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All good things come in fives: The DDPS innovation environments

The choice of the most suitable innovation environment depends on whether solutions are already available and if they are, how far advanced these are. We will introduce you to the DDPS innovation environments below and explain how these are related to the degree of maturity of the solution.

Anela Ziko and Jens Rehanek, Specialised Service Innovation and Processes,
Competence Domain Science and Technology

Eine Person steht an einem Scheidepunkt zwischen fünf verschiendenen Pfaden
© Midjourney, Urs Böniger

The choice of a suitable innovation environment is based on various criteria. It is dependent on the challenge, the degree of maturity of the available solutions, as well as the desired solution. The customer plays a key role here and is involved in the entire process from start to finish, including utilisation and dissemination of the results. This should ensure that the challenge is correctly understood, a solution is developed that meets the needs and the findings are sustainably incorporated into the organisation of the customer.

We found out about the genesis of the DDPS innovation environments in the last article. These environments are not physical spaces but are instruments or procedures which are used to find solutions for existing challenges in the DDPS. These five environments were inspired by the Canadian innovation programme in the defence and security area called «Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS)». The goal of the programme is to improve the Department of National Defence’s access to the creative potential of Canadian innovators. Its knowledge and concepts are intended to be used for improving the defence capability, achieving economic impact and, finally, for building up an innovation ecosystem for national defence. From the early stages of an idea to the final tests in a real environment, IDEaS mobilises Canadian innovators in overcoming challenges in the areas of defence and security and works together with them in order to adapt, design and maximise the potential of their technology in the best possible manner. Canada has been operating this innovation programme successfully since 2017. As you will see, the Canadian programme has inspired us and sustainably influenced the implementation of the DDPS innovation environments.

In this article, you will learn which environments the DDPS innovation environments specifically comprise, how the respective innovation environment is chosen and which goals are pursued with the individual environments.

Focus on the customer (customer centricity)

At the start of each innovation environment, there is always a specific need, in other words a challenge, and not a solution. This is an important requirement for being able to perform an interdisciplinary and cross-functional solution analysis at all. If the customer has identified an appropriate challenge, it can be submitted to armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T). After an initial internal examination by armasuisse S+T, the challenge is analysed in detail together with the customer, provided it qualifies for an innovation environment. The need is clarified again and if necessary, specified, so that ultimately, it is clear to all those involved which challenge has to be solved under which framework conditions. This process also includes identifying already available solutions and assessing them according to their degree of maturity for providing the solution. If no extensive market expertise is available, it should be possible to already involve industry or academia in the process during this clarification phase. If the customer comes to the conclusion together with armasuisse S+T that none of the available solutions can adequately cover the need or that significant decision-making criteria are lacking, an innovation environment suitable for the solution is identified. The need as well as the implementation of the respective environment that has been identified is then presented to the Innovation Board V, a decision-making body of the Group Defence and the implementation requested. If the Innovation Board V approves the application, implementation of the innovation environment will be initiated.

The individual innovation environments are constructed flexibly and cover various different phases of the solution development. Here, the solution maturity model defines the assessment and planning framework. The degree of maturity describes at which of the nine levels a respective solution is located or how far one wants to go with a solution development. The degree of maturity extends from level 1, the principle in theory, up to successful application in the operational environment at level 9. Each environment has its own processes and procedures for solution finding, in order to gather knowledge according to the need. However, all innovation environments have one thing in common – the knowledge obtained is always transferred for utilisation after an environment has been completed.

The following innovation environments represent the current starting point of a continuous improvement process. This is because the required operative agility and impact can only be ensured if new findings can also be incorporated in the design of the DDPS innovation environments.

If the customer and armasuisse S+T establish that no solutions currently exist or existing solutions only cover the need very inadequately, solutions and solution approaches are sought openly. The innovation environment «Competition» is available for this search for solutions. It makes it possible to seek solutions beyond the traditional solution providers. The degree of maturity of the solution can vary between level 1 (principle) and level 6 (prototype) here.

Here, the solution development goes beyond the theory, in other words, the principle and the idea, and the suitability is examined both in the laboratory environment as well as in the simulated or the correct operational environment. For example, a competition or a study contract can be used. Ideally, a multi-level process is used here. This multi-level concept ensures that only promising solutions will be included in the further process, combined with an increase in the degree of maturity of the solution.

The innovation environment «Booster» is also aligned to a degree of maturity of the solution of levels 1 to 6. Here, possible solutions can be sought via the same procedures and tested in the same environments as is the case with the innovation environment Competition.

However, this environment focuses on questions in the area of the defined key technologies and the required industrial core capabilities and capacities, and in solution development on the Security-relevant Technology and Industry Base (STIB) of Switzerland. This environment is explicitly intended to promote strategic competence building in Switzerland. The goal is to specifically promote certain key technologies. The necessary industrial core capabilities and capacities can thus also be strengthened. This innovation environment thus pursues the goals of an armaments strategy.  

This environment is still new and has not yet been used.

The «Idea Lab» is a methodologically relatively open instrument in which key personnel at the DDPS always develop joint solutions together with the customer, and if necessary, with the involvement of third parties. This means that the activities of this innovation environment can be performed both openly with partners from industry and academia as well as on a closed basis, in other words, only internally. The decision on whether the process is to be performed on an open or closed basis depends on the available internal competence, the confidentiality and the need. The activities can, for example, include hackathons, makeathons and ideation labs. The focus here is on solutions with a degree of solution maturity between 3 (concept) and 7 (minimum viable solution).

armasuisse S+T activities that were already established before the DDPS innovation environments were defined and that now fall under the Idea Lab innovation environment are the hackathons of the CYD Campus and the involvement at the STA Create the Future event.

In the «Sandbox» innovation environment, technology tests are performed with existing solutions with a degree of maturity of level 6 (prototype) to level 8 (Beta solution). Here, the customer defines the challenge together with armasuisse S+T and reproduces it in a realistic test environment. This is then made available to the solution providers for the purposes of demonstrating and examining their technological solution.

Solutions providers are invited to submit their solution approach, which should be available at least as a prototype, by means of an open tender and on the basis of predefined assessment criteria, and invited to participate in technology tests. The solution providers demonstrate their proposed solution in the test environment made available to them. The goal is to assess different technology solutions with regard to their suitability to meet demand. When the Sandbox is completed, the participants are provided with an observation report for their solution.

armasuisse S+T had already used the concept of the sandbox before the formal launch of the DDPS innovation environments. A comprehensive test on the current status of drone defence technologies was thus performed, for example, in autumn 2021, together with the industry in Bure (JU). A sandbox that is currently being implemented deals with technologies for automatic recording of the serial numbers on weapons. This is due to be published shortly and the tests are to be performed this year together with the Armed Forces Logistics Organisation (AFLO) and industry. You can find out more about this in the upcoming article.

Finally, there is the innovation environment «Test Run». Here, very sophisticated, partially innovative and potentially disruptive solutions already exist on the market with a degree of solution maturity of 8 (Beta solution) up to maximum 9 (available solution with confirmed coverage of requirements).

This is about procuring promising solutions individually or in a small-scale series (including rent) and then testing them in the need-specific operational environment. A test run is not a pre-evaluation, but rather solutions are examined regarding their suitability for meeting the demand in the operational environment of the customer.

One example of such a test run is the examination of White Rabbit technologies of CERN for time synchronisation in the command and control network.

You can find out which innovation projects have already been performed in the next article.