For route clearance technology to advance at a pace capable of responding to evolving IED threats, industry must engage regularly with the user community to truly understand capability gaps. Route clearance requirement development should be shaped by an understanding of what’s possible from the industry, while industry must understand and anticipate end user needs to effectively inform its investments.
Degrees of separation between end user and industry often reduce the alignment of solutions with user need as well as the accuracy of future industry investment. It's essential to leverage strong user-industry relationships to inform responses to capability gaps while shaping the innovation curve.
Synchronizing Supply & Demand
The fundamentals of industry resourcing seem simple in concept, but they have grown more complex over the years. Funding relationships frequently influence and delay the requirement approval processes, while the operational relevance of niche requirements have increased without the level of visibility given to larger, conventional programs. On the modern battlefield, acquisition intermediaries drive the procurement and fielding of route clearance equipment without clear visibility of the need. It is often up to industry to directly inform users of product availability and application in order to help shape the requirement development.
- What do end users need from industry? While requirements should originate from the end user, the rapid speed of C-IED technology innovation can leave end users unaware of available resources. When innovation, versatility, and adaptability are mission-critical priorities, it becomes essential to understand both what's available and what can be developed.
End users often ask for known material solutions to fill capability gaps, but this portfolio of familiar solutions can be limiting since it may preclude consideration of newer approaches to the same challenge. If users build requirements around only that with which they're familiar, technology norms and applications perpetuate, stifling innovation spirals.
- What can industry pull from end users? To counter innovation stagnation, industry providers must work closely with end users, maintaining awareness of current and anticipated operational contexts in order to inform product development prior to actual requirement establishment. Industry must understand the value of a material solution within its context and validate user need before formal documentation of a requirement.
End users know when they have a capability gap, but the absence of capability does not always pinpoint a required solution. Someone accustomed to eating soup may automatically reach for a spoon to eat a milkshake, despite a straw being a more effective solution. New context often requires a fresh perspective when trying to identify both the gap and the solution. It’s important for industry to help users understand what possibilities exist—what’s available and what can be refined to meet user needs. Again, the separation of industry and user can make this difficult, but it is both the obligation, and in the best interest, of industry to maintain engagement with the user community in order to understand their operational context.
What are effective ways for the two entities to interact?
- Industry Days/Exhibitions: Perhaps the most common mechanism for interaction between industry and requirement owners are exhibitions and industry days that are established to allow industry and government stakeholders to maintain awareness of the other’s efforts and priorities. While the end-user community generally has some presence at these events, they are largely geared towards informing members of the acquisition community. Industry generally prioritizes interaction with this community anyway as it formalizes requirements, controls procurement prioritization, and, ultimately, holds purse strings. It is equally important, however, for requirements developers and end users to actively engage industry providers at these events in order to encourage participation.
- Capabilities Demonstrations: Technology demonstrations are valuable opportunities to synergize both industry and user expectations, creating a constructive dialogue that better informs requirements. Physical interaction with a product, even if shown in a narrowly defined context, can shape both parties’ understanding of the user’s operational challenges and constraints. End users have a chance to see a technology in application, boosting confidence in their own employment concepts and feasible performance parameters. Industry has a chance to solicit operational feedback that can inform a design path that is better aligned with the user’s capability gap and/or use concept.
- Training and Support: Most OEMs provide initial training and support packages with their products, which too often is the only interaction between user and industry. However, this can be a missed opportunity for both sides if it is treated simply as an isolated engagement for new equipment training. Both users and industry should use it as a chance to enhance communication and inform one another. Enhancing training offerings, by expanding on both the content and participation of training, can provide end users valuable opportunities for direct engagement with industry. Furthermore, building this relationship with the user community enhances the level of operational feedback, which can inform product employment and future investment.
End User-Industry Collaboration Shapes Technology
Industry must maintain a constructive dialogue with the end-user community to help inform technology development and validate needs. It’s detrimental to all involved when end users inform requirements based only on what they know as well as when suppliers develop technology in a vacuum.
Relationships between providers and end users should not exist solely when a product is delivered following a sale. Instead, mutually beneficial communication, fueled by industry investment in creating solutions to user challenges, is the best way to shape effective technology for current and future operations.