When Chris Coupland was recruited by BAE Systems 11 years ago as e-business director, to find ways for the company to make more effective use of the internet, it’s unlikely he could have predicted how world events would focus attention back on the defence industry.

Over the course of the intervening decade, companies such as BAE Systems have had to work hard to deliver products and services that meet the increasing demands of national security.

BAE Systems has had to change its business to meet the changing needs of governments and defence organisations, while the cyber threats fuelled by the rise of the internet have led the company to develop new technology capabilities.

BAE Systems makes the Typhoon Eurofighter

BAE Systems is well known for making military hardware such as the Typhoon Eurofighter but is expanding into services
Photo: BAE Systems

Coupland is now director of BAE Systems’ corporate IT office, overseeing the organisation’s inhouse IT while also supporting the company’s engineers and developers to help them produce technology that can be used internally and offered to customers.

Coupland was recognised as one of the UK’s most influential CIOs in the silicon.com CIO50 list in 2009 and is a member of the CIO Jury. On top of the demands of leading IT at one of the UK’s biggest companies, he has three children under the age of five who take up the rest of his time.

BAE Systems’ business is all about developing, manufacturing and supplying commercial and military hardware and services, so Coupland has to tackle complex technology and security issues to support the progress of the business.

The company makes the Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado military jets and is developing the F-35 Lightning II in collaboration with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, which is the world’s largest defence programme with customer requirements of 3,000 aircraft. The company also makes small passenger jets such as the Jetstream.

The business also makes land defence equipment and various warships and submarines, which will include the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier to replace the UK’s recently decommissioned Ark Royal in 2016.

Other products include mission and information support systems and security technology for countering threats to national security and those posed by organised or serious crime, which was boosted by the acquisition of business and technology consultancy Detica in 2008.

BAE Systems mainly operates in Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US but has smaller operations in South Africa and Sweden. The federated nature of the business means Coupland…

…spends time working in the UK and US while making the occasional trip to Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Coupland talked to silicon.com recently about how technology is supporting the expansion of the organisation’s business into new areas, and how he intends to make IT into a department that the rest of the business knows it can depend on for top-notch services.

BAE Systems’ changing business and the role of IT

BAE Systems has significantly expanded its services business in recent years, encouraging customers to buy packages of services relating to specific products and effectively outsourcing certain processes to the company.

“We are obviously well known for some of our major platforms such as nuclear submarines, jet fighters, aircraft, warships, that sort of thing. We’re still well known for all that stuff but the business has been undergoing quite a transformation over the past five years and we now really derive over half our revenue from services,” Coupland told silicon.com.

The ambition to expand in services has been largely fuelled by the changing needs of BAE Systems’ core customers – such as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) – which are looking to the company to take on roles that they previously carried out themselves.

“The MoD has been reacting to a number challenges in recent years, particularly in trying to increase its capability, drive out efficiencies and drive up effectiveness, and has been looking to industry to become more and more involved in the supply chain,” said Coupland.

An example of these services could be BAE Systems looking after the upkeep, maintenance and operational readiness of a jet fighter that it would make available to military forces for a contracted number of operational hours per year.

With these types of service contracts likely to become more common, Coupland said BAE Systems has been investing in the systems to support them, and thinking about how IT can play a central role in the move from just building platforms to managing and delivering services, something Coupland said is “quite a shift”.

Connecting and collaborating securely

Coupland is also aiming to make the IT department the organisation of choice for employees when they need technology services as well as for suppliers and partners.

“A lot of what we worry about in terms of a global level is how we connect the business together to collaborate more effectively and in a secure way. So ‘connect’, ‘collaborate’ and ‘secure’ are three of the big themes that we would spend time really thinking about,” Coupland said.

Despite this relatively simple summary, Coupland said it’s actually quite challenging. For example, when looking at internal business collaboration, the business needs to be legal and compliant with the distribution of data, which means collaboration can’t always be as simple as would be ideal.

“We obviously operate as a company with lots of IP [intellectual property], lots of other people’s IP, but we also operate clearly at nationally sensitive security levels and we are trying to leverage the IP that we can share… and seamlessly connect all our people.”

Another issue when dealing with this kind of intellectual property is keeping ahead of the sophisticated cyber threats faced by the company and its customers.

BAE Systems uses a mixture of inhouse-developed security technology – some of which is deployed by intelligence agencies…

… around the world – and off-the-shelf commercial products for intrusion protection, antivirus and forensics.

“We’re trying to keep ahead of that ourselves globally, and we think we’re doing a reasonably good job of drinking our own champagne and deploying and applying some of the tools and techniques that we would be offering and selling our customers internally here at BAE,” Coupland said.

The personalisation of IT

Another big IT theme at BAE Systems, according to Coupland, is the “personalisation and simplification of IT”, in which the IT department packages technology services in a way that caters for the day-to-day requirements of different roles within the business.

The MyIT programme allows BAE Systems’ 30,000 employees – with roles as varied as project management, engineering and sales and marketing – to understand the services they use and the cost of these to the business. It also allows functionality to be managed in a more agile way than before.

The IT department is developing an Itil-based service catalogue for users to refer to when they build their MyIT portfolio. This activity also fits with the organisation’s objective to achieve service excellence, so users find the IT department easy to work with when they have a problem or require an IT service.

“We’ve been trying to take the IT folks on a journey and help them understand what it is to service internal customers and indeed external customers as well. We want to be known [by employees] as great to do business with,” Coupland said.

As part of BAE Systems’ business line, the company develops its own software, which it uses internally and also offers as products to customers.

A BAE Systems naval mission control system being used

The mission control systems developed by BAE Systems require significant inhouse technology development work
Photo: BAE Systems

“We are quite a big IT business in our own right these days, both in the United States where we have significant IT infrastructure and other more mission-driven type IT-related contracts, but also here in the UK with Detica and some of the other acquisitions we’ve done recently,” Coupland said.

“We’ve created quite a footprint of sophisticated cyber capabilities but a lot of that is underpinned by IT delivery and services – so that’s been another shift in the business,” he added.

Although not directly involved in developing these technology products, Coupland guides the work by helping the developer teams understand the market and by providing the tools for them to be productive.

“I’m aware of the products our business units that are outward-facing are developing and [I’m] evaluating those and supporting them in the development and evaluation of those products,” he said.

Cloud computing, iPads and being a Microsoft shop

One of the ways Coupland’s team supports the development teams is by providing an internal private cloud infrastructure, which has been running for the past couple of years. The infrastructure is mainly used by IT managers to test and build applications, rather than by the average user.

This infrastructure was recently used to test SharePoint, the rollout of which is now taking place across a number of countries to store and share documents more efficiently. “So we used cloud services to trial and set all of that up and test it – where we wanted to set something up very quickly and then turn it off fairly quickly,” Coupland said.

The company is looking at the potential of public cloud but…

…only for processes that don’t involve sensitive data. Because BAE Systems operates in the defence industry, security is clearly key to the company’s reputation and no chances are taken with confidential data.

“Most of our business is as a defence contractor. We are dealing with nationally secure and potentially sensitive information and therefore we would be naturally wary of putting that data anywhere – even with encrypting data on the way, encrypting the data when it’s there – outside our firewall. But there are some parts of our business – and they’re very much the minority – but nonetheless I want to make sure that minority is as agile as it needs to be and not slowed by the majority, which perhaps has greater strictures around it,” Coupland said.

Scientists and engineers from BAE Systems were involved in modelling the movement of the ash cloud from Iceland’s Eyjafjallaj