This article represents the opinion of John Reeve, Director and Principal Consultant at Araldo Limited.
The announcement of the MOD’s intention to test the market with a competition for a Protected Mobility Strategic Support Supplier (PMSSS) brings substance to the long-term aspiration to rationalise the support arrangements for Land Equipment. The programme seeks to bring together the Protected Mobility (PM) capability, which was procured under Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR) procedures, into a single, more efficient and effective support arrangement that will meet the Army’s enduring need. It is right to strive for efficiency and effectiveness but decision-makers should ensure that they properly consider the factors and consequences before committing to one commercial strategy or another.
The existing landscape is complex. The PM fleet comprises over 2,000 vehicle types, each with multiple variants. They have been brought into existence by a number of engineering companies who were able to deliver when the nation demanded it. These Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) now hold post-design services (PDS) contracts for the ongoing management of the design and configuration of the vehicles. They are in this position because they have the technical expertise, corporate technical knowledge of the equipment and mature supply chain that enable them to deliver this service. From an MOD perspective, the PDS contracts are the mechanisms through which the emerging technical requirements of the user are executed.
These contracts have been put in place in the context of other major support activities such as spares supply, vehicle storage and distribution, upgrade, overhaul, repair, and maintenance being delivered by the Defence Support Group (DSG), which was recently sold to Babcock International. When selling DSG, the intention was to create the opportunity to rationalise its capabilities under commercial leadership to deliver a leaner, more efficient support infrastructure and operation. This transformation is a demanding activity and Babcock must be given time to implement the changes or the MOD will not realise the benefit of this action. It might therefore seem strange if the strategy for support of the PM fleet was seeking not to exploit the streamlined capability.
This is not to promote the status quo with incumbent companies, but the MOD does need to think about the long-term consequences for the industrial base. While the immediate requirement might appear to be the efficient provision of available equipment to meet a predictable training requirement, the primary purpose of the Army is to deploy on operations. History shows time and again that when this happens, it is the innovators and engineers who come to the fore and that support arrangements designed for peace-time do not stand the test. Whatever approach is taken, the outcome must accommodate a balanced and capable industrial base or the Army and the nation will pay the price later.
In all of this, the MOD should consider the impact and difficulty of change. Contracting for outcome (vehicle availability at the point of need) rather than a set of outputs requires change on the part of all stakeholders: the Army, DE&S and industry. The management of change is a demanding discipline and most initiatives fail to deliver their intended benefit. Placement of a new contract with a new supplier does not in itself constitute change management and it does not guarantee the success of the initiative, whatever its intention.
There is a philosophical dividing line between the way that business is currently delivered (contracting for outputs) and the future state being aspired to (contracting for outcomes – vehicle availability). The contract notice describes this as: Do Better; or Do Different. Whether or not the line is crossed, the components of a support solution are all in place now: design and engineering; spares supply; vehicle storage and distribution; upgrade; overhaul; repair; and maintenance. The key to greater effectiveness and efficiency is to find a way for these activities to be managed more coherently across industry and with the user. Swapping out the components en masse might not be the best approach.
Whatever the way forward, there is a guiding principle: the MOD should take its own responsibilities seriously and devolve to industry that which industry is best placed to deliver. Defining the requirement, managing demand, managing strategic risk and engaging effectively with industry are responsibilities of Government. If this is done well by DE&S and the Army, then industry will deliver a better service at lower cost.
Araldo Limited is a consultancy practice specialising in defence customer engagement and the delivery of change. For more information, visit: araldo.co.uk