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The development of the DDPS innovation environments

The innovation environments as we know them today were the product of an external analysis of the DDPS procurement processes. In order to foster innovation, the report written as part of this analysis recommended creating an «innovation environment». Innovation environments provide the perfect setting for identifying, developing, testing and subsequently realising innovative solutions for a specific topic. This can help to both optimally address and identify capability shortfalls.

Anela Ziko and Jens Rehanek, Innovation and Processes specialist area, Science and Technology competence sector

Paper airplane in white and orange on light blue background

Innovations are ubiquitous. They normally result in processes, products or services becoming better, faster or more tailored to the end users’ needs. As a result, they have to undergo a change process. Innovation has long since moved beyond the confines of start-ups or industry. Universities and federal authorities have also been focusing increasingly on this topic for some time. So has the Federal Office for Defence Procurement (armasuisse).

Deloitte report as the green light for innovation environments

The Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) gave the green light for setting up the «DDPS innovation environments». In 2019, the DDPS commissioned Deloitte Consulting Ltd (Deloitte) to analyse the procurement processes employed within the DDPS department.

In summer 2020, Deloitte communicated several recommendations based on the analyses. One recommendation in the report was to promote innovation and roll out a dedicated tool, the «innovation environment». Deloitte defined an innovation environment as being «temporary, assembled ad hoc together with the user, the procurement unit and, where necessary, industry and the universities». The aim of an innovation environment of this kind is to minimise potential bad investments during procurements, allow for partial procurements and in doing so gain experience with a wide range of approaches and build up relevant knowledge. It is important to emphasise that an innovation environment will not replace the regular procurement processes. On the contrary, such spaces allow for early analysis of the different solutions for the challenges identified and for the knowledge gained as a result to be incorporated into the subsequent procurement process.

From one to five innovation environments

This Deloitte report provided the platform on which to address the topic of the innovation environment, develop the fundamental principles and press ahead with the topic of innovation. Federal Councillor Viola Amherd, Head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS), gave the resulting mandate to armasuisse in 2020. Since this time, the Science and Technology (S+T) competence sector has been intensively working on establishing the innovation environment – or more accurately multiple innovation environments.

As a first step, armasuisse S+T employees held interviews with international defence organisations involved in the area of innovation. One finding from these interviews is that different innovation-promoting tools are used depending on the issue at hand and level of maturity of the available solutions. This was the initial reason behind discussing multiple needs-based innovation environments, instead of just one. Multiple environments are optimal for pooling knowledge and ultimately using it for potential procurements. The focus is on always being able to pursue different approaches and openly finding solutions that best solve the issue at hand. In the end, five innovation environments were defined: Competition, Booster, Idea Lab, Sandbox and Test Run. Further information will be provided on each environment in the next article.

How a solution is developed from a need

Every innovation environment starts with a challenge – also referred to as a need – but not a solution. This is how the innovation environments are designed with which cross-functional and cross-organisational solutions are to be generated. In a military context, these challenges are predominantly qualified by the military capabilities required in the future. This means that any shortfalls between the current and future capabilities need to be addressed. At the same time, information is also provided on the level of ambition of the challenges. Therefore, the innovation needs to be effective in the medium-to-long term and should not entail a short-term solution.

Once the need has been examined and deemed as being suitable for implementation via the innovation environments, it is analysed more closely together with the market for solutions. This results in the selection of the suitable innovation environment based on criteria such as the existence, level of maturity and operational fitness of the identified and potential solutions. There are five different innovation environments available for implementation. Depending on the environment selected, this could be, for example, open innovation in the form of a competition or a study contract or a direct field trial with an innovative solution that meets the respective need but is previously unheard of and untested in Switzerland. Once an innovation environment has been selected and further details, such as the financing, have been clarified, the innovation project can start. Further information on the different environments and their potential uses will be provided in a subsequent article.