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«Digital Transformation: the fascination with the potential of possibilities and doing what was hitherto unthinkable.»

Thomas Rothacher, Head of competence sector Science and Technology and Deputy National Armaments Director at armasuisse, talks in an interview about armasuisse’s «Digital Journey» and the digitalisation technologies of the future. He explains why augmented reality/virtual reality, artificial intelligence and data science have great potential.

Lea Ryf, specialist area Communication, competence sector Resources and Support

Thomas Rothacher, Head of competence sector Science and Technology and Deputy National Armaments Director, talks in an interview about digitalisation and digital transformation.
Portrait image of Thomas Rothacher, Head of competence sector Science and Technology at armasuisse and Deputy National Armaments Director.

The «Digital Journey» is a learning journey through the technological, organisational and cultural transformation process in the DDPS and at armasuisse. What was your motivation in signing up as the representative at armasuisse for the Digital Journey?

We are living in times of enormous technological transformation, which heavily influences our (working) life. These changes interest me and I am happy to contribute to this topic, while at the same time I am interested in getting to know as many different perspectives as possible in more detail.

We are living in times of enormous technological transformation, which heavily influences our (working) life.

 

Can you tell us more about the ambitions and the areas of activity for digitalisation at armasuisse which will serve as the compass during the «Digital Journey»? And what does this mean broken down for the competence sector Science and Technology?

I tend to split up digitalisation into different areas. On the one hand, it will be important to achieve consistency of data, particularly in processes throughout the entire Federal Administration, but also across the interfaces with our partners. On the other hand, digitalisation will enable us to take advantage of completely different (military) opportunities, in particular when I think of artificial intelligence (KI) or data science. Digitalisation thus means so much more than reproducing analogue processes electronically.

Digitalisation thus means so much more than reproducing analogue processes electronically.

 

What do digitalisation and the digital transformation process mean in your competence sector Science and Technology?

As I already mentioned, advancing technological change is opening up many new possibilities in the area of digitalisation. We are attempting to investigate the impact of this technological transformation on the capabilities of the Armed Forces. For example: What will change as a result of being able to evaluate enormous amounts of data records by AI? How must armed forces be set up in the future, and which knowledge, which skills do they need to have? Interesting questions which we respond to in simulations using AI methods and to which we provide possible answers.

Digitalisation is a central topic for us and likewise affects the structure of our organisation. Over the last few years, new competence centres such as the Cyber Defence Campus (CYD Campus) and the Swiss Drone and Robotics Centre (SDRC) have thus been created. I am convinced that we will make our organisation even more flexible (not to mention even more agile) in the future.

What opportunities and risks of digitalisation and digital transformation lie in store for armasuisse?

With the knowledge and understanding prevalent in armasuisse, we should succeed in taking a leading role. We must have the courage to transform not only our digital tools, but also our processes and our culture. I already see various implemented approaches in this regard, such as the new flexible forms of work.

I foresee risks most likely in the speed of implementation and in the area of the culture of error. Our behaviour is characterised by conceptual approaches and enormous risk mitigation, in other words, to not make any mistakes if possible. My feeling is that this behaviour is no longer appropriate everywhere. Speed is gaining in significance. Trying things out and learning from them is becoming more important.

Speed is gaining in significance. Trying things out and learning from them is becoming more important.

 

Which technologies do you visualise in 5-10 years with regard to digitalisation at armasuisse?

Augmented reality/virtual reality will be our constant companion, to design new system solutions, for example, or to perpetrate 3D models in the area of infrastructure or to hold meetings with our avatars. AI and data science will support us in finding new solutions and approaching new suppliers. Development, production and supply chains will be continuously digitalised and we will become a part of this chain.

However, I believe it to be key that we as human beings will still remain in the centre.

What does digitalisation mean for you personally?

Fascination with the brave new world!

Brief portrait of Thomas Rothacher

Thomas Rothacher (50) has been working in various organisations and roles at armasuisse since 1998. Since 1 August 2013, he has been Head of the competence sector Science and Technology in Thun. He was appointed Deputy National Armaments Director on 1 March 2020. Following his apprenticeship as a metallurgy lab technician, he studied physics, mathematics and philosophy at the University of Bern and graduated in 1998 with an MSc in physics. In addition to his successfully acquired doctorate (PhD) in 2004, he completed additional in-service training and courses in further education, both at the University of St Gallen and abroad.