Thoughts From the Bunker – Empathy and Innovation from “The Customer”

As we enter the sixth week of lockdown it’s safe to say that we are settling into a new reality which may have longer term implications for the way we transact business within the sector and changing priorities in customer spend. This week I have spoken to a number of senior leaders across various areas of the MOD to get a feel for how they are thinking, what is changing and of those changes what is likely to be permanent.

As you all know well, the key message is that the MOD is very much ‘open for business’. Clearly engineering led programs are being impacted as shop floors have been significantly affected and will continue to be so as social distancing continues to be a big part of our lives. We are yet to understand the effects on these programs in terms of both delays and cost. Other areas and programs have proved their versatility as they have been stood up in support of the new front line. DE&S has been covering itself in glory in terms of supporting the NHS with procurement, logistics and facilities, showing a greater need for interoperability between Government departments that should not be lost when we come out of the other side.

Technology based programs have continued apace. This has been made possible in part by a change in thinking around classification, in an environment where lazy classification had become the norm. This allowed an efficient move to home working and therefore continued progress on all but the most sensitive programs that require ‘Tempest’ conditions. However there are notes of caution that this mustn’t be allowed to go too far and we need to maintain a healthy regard for security and ensure a more realistic balance is maintained, with data owners taking responsibility to balance the risk/reward. The embracing of the Rosa platform across Government has enabled and encouraged more efficient working up to Secret level and allowed cross Government cooperation further enhancing operational capability.

The key question, as we enter a period of considerable financial uncertainty, is where will priorities lie in terms of spend with the upcoming Integrated Defence Review? Without doubt there will be less money to go around. Focus will perhaps ‘jump a generation with greater focus on Sunrise Systems and Technologies rather than the maintenance of ‘Sunset’ systems and platforms. However this raises the issue of managing the risk gap during any transition period. It will also require a change of thinking in terms of innovation and blue sky thinking. Current ‘innovation hubs’ go some way towards that but generally are not ‘joined up’ and although they are undoubtedly staffed by bright forward thinking servicemen and women, do they have the experience or access to really drive innovation and are they truly joint or is this
an opportunity for firms to exploit?

The current situation has also see a relatively unprecedented cross Government cooperation which may well have longevity as long as systems and infrastructure are built with this in mind going forward. The defence industry think not only about interoperability but also think about the ‘re purposing’ of their existing catalogue and looking at potential of future products to operate outside the initial mandate. For example the current situation has seen examples of Intelligence products re purposed to work with Public Health England and ONS to gather intelligence of the current situation underpinned by their collection and geospatial capabilities.

The last point is in the way the various commands operate and interact with staff and suppliers alike. We are already seeing a recognition that previous demands were unrealistic and unproductive. The more enlightened are calling this out and gathering ‘Lessons Learnt’ at this
relatively early stage. Although it pains me somewhat 🙂 the RAF are once again ahead of the curve and have published their ‘Ways of Working 10x10x10’ – 30 points laying out promises and expectations going forward. Couple of gems include:
* Orientate around innovation – look for generational leaps, challenge accepted process
* Do less, but better – focus on value, deliver more, raise quality & continuously improve
* Not over-classify or stray above the means’ classification
* Want your views – recognise your insights, knowledge, experience and ideas
* Not hold routine physical meetings in HQ Air on Mondays or Fridays – virtual only

None of this is rocket science but it is clear that there is a change in thinking being carried out both formally and informally and this will result in a change of thinking, work practices and perhaps focus in spend. So suppliers will have to think about how to adapt their thinking and practices in order to respond to the new normal.

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