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Looking abroad – Innovation at the Canadian Department of National Defence

To benefit challenges posed by the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the Canadian Government has announced the «Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS)» program in 2017. Eric Fournier is the Director General Innovation and Head of the IDEaS program. In the following interview he talks about how the DND and the CAF approach innovation and shares insights into the goals and challenges of their program.

Urs Böniger and Elianne Egli, specialist area Innovation and Processes, armasuisse S+T

Eric Fournier is the Director General Innovation of the Canadian Department of National Defence
Eric Fournier is the Director General Innovation of the Canadian Department of National Defence

Dear Mr. Fournier, could you please tell us what innovation means to you personally?

Fail fast, learn quickly, game changes, and then adapt! Innovation is a fast moving sport, and the Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program has been developed to play in this environment with the aim of helping Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) maintain its operational effectiveness and ability to work with key partners and allies.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of fostering a culture of innovation by investing in programs such as IDEaS, which allows DND/CAF to reach beyond traditional defence and security providers to encourage all Canadians to provide the solutions we need for our service members. By casting this broader net, the IDEaS program is able to tap into the Canadian innovation ecosystem and attract novel, impressive solutions to defence and security challenges. In addition to expanding the base of Canadian innovators, the IDEaS program creates more economic opportunities for new technology/solutions and invests in defence and security capabilities for the long term.

What are the goals of IDEaS innovation activities?

In the short term, the program aims to ensure DND/CAF has effective mechanisms to engage innovators, and solicit solutions and initiatives to address defence, public safety and security challenges.

In the medium term, the program aims to ensure that Canadian innovators are engaged in solving defence and security challenges, while the knowledge being generated is transferred to and used by the innovation community.

And finally, in the long term, the goal of the IDEaS program is to ensure defence and security communities adopt advice and innovative solutions created from the Canadian innovation system, improving their capabilities to protect, secure and defend Canada and its citizens, as well as to support the economic development of the Canadian innovation ecosystem.

What would you describe as a successful innovation?

In the context of the IDEaS program, we are working to create an extensive innovation ecosystem throughout the country which aims to contribute to the success of military operations through solutions that improve support, knowledge, protection and response to real and potential threats. As the IDEaS program matures, we continue to develop our capacity to transition these industry solutions to DND/CAF for utilization and exploitation, to ensure the CAF can better deliver its mission.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges for governmental defence innovation?

The process for procuring innovations funded by the IDEaS program, and by DND more generally, is obviously complex. Finding ways to bridge the gap between research and a successfully commercialized innovation is a challenge faced by defence organizations around the world. In order to optimize investments and deliver suitable solutions that could be employed, we are working collaboratively with our Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) partners to investigate flexible, innovation-driven procurement to better address DND/CAF needs at the end of the IDEaS program continuum.

In addition, there are issues with moving at a pace that is quick enough to keep up with changing technologies. In governmental innovation, it can be challenging to advance governmental defence innovation because of the responsibility to transparency and accountability to Canadians.

Finding ways to bridge the gap between research and a successfully commercialized innovation is a challenge faced by defence organizations around the world.


What do you consider important for the success of innovation in traditionally risk-averse governmental organizations?

Engaging internal stakeholders early is essential for the success of innovation in government organizations. The IDEaS program works with stakeholders not only in challenge identification but also in identifying successes and giving feedback in a number of our elements.

In the Sandbox element for example, innovators test and demonstrate their prototype solutions to the National Defence military users and science experts in a simulated military environment and receive feedback based on the demonstration for ways to improve the technology. In the Test Drive element of the program, small-scale acquisitions of innovative technologies allow the Canadian Armed Forces to perform controlled testing on solutions to the challenges set in the Calls for Proposals.

This collaboration with our stakeholders within DND/CAF allows the organizations to see their needs reflected in the innovations that are being funded. Encouraging a strong relationship between clients in DND/CAF builds trust in the program, allowing progress within the organization as it pertains to innovation.

How will IDEaS innovate in the future?

The IDEaS program is developing new partnerships with international and domestic organizations to assist in opening up opportunities to innovators and to develop the program further. Sharing of challenges between nations will help grow Canada’s innovation space and allow for collaboration with international partners. We are also actively working on the development of a Classified Stream for the program which will allow the program to work on developing solutions to challenges from the CAF that require higher security designations, granting the organization further benefits from the funding the program provides.

In addition, the program is working on launching a new component called Marketplace. This annual event would connect innovators who have completed the IDEaS program components with CAF senior staff, companies in the defence industry and other departments in the Canadian government as a way to help these innovators build relationships with potential investors in their solution.

Eric Fournier is presently the Director General Innovation for the Assistant Deputy Minister (Science & Technology). He is a Scientific Advisor to the Department of National Defence and to the Canadian Armed Forces. His role is to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces/Department of National Defence (CAF/DND) have access to the most cutting-edge solutions for their challenges from Canadian Innovators.