Another excellent D + I Conference – Defence and Industry, Fundamental Inputs to Capability was held 2nd August 2018 in Canberra. Thanks to Kim Gillies and his team for putting together this event. Some themes that resonated through the whole conference included: -the speed of change in technology; innovation funding; SME experience; shortages in STEM skills and diversity.
Here are my key takeaways from the conference.
Changes in Technology
Defence capability is strongly correlated to advances in technology. The speed at which tech is changing means that the traditional 10+ year cycles for development are no longer credible. Platforms are now more complex and require faster development cycles. Defence needs to rely on open architectures to help speed-up development as well as bringing to bear partners with commercial off the shelf (COTS) products that we can militarise at speed and scale.
Innovation funding from sources such as the Defence Innovation Fund and the Next Generation Technologies Fund has supported programs in areas such as AI, robotics, satellites and automation. The Innovation Hub is SME focussed and has awarded $64 million in grants over the last 12 months. The current assessment time for new applications is approximately seven months, with initial assessment happening in much shorter timeframes.
SMEs have benefitted greatly from extra funding and there are many great stories of Australian innovation and entrepreneurship. Small, nimble, innovative companies have the opportunity in defence to grow and deliver key capability along with support through funding and consultancy on how to work in a defence environment through the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC)
A broader SME view suggested:-
- It is easier to deal with the Commonwealth than partner with primes.
- Constant churn in contract negotiation is expensive and burdensome.
- Relentless cherry picking by primes to reduce costs is difficult to justify.
- Speedy access to tech funding will support a thriving SME community.
- There would be no Defence Industry without the Primes.
Greater need is required to focus on the relationship between SME, Commonwealth of Australis (CoA) and Primes. Faster and easier transition from an innovative idea through to contract will support more growth and will make innovation more prevalent and sustainable.
STEM and Diversity Shortages
SMEs have access to Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG) projects through the new ICT provider arrangement (ICTPA) panel. CIOG itself is now focussing on areas such as AI, faster networks and sees the greatest challenge being resourcing and access to the right skills at the right time.
Whilst a great deal of CIOG work is outsourced, shortages are becoming more systemic across all the STEM engineering skillsets. Equally, there is a sense that we need to focus on diversity to support innovation and capability. In order to grow the future representation, more needs to be done to promote the Defence Sector as an attractive employer to students at younger ages.
There is a huge opportunity in front of Defence and Defence Industry to grow, develop unique capability, support innovation and turn this into an export capability in the future.
The success of this 20-year endeavour will rest on two key pillars.
People and culture.
The right people to deliver multibillion-dollar programs and a culture of growth, entrepreneurialism and inclusivity. While these pillars are the core requirement; they could also be key failure points.
By Raj Kutty