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Innovation at armasuisse – a joint initiative

In order to meet the capabilities of tomorrow’s Armed Forces, armasuisse Science and Technology is always interested in new technologies and solutions. In our interview, Urs Böniger, Head of Innovation and Processes at armasuisse S+T, gives us an insight into the innovation activities at armasuisse and explains why innovation can only be provided jointly.

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

Portrait picture of Urs Böniger, Head of Innovation and Processes, armasuisse S+T
Portrait of Urs Böniger, Head of Innovation and Processes, armasuisse S+T

Mr. Böniger, everyone’s talking about innovation right now. What does it actually mean to be innovative?

Precisely because the term innovation is on everyone’s lips, it’s also one of those concepts that each person understands a little differently. However, if you want to drive innovation effectively, it’s important to create a common understanding of what it means to be innovative for your own organisation. You should therefore consider in advance what you want to achieve with innovation.

However, there are characteristics which distinguish organisations that are successful in innovation. One key aspect is without doubt the close cooperation with the end users in order to develop a strong understanding of their needs and their environment. At the same time, innovative means breaking new ground and allowing the unconventional. Exploring the unknown is inevitably linked with a distinctive learning process. «Where to go from here and where not?» From my point of view, it’s therefore important to critically and competently analyse successes, as well as failures and setbacks, in order to make objective decisions on which the next steps can be based. All in all, this means that in order to be innovative, clear goals need to be defined and pursued in a disciplined manner to avoid simply being a hedonistic society in innovative blind flight.

Are we innovative at armasuisse?

We need to be, if only because of our role in the procurement processes. Because what is often forgotten is the fact that procurements serve to equip the Armed Forces with new skills, systems and technological solutions. Which means that we are actually procuring innovations for the Armed Forces on a daily basis. Of course, opinions also differ here on how innovative individual procurements actually are, but I am basically of the opinion that armasuisse is open for innovation, supports innovation and is already pursuing innovation today. However, the Deloitte report also showed that, due to today’s changed technological environment, we need to break new ground in order to be able to keep pace in certain areas, which we are now addressing.

Which types of innovation are currently driven by armasuisse S+T?

As the technology competence centre of the DDPS, we are focussed on technological innovations, which are primarily geared to the skills requirements in the Armed Forces. With this focus, we can ideally combine under one roof our expertise, for example, from the testing within the procurement projects together with the findings from research. It is thus key for us that behind every innovative activity there exists a need of the Armed Forces and that implementation is always performed jointly.  This means that we are not driving innovation as an end in itself, but in order to make Switzerland more secure.

We are not driving innovation as an end in itself, but to make Switzerland more secure.

 

How is armasuisse S+T attempting to deliver innovation to the DDPS and the Armed Forces?

From my perspective this question is not formulated correctly, because we are not trying to persuade anyone to innovate. Both the Armed Forces and armasuisse have recognised the need for new approaches and innovation in the areas of key and dual-use technologies. This means that our goal must be to deliver joint innovative solutions to the DDPS and to position the DDPS as an attractive innovation partner. armasuisse S+T can thus not deliver innovation to the DDPS by itself – we need to bring the innovation to the DDPS together. To achieve this, the dialogue between the Armed Forces and armasuisse must be strengthened right in the early phases when needs are formulated. We will only be able to benefit ideally from joint expertise in this manner.

The Deloitte report recommended innovation environments. What is meant by that?

Let’s make it clear right away – an innovation environment does not describe a physical space or an individual project. It is more a target-oriented container which aims to deliver solutions to problems for a defined phase in the innovation process. Depending on the problem, it should be possible to select the most suitable innovation environment in each case on a modular basis. For example, in the innovation environment  «Project competitions», industry and universities will be involved in finding a solution. Some examples of this are the Cyber Start-up Challenges and the STA Create the Future event held this year.

How will we be innovative in the future?

One challenge that we’re already faced with today are the short technology cycles paired with long procurement cycles. We see this problem increasingly in technologies that have been developed for civilian use but which can also be used for military purposes – what are known as dual-use technologies. To be able to better follow the technology cycles, we need to include even more external knowledge in finding a solution in the future. This means that an opening with regard to the cooperation with universities and industry represents a central factor for success. An effective and efficient culture of dialogue and cooperation will thus become increasingly important in the future and innovation will thus become a joint initiative.

Portrait picture of Urs Böniger, Head of Innovation and Processes, armasuisse S+T

Urs Böniger has been working at armasuisse Science and Technology since 2014 and has headed the specialist area Innovation and Processes since January 2020. Following his studies in geophysics at ETH Zurich, he worked internationally in science for nine years, in Vancouver (Canada) and Potsdam (Germany) where he also completed his doctorate summa cum laude.