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The digital transformation of the defence sector

Nov 10. 2016 

Industry 4.0, Big Data, hyperconnectivity… Beyond the buzzwords, digital transformation heralds a new age of innovation and arguably the biggest revolution in military affairs the world has ever seen. Gil Michielin, head of Thales's avionics business, recently shared his insights with members of the CESDA (Cycle d'études supérieures défense et aérospatial) programme launched by Sciences Po Bordeaux in 2015.

One of the key success factors in the transformation of the defence sector is industry's ability to develop a distinctive value proposition based on digital technologies. For French industry, that means consolidating our capabilities in the technologies of tomorrow — Big Data, robotics, unmanned systems, connected objects, broadband networks, cloud computing, augmented reality, augmented vision and immersive displays, and of course cybersecurity.
No less crucial to the success of this transformation is our capacity to leverage dual technologies. Some areas of the aerospace sector — such as cockpit systems, air traffic control, surveillance radars and GPS — already benefit from the dual nature of their core technologies, and this will be increasingly important in the future, in both technological and economic terms.

Last but not least, the international dimension is of vital significance, because international markets offer defence contractors economies of scale and the headroom to finance new developments, driving growth and competitiveness when domestic markets no longer suffice. Importantly, an international footprint also provides access to new talent and helps companies to strengthen their interactions with research institutes and innovative start-ups all over the world.

Digital disruption: a pillar of Thales's strategy

Digitalisation is happening so fast, and the opportunities are so huge, that Thales has made it a strategic priority to harness the disruptive power of digital technologies. This means not only designing new digital architectures for products like radars and sonars but also working alongside academic researchers and start-ups to imagine new business models.

In air traffic management, for example, flight delays and cancellations due to unpredictable weather patterns can lead to billions of dollars in lost revenue for stakeholders. Thales is helping to meet these challenges by developing a flexible new ecosystem based around a secure, scalable data platform. ECOsystem gathers and processes air traffic and weather data on a global scale in a secure cloud environment to support a whole range of applications, including a real-time traffic management solution that is currently in service with eight airlines, airports and civil aviation authorities. ECOsystem is a prime example of the digital transformation taking place in the aerospace sector, and further applications, including a solution to manage movements of drones, are already in the pipeline.

Meeting the challenges of data security and analytics

Of course a more connected world is also more vulnerable to attack — and this is why Thales has made cybersecurity a central plank of its digital transformation strategy. With more than 1,500 cybersecurity experts around the world, Thales offers comprehensive solutions, including encryption devices, hardware security modules and a full range of services, to address every aspect of cybersecurity. Thales is also the only company with its own ITSEF (Information Technology Security Evaluation Facility) and CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) to provide guaranteed round-the-clock response and remediation services in the event of a cyberattack.

Based on extensive research and use cases developed in Europe and North America, Thales has also adopted a distinctive approach to Big Data analytics that cuts across traditional verticals to tap into all available datasets and offer virtually limitless potential for developing new functionalities and services in any market.

PoC Factory: from ideas to prototypes

A few months ago, we launched our first PoC (Proof of Concept) Factory to help new digital concepts take shape and evolve into viable products and services. With 350 people from 14 countries taking part, this major initiative brought together all the Thales Group's business areas on every continent and helped us discover new ways of working that will improve our agility and promote open collaboration. A second edition of the PoC Factory is planned for early 2017, and we are confident that these new ways of working together will accelerate our own digital transformation.

Today we fully recognise that digital innovation is a unique opportunity to transform the Group, not only by finding new ways to work together on a day-to-day basis, but also by creating new businesses and revenue streams. Above all, Thales sees the digital transformation as a chance to unleash the tremendous creative potential of a global technology leader to serve civil and defence customers all over the world.

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