View from the top: Martin Chalmers, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence

Martin Chalmers is Head of Consulting for BAE Systems Detica, Europe, where he combines his original background in IT with his keen interest in problem solving. We asked him about the challenges facing the changing IT market and the public sector response.




How did you become a consultant?

It wasn’t my first job; I started my career in software development and architecture for a company then called ICL. However, in the course of that work I saw consultants in action with my clients and I realised that I wanted to understand more about my clients and get involved in solving their problems, and also to make a difference. So I made the move into consulting, initially joining KPMG.


How far are clients’ problems based in technology and solved by technology now?

I think that there has been a shift. When I started in consulting, IT related consulting was seen as a specialist area, something of a backwater. The explosion that we see now in information and communication, and the connected nature of the world, makes information central to the work of all the clients with whom I engage – IT is at the heart of their businesses now.


What is driving the huge growth in IT consultancy in the UK?

The growth of the connected world opens up opportunities for both businesses and government, but it also means that without taking account of those opportunities, business and government will become less relevant to customers and citizens.

There is a triangle where businesses have three pressures to deal with. The first is the opportunities that information and technology affords – opportunities to engage better, to exploit information for better decision making, to provide greater value to citizens and customers and to increase efficiency. But you can’t respond to those opportunities without taking security and privacy into account; this is the second side of the triangle. The third side of the triangle is value for money.

It’s in balancing all three of those issues that organisations like ours come to the fore. We have to work across all those areas in order to help our clients in the new connected world.


Is the fast adoption of new technologies by companies making IT less or more secure?

Developments such as ‘bring your own device’ pose a challenge to organisations’ IT and security functions. What is critical is the need to adapt the security approach to that new world, rather than to resist change. Our clients need new ways of providing security that can support greater connectivity and greater mobility.

If one doesn’t put that new security in place, new connectivity and mobility will happen anyway, but without the controls. An organisation’s users will not necessarily wait for it to catch up if it fails to put in place support for those new capabilities.


We really only hear about government IT projects when they fail. Do you think this paints a fair picture of what is happening?

It is interesting that private sector organisations tend to announce their successes widely, but are in a position to not announce their failures. Whereas in the public sector it feels like this is reversed: success is expected, but because they are publically accountable failure is something that is very publically exposed.

There is a truism that large programmes are rather like oil tankers that find it hard to change course. In this rapidly changing world we need our developments to be more like speed boats than oil tankers, and when we are solving large problems we need a squadron of speed boats that can be co-ordinated, rather than a monolith whose direction is hard to change.


Are there any tech breakthroughs that we should be looking for on the horizon?

I’m not the best person to ask, but the thing that continually fascinates me is that as new products come to the fore, new uses are found for them.

It is less about new inventions, and more about the way we see technologies that have started off in the consumer world penetrating the fabric of industry and government, that is a recent real acceleration. In the past it has taken the public sector a long time to respond to new technologies and new software, but now we are already seeing new devices making a real difference to the way in which our public sector clients are delivering services to business and the citizen.

People have grown up with this technology and connectivity in at home, so they expect to see it at work and when they are dealing with business and government. At the same time we have a more innovative industry that is quicker to spot and build and exploit the opportunities that those technologies offer to deliver more value. That’s what makes working for an organisation like Detica which can turn technology into value so exciting right now.


What would your advice be for someone just starting out in the consulting industry?

Put clients first. Really get to know and understand your clients. Treat them with the honesty and openness that you would want if you were the client. And, whenever making decisions about your career, think first “how can I add most value to my client?” and you can’t go far wrong.