As with any start up business, it has been a struggle for us. I will go out on a limb and say, it has been harder for us given the industry we are in. Not only are we a tech company from rural Mississippi, but also, we have been trying to gain access into an industry dominated by the likes of Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. We have spent over three years just trying to educate people on who we are and what we do. We obviously don’t have any buildings with Kopis Mobile on the top of them across from the Pentagon. So how does a small tech company with innovative ideas make a wave in that big sea? This is what I’ve learned so far.
General Officers and senior level decision makers of all ranks that are in today’s military are without doubt some of the best leaders this country have ever seen. Several years of fighting wars on two fronts have positively molded the lives of many in uniform and shaped them into formidable leaders.
Those at that level are super educated, motivated, and strive to do the best they can to improve the lives of those under their command. However, those at the top of the leadership pyramid are often bogged down by administrative tasks, countless meetings and unending travel. They have little time to really dig into alternative ways to simplify entrenched, long standing ways of doing business. Many rely on, “This is the way we are doing it because this is how it’s always been done.” In many ways, tried and true methods work just fine. It is easier to do “what we have been doing” rather to look for ways to do things better.
Most senior leaders think that because of digitization, they are more productive because of less paperwork. Actually, the opposite is happening. Despite all of this digitization, you have more paperwork than ever. This translates to a 3% decrease in annual productivity.
Bureaucracy is increasing faster than automation. Which means that over the past 20 years, nearly half of the military’s productivity has been sucked dry by the time vampires of administrative tasks.
The federal government spends about $20B per year on development of later stage technology for commercialization. Majority of this money is spent in the large acquisition programs that incorporate technology that is not proven which means the equipment takes way too long to get the warfighter. This results in huge cost overruns, frustrated operators, and projects that are way behind schedule.
The reason for this, most new technology dies on the vine because the bureaucracy of the military. The GAO said “technologies don’t leave the lab because their potential has not been adequately demonstrated” and “the DoD is simply unwilling to fund final stages of development of a promising technology, preferring to invest in other aspects of the program that are viewed as more vital to success.”
And “DoD’s budgeting process, which requires investments to be targeted at least two years in advance of their activation, makes it difficult for DoD to seize opportunities to introduce technological advances into acquisition programs.”
The problem is only 5.71% of new technology ever gets into the hands of those that really need it. That is 4 out of every 70 projects!
When you realize that small business accounts for 99.7% of all new technology introduced, it becomes incredibly important for small businesses to be involved in technology development and transfer.
The Undersecretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics reported the Federal Government has missed its small business goals for the last 16 years despite the fact that buying from small businesses is far less painful. Frankly, buying from small guys like us eliminates red tape, shortens the technology transfer, speeds the time to get the operator the equipment they really need, and makes life for a contracting officer easier.
There are really only two types of new technology product development, that being “Top Down” and “Bottom Up”. In “Top Down” tech development, academics invent something big and hopes it gets good in DoD. In “Bottom Up” tech development, small business invents something good and hopes it big in DoD. The big problem is 95% of it is “Top Down” and rarely includes the folks at the pointy end of the spear in the development process.
As stated in the GAO Report to Congress (GAO-05-480), the best approach to new technology is a, “least structured process and criteria, believing that a high degree on flexibility is needed in order to get technology prototypes quickly out to the field, where they can immediately impact military operations.”
What this really means is it is vitally important to partner with small businesses who talk directly to the operators in order to co-create useful technology. This is the holy grail of warfighter improvement.
Who cares if the only easy day was yesterday. Always look forward and never back. Kick ass!