The importance of technology to Irish Defence Forces
Formed in 1924, the Irish Defence Forces encompasses all of the nation’s military operations, with the President of Ireland as Supreme Commander. The organisation has long taken on a neutral stance when it comes to armed conflict, and has an extensive history of peace-keeping activities as a member of the United Nations.
Comdt. Damian Griffin has served 22 years with the organisation, entering from school in 1994 as a cadet. The Defence Forces provided him the opportunity to attend university, initially to achieve a B.Eng (Electronics), which qualified Griffin to enter the Communication & Information Services (CIS) Corps as a technical officer.
Griffin was given further opportunity to study and has gained his MSc (Communications Engineering) and is a Certified Information Systems Security Practitioner (CISSP). Griffin credits the Defence Forces educational focus in providing him the leadership and technology skills required by any senior technology leader.
Griffin has delivered innovative efficiency since entering the CIO Office of the CIS Corps (known as J6 within the military environment) in Sept 2009. In 2010, he completed a thought paper for the secure evolution of the Defence Forces network from user to data centre. The concepts were refined to form the Defence Forces ICT Strategy for delivery of all classified services, and cemented his role as a key technical strategist.
“The key was to select complimentary technologies that ensure the security of Defence Forces data. This secure evolution will reveal a re-engineered DF network enabled to deliver operational capabilities both today and into the future,” says Griffin.
Technology for all
The Defence Forces General Staff see the combination of technology with innovation as a key enabler. As in enterprise, the Defence Force budgets must be efficient in delivering services to the highest of standard: “The network requires flexibility to enable DF personnel across a variety of roles; operations, logistics, and engineering to name a brief few,” Griffin explains. “DF personnel are tasked to deliver the mission on land, sea and air on a 24/7/365 basis, and the ICT environment must support this in a secure yet seamless manner.
“The strategic coupling of technology and innovation at all levels of the organisation has the ability to harness the collective organisational intelligence to solve all level of challenge across land, sea and air,” Griffin says. “Another challenge is the continued transition of the organisation to the demand of the digital soldier; it is all about our ability to listen and deliver the user requirements.”
The CIS Corps through clear leadership has over decades formed strong technology partnerships across the ICT landscape. Over the last 15 months Griffin lead the Defence Forces team to complete a competitive dialogue procurement process for the delivery of a Virtual Desktop Architecture. This key partnership was awarded to the Evros Technology group on the 30th June 2016. The project will result in the complete re-engineering of the Defence Forces network environment in the next 18-24 months.
“Evros navigated a highly competitive procurement process in a professional manner, while demonstrating proficiency in all technical and service support areas. They now have the opportunity to deliver key ICT capabilities in partnership with the Defence Forces for a guaranteed 3 and up to 5 years.”
The partnership will be keenly tested in undertaking this huge task, which Griffin is well aware of; it targets the creation of an intelligent, security-layered network to deliver all existing requirements while laying the foundation for future development.
“Is it going to be all smooth sailing? Of course not, but that’s why I’m calling it a partnership,” Griffin says, regarding the support of an organisation of 9,500 personnel. “The dating (procurement) stage is complete, we have announced our engagement (award, design and implementation) in the hope of a strong and lasting marriage (sustainment). Like any type of relationship, it’s going to have good and bad days, but we’re confident in the qualities and skills on both sides to deliver.”
“The key to securing any environment is a definite understanding of where the data is – at rest or in transit – and the level of protection required.” Griffin continues, emphasising the need for simplicity for both the user environment and administrative management of all systems and services. This in turn must be complemented with efficient processes linked to the overall security framework. The design challenge to Evros will always be focused on the delivery of a heavily secured yet user-friendly experience.
“The combination of physical and logical separation across the virtual environment will deliver the Defence Forces the required level of security,” explains Griffin. “It is about minimising the organisational security risk with the balance of usability. The future of application delivery, security and change management must be efficient and straightforward. Service delivery will improve from the ground up as we change the network.”
Technology is constantly evolving, and anybody in Griffin’s position must remain aware of emerging digital fluctuations. Griffin believes that all appropriate technologies, including the cloud, should be considered. “The technology or process of today will become the multiplying enabler tomorrow. The need for continual forward progression must be a given.
“We have to always know where our data is,” Griffin concludes, “and for any organisation, if you know where all the data is and that it’s secured to the right level, you’re in a good place.”
Nybl: Saudi Startup to Expand AI Solutions
According to co-founder Nour Alnahhas, nybl was formed for the greater good. A visual data mining and machine learning platform, the platform will help organisations streamline their operations. ‘We wanted to centralise our vision around AI and machine learning’, said Alnahhas. ‘Something not just for profit, but added value. Conscious capitalism’.
Nybl aims to democratise artificial intelligence by making it possible for anyone to build an AI solution. What website builders like Wix and Squarespace did for site design, nybl will do for AI—allowing even non-coders to feel comfortable creating solutions. In fact, Alnahhas calls it a ‘Shopify of AI’, or a third-party platform that helps businesses deliver better service.
With hubs in Kuwait, the UAE, North America, and India, nybl is focused on launching operations in Saudi Arabia, Alnahhas’s home country. When the company first launched, it was difficult to convince Saudi Arabian businesses to work with a startup. Yet now, nybl has proven itself. ‘We had support in the UAE, so now we’re coming back’, said Alnahhas.
Alnahhas has launched a pilot with Saudi Aramco and has slowly built partnerships with paper, heating, HVAC air conditioning, and manufacturing companies. In addition, the Saudi government has started to invest in the Kingdom’s National Strategy for Data and AI, which means that nbyl, as a tech startup, has finally gained credibility.
No War for Talent
One of the most critical parts of nybl’s expansion will be hiring the right individuals. Thankfully, there’s a current surplus of talented researchers, developers, and data scientists within the Kingdom. Like nybl’s Alnahhas—educated at the University of Houston, the Wharton School of Business, and INSEAD— many Saudi Arabians have benefited from government-sponsored education abroad.
Last year, Saudi Arabia signed several partnerships with tech firms to advance the Kingdom’s skills in artificial intelligence. ‘It’s exciting to be in Saudi Arabia where there’s alignment and support’, Alnahhas concluded. ‘You’re getting an increasing talent pool. And even old and big family conglomerates are finally changing to use AI’.