth across Main Building, Army HQ, Navy HQ and a few other places. Further improvements were made as aresult of feedback from usere.

This tool only got created because a geek was faced with an everyday problem ordinary users faced. The centralised professional IS department could never accept the need for a solution because the problem only occurred because users failed to abide by an unwiedly and awkward centrally mandated policy (to create a solution would be to admit the policy was wrong). And no consultant would every create a solution because the solution was just a few hundred lines of code within an Excel spreadsheet (there was no ongoing revenue stream for the consultant).

Now, JHUB is, I think, a way to overcome the lack of exploitation of the IT/IS by increasing the IT/IS skills across the MOD, so ordinary users could understand what could be done and allowing them to come up with solutions that could then be crowd-tested and improved and, if good, rolled out across the rest of the MOD. They are trying to basically adopt the sort of behaviours that resulted in me creating my email tool.

I think that is good, and there are a lot of opportunities to exploit JHUB to create better tools, skills and ways of working. From what I saw of JHUB before leaving (2019) it looked promising and interesting.

However, one of the inevitabilities of MOD life is that management have an overwhelming need to prove their worth, and to find a way to “professionalise” services. This results in bureaucracy taking over (KPIs, processes, admin interfaces etc.) and effort switching away from delivering useful bits and bobs and onto defending the team’s existence. If JHUB is becoming something managers use for personal advancement rather than somehing amateur and professional geeks use to improve stuff, then it will quickly become just another team focused on delivering policies and making standards rather than delivering effect.

If you want a varied career as a geek, the MOD is probably not a long-term solution. If you want a career in being an IT/IS manager then the MOD is ok.
 
Apologies for a long post, but MOD IT, careers, JHUB, and what needs to improve is a complex subject. I am no longer in tbe MOD, but my views may be useful.

My MOD Civil Service career went from a bottom-of-the-heap data inputter to mid-management IT support services troubleshooter, via Top Level Budget (TLB) finance, Business Analyst, Small Systems, system development, ITIL Release Management, web developer, and Information Management policy and implementation.

I probably had the ideal geek career - embedded within non-IT teams and expected to come up with solutions to support the rest of the team, without much supervision, with lots of time to experiment and play, and several promotions thrown in.

I have zero IT qualifications and developed my skills in my own time via trial and error.

My experience of MOD IT / IS is that it’s a lot less fun than it used to be. Whereas I would be building networks one day, repairing laptops the next, then programming client/server systems the next, modern MOD IT/IS wants narrow focused specialists. They want people with deep skills in specific areas and develop those staff in those areas. If you want to be a specialist working in the same area for years crack-on. If you want to develop multiple IT/IS skills, go elsewhere.

The more “professional” MOD IT/IS has become, the less fun it has been to work there, and the worse the user experience (UX) has become. This is because the “becoming more professional” created a gap between the geeks and the ordinary users, with centralised geeks focusing on the needs of the centre rather than the needs of the users.

This lead me to conclude that the problem MOD has with IT/IS is down to this gap. What is needed is to re-embed the geeks with the local users, so the geeks can understand the needs and challenges users have and then find ways to exploit the IT to help improve how people work.

As an example, the MOD has a mandated electronic file name format. From an IS point of view, it makes a lot of sense; consistent naming means it’s easier to link records. For users though, it’s counterintuitive to give email titles like “20210408-My MOD IS Experience-unclass” when they could just type “My Experience”. Filing the emails meant having to manually rename every email in your mailbox after first manually weeding the emails to get rid of duplicates or emails from earlier in the email discussion.

One day, on my one-hundredth manual renaming (and losing the will to live), I decided to automate it. There was a way to programmatically identify the last email in a discussion (and delete the earlier ones), change its name to include the email’s date and classification, apply standard terminology, add classification, then export the emails to a folder for filing. What could take weeks of manual effort could no be done in minutes. My tool spread by word of mouth across Main Building, Army HQ, Navy HQ and a few other places. Further improvements were made as aresult of feedback from usere.

This tool only got created because a geek was faced with an everyday problem ordinary users faced. The centralised professional IS department could never accept the need for a solution because the problem only occurred because users failed to abide by an unwiedly and awkward centrally mandated policy (to create a solution would be to admit the policy was wrong). And no consultant would every create a solution because the solution was just a few hundred lines of code within an Excel spreadsheet (there was no ongoing revenue stream for the consultant).

Now, JHUB is, I think, a way to overcome the lack of exploitation of the IT/IS by increasing the IT/IS skills across the MOD, so ordinary users could understand what could be done and allowing them to come up with solutions that could then be crowd-tested and improved and, if good, rolled out across the rest of the MOD. They are trying to basically adopt the sort of behaviours that resulted in me creating my email tool.

I think that is good, and there are a lot of opportunities to exploit JHUB to create better tools, skills and ways of working. From what I saw of JHUB before leaving (2019) it looked promising and interesting.

However, one of the inevitabilities of MOD life is that management have an overwhelming need to prove their worth, and to find a way to “professionalise” services. This results in bureaucracy taking over (KPIs, processes, admin interfaces etc.) and effort switching away from delivering useful bits and bobs and onto defending the team’s existence. If JHUB is becoming something managers use for personal advancement rather than somehing amateur and professional geeks use to improve stuff, then it will quickly become just another team focused on delivering policies and making standards rather than delivering effect.

If you want a varied career as a geek, the MOD is probably not a long-term solution. If you want a career in being an IT/IS manager then the MOD is ok.
JHub is an innovation hub in Whitechapel intended to engage innovative SMEs (as in Small & Medium Enterprise) and startups. It’s tech focused (that’s why it’s In Whitechapel), but many of the projects it has worked on are not IT.

Innovation hubs are not about geekery; they’re about nurturing geek ideas and turning them in to investable projects.
 

WightMivvi

War Hero
JHub is an innovation hub in Whitechapel intended to engage innovative SMEs (as in Small & Medium Enterprise) and startups. It’s tech focused (that’s why it’s In Whitechapel), but many of the projects it has worked on are not IT.

Innovation hubs are not about geekery; they’re about nurturing geek ideas and turning them in to investable projects.
Ah. I was getting confused with “JHUB” which was a new MOD initiative that I think started in Air Command, and which was focused on enabling IT/IS innovation across MOD.

Edited to add:

”The jHub Coding Scheme aims to give serving personnel the opportunity to gain valuable coding and AI skills, whilst getting paid to do so, so that they might use those skills to enable an information advantage.”

(Yes, I still have some of the documents as they had links to publicly available training that a bored geek may be interested in. :D.)
 
Last edited:

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
You can't just take a lot of people who have been indoctrinated in a particular way of thinking, speaking and being, call it an innovation Hub, and expect miracles.

There's also the fairly significant problem of understanding what's meant by 'innovation'. Once you strip away all the fluff, JHUB essentially just procures kit from start ups using a more streamlined process than DE&S.

Much of the equipment they buy is definitely innovative, but I don't think that's what people understand when they hear 'innovation'. It may have set out to change how MOD does business, or find new and better ways of doing things, but it doesn't have the backing, resources, or (civilian) talent needed to enact genuine change in the organisation.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Ah. I was getting confused with “JHUB” which was a new MOD initiative that I think started in Air Command, and which was focused on enabling IT/IS innovation across MOD.

Edited to add:

”The jHub Coding Scheme aims to give serving personnel the opportunity to gain valuable coding and AI skills, whilst getting paid to do so, so that they might use those skills to enable an information advantage.”

(Yes, I still have some of the documents as they had links to publicly available training that a bored geek may be interested in. :D.)
I think it may well have been versions of the same thing. It metastasized quite rapidly.

For your email example, I'm not sure that your conclusions are entirely correct. I had the same experience and wrote roughly the same VB macro in my first job, which I then carried around with me. I had to go through the manual install process for every new terminal or person who wanted it because I could never get a sysadmin to group install it. The problem wasn't (this was over 10 years ago) just nobody identifying / solving the problems, it was absolute resistance of 'the system' to anything that didn't come from them, and often the incompetence of the various alleged professionals (several times I was told that they couldn't install a macro amounting to all of 9 lines in case it had a virus ... they literally couldn't understand 9 very simple lines of VB).

Over the years I saw several of examples of that naming convention fix from various people who did basically what we both did - one may well have been yours! It wasn't the lack of solutions that was the problem. I encountered the same issue regularly in a 'cyber' job out when everyone first got excited about it in 2009-2010. There were plenty of specialists, they had identified and often proposed solutions, and remarkably, in the early days, they all agreed (largely because the answers were such low hanging fruit). But the 'system' was structurally incapable of listening. This was how absurd it could get. One time about 30 of us were called to an SME conference specifically intended to identify these kind of problems/answers. 30 out of 30 of us made the same point as our top concern at the conference start. Yet the (non-SME) Major running it refused to address the point because he believed it was outside his terms of reference, set by another non-SME superior. This despite an SME who outranked them both being present (but, of course, from another command).

A top-down system that inflexible will always fail to leverage the ideas it contains, regardless of where it places its people.
 

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