Keeping pace with innovation has long been a concern for the Department of Defense (DoD), and much of this concern is tied to the corresponding acquisition process for the department. While one of the DoD’s top concerns is keeping warfighters equipped with the most effective and efficient technologies in-theater, it is often nearly impossible to deliver that level of innovation in a timely manner because of an acquisition process which continues to be cited by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for its long development schedules and cost overruns.
For the sake of providing material and support to troops, it’s critical for the DoD to lean on and nurture its relationship with the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). According to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, the DIB is “the collection diverse companies that provide products and services to the DoD (and national security agencies).” Though not managed by the DoD, this diverse set of companies provides the leading-edge equipment and develops new innovations to meet U.S. military requirements, so it would make sense for the DoD to have a thorough understanding of how such an ecosystem operates. By evaluating current acquisition processes, and gaining a stronger understanding of how the DIB can more quickly bring innovation to the warfighter, the DoD can more effectively meet the needs of the warfighter today and into the future.
We spoke with Dr. Joseph Blank, Programs Manager for Tactical Airborne Communications at Rockwell Collins, to learn more about the nature of the relationship between the DoD and the DIB and the key elements that come into play during the acquisition process for warfighter technologies. In a recent study he conducted titled An Exploration of Defense Industry Business Strategies to Address Recent Department of Defense Acquisition Initiatives, Dr. Blank looked at the existing acquisition process and how misunderstandings of DIB business models on the DoD’s part could negatively impact the DIB’s ecosystem of defense vendors. These misunderstandings result in the notion that the DIB is losing steam, so to speak, in the area of innovation, according to Dr. Blank.
So what areas can the DoD reassess to gain that necessary knowledge of the DIB’s functionality and continue providing warfighters with crucial technology to maintain their advantage in the field? Dr. Blank suggests looking at three:
- The Better Buying Power 3.0 Initiatives, specifically the concept of leveraging profitability measures to drive competition and innovation – “The problem here is that the DIB has long been operating at lower profit margins than comparable commercial technology companies like Oracle and Apple. The effect of further throttling profit may effectively reduce the incentive for DIB vendors to compete and invest,” Dr. Blank explained.
- The concept of incentivizing productivity – “Incentivizing productivity appeared to be more aligned to the pursuit of innovation,” noted Dr. Blank. “The concept focused on removing barriers for commercial technology players to enter the defense market, but DIB companies already account for such barriers in their operation and are ready to meet the DoD’s formal acquisition requirements.”
- General communication throughout the process – “When trying to create innovative solutions, no one has ever espoused the idea that less communication is better. Yet, this is exactly the approach being taken by the DoD,” Dr. Blank stated. “Open dialogue can no longer take place as fear of protest has resulted in communication channels being squeezed to an absolute minimum.”
In order to comprehend the full effects of a shifting acquisition marketplace on the DIB, it’s important to understand the strategies typically employed by DIB companies. The three process areas include Insight, Influence, and Investment, all of which are interwoven where the success of one depends upon the success of all of them. Insight aims to answer the question of, “What are the current and future needs of the Warfighter?” Influence determines whether a vendor already has or can develop an advantage based on their findings in the Insight process and then leverages that advantage in their pursuit of defense contracts. And if that advantage does exist, an Investment is made.
“Without insight, companies may be blinded to areas for application or development of technology,” Dr. Blank remarked. “Without the ability to have ongoing dialogue, companies cannot determine if they hold advantage or have the ability to develop advantage, which results in lack of investment.”
As a result of his research, Dr. Blank concluded that by maintaining a vibrant DIB marketplace through a better understanding of its business strategies and best practices, the DoD will be able to support efforts that enable a stronger, more prepared military.