The shame of it.
There I was, a keen cyclist, gasping and struggling up the hills around Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, when a lady effortlessly breezed past me on her city bike with a cheeky put-down comment. My shame was heightened as two cyclists coming from the other direction witnessed the event.
It was the first time my wife and I had ridden together for 15 years, other than on an overseas tourist city bike tour. Her bad back and my silly propensity (from my soldiering days) to know only one way to exercise—flat out—had prevented us sharing such experiences until now. Until technology stepped in to level the playing field—or level the cycling track, as it were.
The city bike that passed me was an e-bike—a fine piece of German engineering, an ex-demo model, picked up for a bargain. I’ve nicknamed it “The Liberator,” as it’s liberated my wife back into cycling, and more shared recreation time between us. As a fringe benefit, it has also liberated us from daily parking costs, as the effortless cycling it offers makes commuting in office attire far more attractive.
E-bikes offer an analogy for increasing human capability and performance through technology adoption
So what does this have to do with national security—or business in general? Simple: It is an analogy for increasing capability and performance through technology adoption, and in this case, enhancing human performance with technology. While spouses would, of course, never be competitive … ahem … it is also an analogy for improving chances in competition. With a relatively small investment (which also does its own small bit for the environment) my wife and I are now enjoying regular weekend rides together because my competitive advantage has been wiped away.
More broadly, one could argue that advances in technology provide a veritable treasure trove of potential competitive advantage. For businesses and governments with limited capability and limited resources, new technology chosen at the right time can be a game-changer.
In a national security context, most threats—particularly non-state actors such as hackers, transnational criminals, and terrorists—have constrained capability and seek to gain competitive advantage. When they do so through the latest technologies, national security agencies must be able to respond—first to discover the source, and then to understand and counter it.
Therefore, agencies must be agile enough to both stay ahead of and respond decisively to adversaries. With so many emerging technologies, the challenge is to be both discerning in adoption and agile in acquisition. To do this, they need to understand the technology landscape: what already exists, what others are adopting, and what is on the horizon, as well as potential use cases, implications, and potential and emerging threats.
With so many emerging technologies, the challenge is to be discerning in adoption while agile in acquisition
Such agility requires a fresh approach to capability acquisition. Generational technology cycles are undercutting traditional government acquisition timeframes for major ICT projects. Therefore, agencies need to be able to sample, test, and adjust technologies through small sprints and proofs of concept without committing funding and resources too heavily toward any single solution. Agencies also need to avoid proprietary solutions that limit integration across technologies and lock them into a capability cul-de-sac.
Returning to the analogy, a couple of months after our initial foray, the puzzled look on an approaching cyclist’s face as he tried to rationalise the lady on the city bike casually peddling alongside the fast-peddling fellah was gold. Even better was his smile when the penny dropped just before he passed us.
If “The Liberator” can have such a capability-leveling impact for my wife and me, how easy could it be to enhance the capability of the human in the equation through a similarly well-considered, well-placed investment in the right technology?