Data is indispensable for a safe society
Programme leader Antoine de Reus on the Information-Driven Operations knowledge programme
Faster processes and better-informed decisions: the NLR knowledge programme Information-Driven Operations (Dutch: IGO) is helping the Dutch government in the transition to that way of working. The focus is on cooperation with the Defence Department. “It’s an interesting topic and an area where we can make a big impact,” says Antoine de Reus, the IGO programme leader. “Information-driven working improves safety for our country and for our allies.”
What exactly is the Information-Driven Operations knowledge programme?
“IGO isn’t a concrete product or system. It’s a concept, a way of working. Although it doesn’t seem very tangible, that doesn’t make it less important. On the contrary, it is really something for both the present and the future. This programme is about collecting, processing and using information. The ‘I’ of IGO – information – is all about collecting and processing relevant information from all kinds of sources. The ‘G’ part – ‘driven’ in Dutch – means taking better-informed decisions. The ‘O’ for operations represents implementation in practice and achieving an effect.”
“We do a lot of work on commission for the Defence Department. In the Defence Vision 2035, which dates from 2020, they committed themselves to information-driven work as the key focus point. NLR is assisting this by building up knowledge through this programme. We’re doing this not just for Defence, but also for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Ministry of Justice and Security.”
“An example: using camera footage from an unmanned aircraft, you can see where the opponent might be. On top of that, open-source information and sources such as social media are also being used more often. All those chunks of data don’t mean much individually, but combining and analysing data lets us reveal new and useful information. Decisions can be made based on that information, for example about potential targets in a conflict. Working in a more information-driven way helps you form a more complete picture of a situation, on which you can base decisions.”
About the programme leader
Antoine de Reus is a human factors expert and the programme leader of the Information-Driven Operations programme. He has been working at NLR for over thirty years and has accumulated a lot of experience with leading national and international projects.
“Information and data are becoming increasingly important in various areas within NLR. We can use this programme to bring different areas together, and help the government implement information-driven operations, which makes it an interesting field of work.”
What are the vision and the mission of the programme?
“We’re aiming for a more robust, resilient and effective government that focuses on proactive and information-supported decision-making. A government capable of responding quickly and effectively to complex security challenges. We need this for effective use of the military and for a government that can efficiently improve the safety of our society. That’s our vision.”
“The associated mission is to improve information-driven operations by developing and implementing advanced and secure information systems, artificial intelligence and data analysis methods. AI can for instance find better links in large amounts of information than people can. It can help people make decisions in certain situations. We aim to optimise the use of people and resources, increasing operational effectiveness and minimising the risks.”
“An important part of that is the predictive function, which is aimed more at prevention. New technology such as AI means that decisions can be made faster in urgent situations. But that’s not all. Data analysis and AI also give a better picture of future scenarios in various situations. This lets us anticipate better and take preventive action if needed.”
“Implementing information-driven operations successfully in the working methods of government bodies and businesses is primarily about connecting people, resources and methods. Technology alone isn’t enough: you also need to know how to use it correctly, and that demands well-educated people.”
“Technology alone isn’t enough: you also need to know how to use it correctly.”
Cooperation between man and machine
“Thanks to IGO, more data and therefore more information is becoming available, but it also means that we have to rely on automatic processing for some of the information. AI is very important technology for this. It is simply impossible to have humans analyse everything. We will probably soon come to the point that people are given several potential decisions drawn up by AI to base their final decision on. I think it’s going to take a while before we get to a point where AI is allowed to take high-risk decisions by itself, though, especially in Europe.”
What impact is new technology having at the Defence Department?
“Defence has five operational domains: land, air, sea, space and cyber. The activities of Defence always fall within one or more of these domains. The activities – such as carrying out a mission or collecting information – need to achieve an effect in one of three dimensions. The first dimension is the physical dimension, such as the destruction of a bridge on a supply route. There is also the virtual dimension, which is more about cyberattacks and disrupting information flows. The final and possibly most important dimension is the cognitive dimension, which you use to try and influence the opponent’s perception, judgement and decision-making – and ultimately their will. You can do that by spreading targeted information through social media, for example.”
“The cyber domain has become increasingly important in recent years. A lot of information is exchanged, for example between planes or between aeroplanes and devices on the ground. Everything is interconnected, and that makes the system vulnerable. Once you can no longer trust a part of the system, for example because of the risk of hacking, you’ve lost that functionality. That’s why extra attention is being paid to cyber-resilience and protecting information systems, planes and satellites against cyberattacks.”
“With IGO – as well as the Future Air & Space Power programme – we want to help create more efficient cooperation between all domains. Information is indispensable if an operation is to succeed. It’s important to connect information about the outside world, such as the opponent’s location, to information from within, such as your ammunition supplies, in the right way. Only then can the correct decisions be made.”
“In the coming years, the government as a whole will become more information-driven. This means that we will be looking across domains more often. The Air Force will collaborate more with the cyber domain to make operations more effective, for example. But we’re proceeding step by step and that takes time. One example is the war in Ukraine: it is affecting the Defence Department, the government and society as a whole. Developments like this can also change the perspective. That’s why it’s important to keep investigating and keep following new developments. NLR will play a major role in this. That’s how we’re gradually working towards information-driven, multi-domain operations.”
Read more about all the NLR knowledge programmes.