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ASNE Day 2016 - Technical Paper Session 6 : Thursday, March 3, 2016 1515-1700

Future Trends in Naval Applications


Author: LT Todd E. Coursey and Lauren M. Hamburg

Title: Democratization of innovation


Thomas Jefferson said in 1816, “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.” The programs we live by, the laws we follow, and even the singular human mind cannot keep pace with the collective advances that technology is enabling.

There are several evolving programs focused on transitioning the cumbersome “business as usual” acquisition process into a more open and all inclusive program. In April 2015, the DoD introduced the latest update to its effort to make its acquisition system faster and more economical. The document, “Better Buying Power 3.0,” places greater emphasis on enabling the U.S. military to maintain its technological advantage despite declining defense budgets and rapid gains in technology by some adversaries. Frank Kendall, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, indicated the new version was not a change in direction, but rather an “increased focus” on the need to do more to maintain technological superiority.

The Request for Quotation (RFQ) for the Agile Delivery Services Blanket Purchase Agreement (Agile Delivery BPA) hit the streets in June of 2015. 18F, a newly formed organization within the General Services Administration (GSA), established a government-wide blanket purchase agreement (BPA) featuring vendors specializing in agile delivery services (e.g., user-centered design, agile software development, DevOps). Its goal is to shift software procurement archetype.

In August of 2014, the White House announced the launch of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a new team of America’s best digital experts dedicated to improving and simplifying the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government. The USDS team made progress by releasing the TechFAR Handbook, a guide that helps explain how Federal agencies can take advantage of existing procurement authorities to execute key plays in the Digital Services Playbook. The Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget released the first version of Innovative Contracting Case Studies, a living document that describes how, under existing laws and regulations, federal agencies are getting more innovation per taxpayer dollar. A series of successful case studies are highlighted; for instance, how the DoD has used head-to-head competitions in realistic environments to identify new robot and vehicle designs that will protect soldiers on the battlefield (such as the DARPA’s Fast Track Robotics, the Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) portfolio, and the DRC (DARPA Robotic Challenge)). Other successful case studies discuss, how rapid technology prototyping has been used by the DoD in 3D mapping prototypes of urban terrain, for radio detection finder systems, and for sensor mechanisms that detect improvised explosive devices and provide warnings to ground forces and the Department of Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative (VAi2) Industry Innovation competition, which illustrates the promise of staged contracts.

However, the complete answer to the growing divergence in identification and implementation of technology should not exclusively focus on streamlining the acquisitions process, changing investment strategies, or engineering processes to support emerging technologies. The question and subsequent answers should extend into enablement and empowerment of an entire work force to harness the rapidly shifting landscape of innovation and technology. Today, computers, robotics, and system technologies are on an exponential curve of advancement and touch practically everyone—everywhere. Changes of a magnitude that once took centuries now happen in decades, sometimes years. Less than a decade ago, Facebook was a dorm-room social connection site, mobile phones were for the elite few and drones were multimillion-dollar machines. Today, using 3D printed parts, some inexpensive electronics, and modified versions of open source software, hobbyists can build a scaled quadcopter for under $200. Poor villagers across Asia and Africa can access Facebook accounts on smartphones that have more computing power than the Cray 2—a supercomputer that in 1985 cost $17.5 million and weighed 5,500 pounds. By leveraging the collective whole to structure creative and innovative solutions, we can create a sustainable technology ecosystem; as Albert Einstein said “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

The initial step towards technology democratization is development of front line leaders and middle managers who foster innovation; leaders who recognize that enablement and sourcing the collective whole for problem solving involves risk acceptance. DoD Science and Technology programs are typically high with risk acceptance and failure, but operational programs, where the user and a large majority of the workforce reside, continue to be risk adverse. There is obviously a place for the multimillion dollar S&T hubs and the industry and academics that run them, but if we continue to overlook the creative and innovative force of the thousands of sailors and marines across the waterfront, we are never going to keep pace with our adversaries. We have to employ a social shift in what is considered acceptable risk; risk which enables deck plate leaders and middle management with the philosophy and latitude to support and challenge their subordinates to make operational improvements, even in the face of multiple failures.

As the CNO stated in his recent memo on designing for maintaining maritime superiority, technology is being introduced at an accelerating rate, and is being adopted by society just as fast – people are using new tools as quickly as they are introduced, and in new and novel ways. Our innovation strategy should seek focus where creativity so often begins: in training, in communities, and in the networks that connect them. The DoN is continuing to develop strategies to scale up innovative approaches to equip and empower Warfighters through innovation and the creative use of resources at hand. The Navy’s “Project Athena” allows sailors to present short 5-minute ‘pitches’ on process improvements to senior leadership and industry partners in a less formal setting with immediate feedback and potential for rapid implementation. At the Navy’s first Warfighter Innovation Lab program at MARMC (Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center) in Norfolk, VA; Warfighters are being trained on how to use digital fabrication for rapid prototyping. In support of upcoming deployments; MARMC has temporary installed forward deployed mini digital fabrication Labs on LHD-3 and CVN-75. Forward deployed sailors are being educated on design thinking and digital fabrication by the MARMC Fabrication Lab team, and then supported throughout deployment to facilitate ship repair, innovation and maximize material condition. The success of the Warfighters Innovation Lab has inspired the DoN, through SECNAV's Task Force Innovation effort, to expand the Fabrication Lab concept in other Fleet Concentration Areas: SWRMC (San Diego), SERMC (Mayport FL), and FRC East. Warfighter fabrication labs allow any individual, non-technician and engineer alike, to explore the entire design process in realistic contexts by providing inexpensive digital manufacturing tools that enable them to go from concept to drawing, models to prototype, and redesign to final product. A Warfighter lab provides the tools to develop the practical and critical thinking skills sailors and marines will need to be the inventors and innovators of the future. The lab serves as a motivational environment to encourage engagement with technology. The value of these Warfighter fabrication labs may not necessarily be about creating end products, but developing the capability and capacity of our workforce to understand modeling and simulation tools to support processes of the future.

Fleet Design Challenges are hyper velocity learning concepts, which work to train and familiarize the workforce with cutting edge developments; from UAV and drone technology, digital fabrication, design thinking, coding, app development and wearable technology uses. In this competition-format training exercise, various developing technologies are represented as competition “challenges” from internal forums. The initial event is already underway and concluding April 2016. The focus is Additive Manufacturing and is being held at the MARMC Fabrication Lab in Norfolk, VA. During the course of the challenge, the Fleet is being exposed to the promises and limitations of Additive Manufacturing as multiple teams further their initial design concepts by learning how to use CAD (computer aided design) programs, design thinking, and building of Additive Manufacturing machines to prototype designs. These continued innovative education and training investments are critical for training DoN personnel at all levels, across all job titles, to understand how to effectively use emerging capabilities and technologies; where to explore and evaluate the Warfighting utility of new technology concepts, and identify alternative uses for evolving technologies.

Current and near future acquisitions processes will largely continue to encourage big technology firms, DoD contractors and S&T labs to invest in large movement technologies and breakthroughs; but by harnessing the collective, we have the ability to induce a series of incremental innovations, and likely a few game changing advancements. A game changing advancement is one that addresses and (at least partially) solves a problem with a novel approach that is superior to past approaches. The solution may frame the problem in a novel way; looking at the problem from a different angle, or from the perspective of an underserved, ignored, or unidentified–but valuable–user group. In the context of organizational progression and technological advancement, a sometimes seemingly small series of cumulative and indiscriminate steps can quickly become solid foundations for giant leaps. Small steps start where creativity so often begins: in education, in communities, and in the networks that connect them. By enabling entire problem solving communities, we can couple the rapidly shifting landscape of innovation and technology with the continued advancement of socioeconomic strategies and initiatives.

Democratization of innovation – empowering individuals, teams, and online communities to develop technologies and solutions is focused on the collaboration and cooperation efforts that ensue when we embrace diversity (not just cultural diversity, but educational and experience diversity). In short, when we democratize innovation and build a supportive ecosystem, anyone who is willing and able to open their mind to new methodologies and processes can become a game changer.

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