To help ensure that innovation remains a priority in Canada, the government of Canada allocated $1.1 billion in the March 2012 budget to support research and development by Canadian companies. One way to leverage this support in the defence sector is to change the approach government, defence contractors and customers take to the innovation challenge.

The development of a defence industrial strategy has been promoted for some time by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries as a way to increase employment, innovation and economic activity. The Jenkins report issued in October 2011, Innovation Canada: A Call to Action, explored opportunities for government to support business and commercially-oriented R&D for “a more innovative and prosperous Canada.” The report recommended stimulating innovation through procurement.

An approach built on ongoing collaboration between government and businesses can ensure R&D expenditures are focused in areas that will provide the greatest return on investment for all players, and increase Canadian productivity and competitiveness.

“If you want to do things differently, then you have to do different things,” notes Chris Pogue, vice-president Command, Control, Communication and Integrated Sensor Systems (C3ISS) at General Dynamics Canada. “There is a better way of getting real capabilities to the field. That way is rooted in collaboration and community.”

Innovation catalyst
This belief in innovation through collaboration is the foundation upon which General Dynamics Canada launched the EDGE Innovation Center in Ottawa. The facility is part of a network of 12 centers with more than 300 members in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. It provides a collaboration and innovation environment where industry, academia and government can work together to find innovative solutions to capability challenges identified by Canadian defence, security and public safety organizations. By bringing key stakeholders together in an open forum the EDGE acts as a catalyst for focused discussions that can accelerate the development of new products and technologies.

“We in the technology industry can’t develop solutions in a vacuum,” says Bryan Righetti, management advisor for Omniglobe Solutions, an EDGE member. “The requirements have to come from somewhere. If we don’t, in fact, have those requirements from the end user, then what we produce may be useless. The EDGE facility allows suppliers to showcase ideas and equipment in one spot and it allows end users to discuss requirements with suppliers. Ultimately, this benefits the Department of National Defence, Public Safety and other organizations that take part in the process.”

Power of membership
By facilitating collaboration between government and businesses of all sizes, the EDGE enables innovation by all stakeholders that is more focused on delivering the right technologies, products and solutions to end users on the frontline. It ensures R&D efforts are applied where they are most needed. At the same time, it reduces costs and time-to-market with innovative solutions to real world problems.

“This emphasis on collaboration makes good business sense for General Dynamics Canada and for all companies involved, whether they are large businesses or small. The power of the EDGE comes from the involvement of its members, and from what each member brings to the discussion,” says Dave Ibbetson, vice-president and general manager of GDC. “That’s because the rapid pace of technology development and the complexity of new technologies mean that no single company has all the answers. So every member has something to contribute to the knowledge base. And all members have the opportunity to leverage a collective set of ideas, available technologies and resources to meet the unique needs of their customers.”

Shared understanding
The EDGE brings participants together and fosters innovation at special events structured around a capability gap topic. Through rigorous debate, issues, challenges and possible solutions are examined and an action plan is created for evaluation by members. The effectiveness of this multi-party, collaborative approach was recognized after the most recent event in June.

At the day-long Arctic Sovereignty Leadership Discussion, BGen Omer Lavoie, Commander, Land Force Central Area/Joint Task Force Central, and Major Lisa Smid, Commanding Officer, 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signal Squadron, outlined the difficulties faced by the 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group during Exercise Arctic Ram in February. The largest and most complex of the military’s Arctic exercises, Arctic Ram tested the ability to “shoot, move and communicate” in the North.

The presentation and subsequent discussion among the representatives from government, academia and industry focused on the fact that operations in the Arctic cannot be managed in the same way that they are in other parts of the world. In addition, communications networks that form the basis of all effective command and control efforts, and that will provide the awareness and knowledge to support any northern strategy, must be designed to work in the harsh environmental conditions of the area.

After the discussion, BGen Lavoie noted that the collaborative environment in the EDGE fostered a shared understanding of the unique challenges all stakeholders face when operating in the North. He went on to say that “it is highly useful and desirable for military, strategic think tanks and the defence industry to collaborate in venues such as the EDGE so that all stakeholders can understand the user requirements, geostrategic context and challenges that underlie operating in a challenging environment such as the Arctic.”

Collaborative environment
The Jenkins report issued in 2011 identified four drivers of innovation: ideas and knowledge; talented and entrepreneurial people; capital and financing; and, networks, collaborations and linkages.

The EDGE Innovation Centre is an example of a collaborative environment that fosters innovation and accelerates technology development by bringing these four drivers together in one place. It bridges the gap between requirements and solutions by enabling collaboration that transforms ideas into market-ready products. Through the EDGE, Canadian defence, security and public safety organizations are now working together with the defence industry, academia and government to confront the innovation challenge.

Jason Roy is manager of the EDGE Innovation Center in Ottawa.