On Thursday September 19, the Canadian Defence and Security Network hosted a day-long workshop on agile procurement in Ottawa. The event provided an opportunity for senior officials from the Department of National Defence (DND), the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to engage with outside academics and commentators on the challenges of pursuing an agile defence procurement model in Canada. This made for a full day of stimulating and far-reaching discussion.
The Agile Procurement Workshop consisted of half-hour briefings led by officials with follow-on roundtable discussions. First, officials from DND note that, while many things in Canadian defence procurement are going well, Canada’s current system for acquiring military capability may be ill-suited for a future in which the pace of technological change can only be expected to increase. Furthermore, civilian corporations that were previously unaffiliated with the defence sector are making their ‘game-changing’ capabilities available on civilian markets, while also shortening user-upgrade cycles and rapidly reducing the availability of parts for existing systems. The presenter asked: “Are we ready for what’s coming?” The consensus was that Canada risks falling behind in an evolving procurement space. In an era in which military equipment is software-enabled and the pace of hardware obsolescence is increasing, DND and the CAF require flexible planning tools that will enable them to continue to acquire and effectively sustain advanced military capabilities, while demonstrating value for money to the Canadian taxpayer.
The second session, delivered a CAF flag officer, considered how the CAF sets capability requirements. In his talk, the presenter described the CAF’s Capability Based Planning Model for defence acquisitions and compared this system in a standard procurement project versus an agile procurement project. He suggested that in the agile context, spending intentions, capability targets and High Level Mandatory Requirements (HLMRs) can all be revised as a project progresses, thereby allowing the CAF to adapt its requirements and costing to evolving technologies and threat environments. He suggested that flexible systems architectures are well-suited to this procurement approach. The presenter concluded by considering how evolving requirements might change DND relationships with industry.
The third session examined how the new Project Approval Directive is being leveraged to streamline procurements. As part of this effort, new authorities have been delegated to senior officials at DND to emphasize accountability and significant advances in data analytics are being leveraged in an interactive dashboard that will display the state of CAF readiness, personnel and ongoing capital projects. A portion of this information is made public on an annual basis in the Defence Capability Blueprint. Discussion focused on the cultural shift that will be required within DND for a comprehensive embrace of agile procurement. Academics asserted that there needs to be increased risk tolerance and greater emphasis on intra-departmental information sharing.
The fourth session of the day covered the Consolidated Investment Fund, with a focus on how DND defines “projects” versus “programs” and spends funds to purchase new capabilities or sustain existing ones. The presenter informed attendees that 173 of DND’s 333 active procurement projects have moved to a new phase of work in the past two years. The presenter noted that 70% of the capital projects named in Canada’s defence policy Strong, Secure, Engaged are in the costing or implementation phases. Work is being done to streamline processes around routine procurements and to ensure that existing governance mechanisms are used strategically on major projects.
The final sessions expanded upon several of the themes considered above. Presenters agreed that agile procurement is necessarily iterative, adaptable and solution-oriented. The process is conducive to sustained collaboration with other government departments and industry. It was further agreed that the emphasis in Canadian procurement must shift from seeking authority to being accountable. Finally, one presenter summed up the issue of the day: “We don’t want to be taking delivery of yesterday’s projects tomorrow.”
The academics who attended the Agile Procurement Workshop are working on a report that responds to the discussion summarized above and proposes concrete steps that the Government of Canada can take to enhance defence procurement. Stay tuned!