Agile defence: The need for smart, rapid acquisition
In 2011, PricewaterhouseCoopers published a report, Agile Defence (www.psrc.pwc.com), which offers insights on the issues facing defence organizations worldwide and views on the most compelling way forward. The research builds on our experience of working with defence organizations around the world as well as specific insights from interviewing senior military and civilian defence leaders, and academics. We identify five key building blocks of an agile organization, one of which is smart, rapid acquisition.
First, though, what do we mean by agility and why is it important?
We define agility as perpetual awareness and the ability to be decisive and take action in an expedient and well-coordinated manner. An agile defence organization retains its core tenets while empowering units to evolve in response to the environment. At an organizational level, agility is the strategic mix of standardization and flexibility. It’s targeted at those organizational pressure points where they are not only needed today, but will most likely be needed tomorrow. Agility matters in today’s environment. Defence organizations not only need to maintain existing operations, at the same time they also need to be constantly prepared for a wide spectrum of ever evolving anticipated (and unanticipated) threats and events.
Five threads of agility
We believe there are five characteristics, or threads, of an agile organization. We use the term “threads” because of how they should weave their way through the key processes of an organization in a complementary fashion:
1. Adaptability: the ability to adjust and meet changing mission requirements;
2. Innovation: the ability to generate and utilize new ideas, methodologies and technologies;
3. Collaboration: the ability to leverage internal and external knowledge and resources to enhance the mission;
4. Visibility: the ability to create and maintain transparency to enhance fact-based decision making; and
5. Velocity: the ability to recognize and respond with the requisite tempo to new circumstances and events.
Defence organizations around the world recognize the organizational characteristics of agility are critical to countering today’s broad and changing national security challenges. However, valuing agility and achieving it are two separate things. Key building blocks include: transparency and accountability; secure and shareable information; smart, rapid acquisition; adaptable platforms and people; and aligned strategy and leadership.
Smart, rapid acquisition
The ability to rapidly and cost effectively acquire defence systems that counter the range of security threats is a critical attribute of an agile defence organization. Not all material and systems require a rapid acquisition process. The development, testing and production of a new fighter jet require disciplined but not necessarily expedient acquisition. However, an upgrade or change to an existing weapon systems platform to counter a new, asymmetric threat is the ideal candidate for smart, rapid acquisition.
The challenges with acquisition processes are well recognized and apply in differing degrees to Canada as they do with other countries such as the U.K., U.S. and Australia. These challenges often include lack of flexibility, poor risk-sharing, cost overruns, requirements not being met and length of time to procure. There is a need for a clearly defined alternative process by which an urgent requirement can be met. This balances the public interest in fairness, openness, transparency and value for money, with the need for speed and the potential to save lives. Key elements of an alternative process should include:
• A streamlined approach to the definition of requirements, which leverages existing solutions and focuses on outcomes required, as this is an area that typically introduces considerable complexity, time and cost to the overall process;
• A more collaborative approach to engaging with industry, to drive the right outcomes and enable innovative solutions;
• A relentless focus on the identification and management of risk, including allocation of risk to the most appropriate party to bear it;
• Sponsorship and engagement from leadership to drive rapid decision making; and
• A continuous improvement mindset through which lessons learned from previous acquisition processes are identified and addressed in future ones.
Ultimately, the success of a rapid acquisition process will depend on how these elements are successfully combined. This requires recognition of tradeoffs between speed, value for money, requirements and public accountability, as well as of the interdependencies between the building blocks identified above. Effective leaders must seek simultaneous enhancement of all five of the agility threads that weave through, and characterize, the organization.
Roger de Montfort is a partner in the Federal Government Consulting & Deals practice of PwC Canada, where he leads their Sourcing practice.