We’ve just sold to the Dutch military, which was very straightforward

This from the Telegraph is a very depressing defence story

[browser-shot width=”600″ url=”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/10842002/Concrete-Canvas-looks-beyond-the-MoD.html”]

The killer quote

We’ve just sold to the Dutch military, which was very straightforward

Concrete Canvas has appeared on the pages of Think Defence several times but as a reminder

 

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Chris
Chris
May 24, 2014 12:49 pm

From my perspective this is a tale of a really sound product and a really poor UK customer. As company owner Peter Brewin said: “It’s just so frustrating,” he added. “I’m an ex-sapper myself. I want to work with the MoD, and provide a really useful product to the people in the green kit, but they’ve made it impossible. The MoD is a very difficult customer to get through as a small business. There were so many hurdles to jump through that just didn’t make sense. And it was impossible to talk to the actual decision maker.”

Seconded.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
May 24, 2014 1:20 pm

‘I’m an ex-sapper myself. I want to work with the MoD’

That’s your first mistake, you’re not an ex general or politician. You should try contacting Geoff Hoon and bunging him a quid or two.

The second is your not BAE, GD or AW.

Fedaykin
May 24, 2014 1:53 pm

Didn’t the MOD make an announcement recently that they were putting in measures to allow small suppliers the chance to bid for contracts.

Chris
Chris
May 24, 2014 2:25 pm

Fedaykin – I strongly doubt anything will change. It made a good soundbite for the politicians though which these days seems to be the only reason for any policy announcement. I’ll believe there’s more than just votefluff in this when the MOD procurement man is on my doorstep with genuine interest in the stuff I’m doing and an open mind on how it might be progressed. Until then, DN’s assessment stands.

Fedaykin
May 24, 2014 3:16 pm

Oh I realise that Chris, pretty much the only way small suppliers can hope to sell to the MOD is to go in as a subcontractor to a larger player or luck out on a UOR (as these guys did with one of their early orders).

There is also the issue of the MOD messing up reliable suppliers in the hope of cost savings! A case in point, there is currently a shortage of certain size flying boots in the RAF. Size 10 is apparently almost impossible to source from central stores. The reason? Well the MOD decided to put the supply of flying boots out to tender and the company Hayes & Cann that supplied boots to the RAF since 1919 lost to another supplier. Hayes & Cann was then pushed into receivership in 2010 due to the loss of such an important contract. The company that won was later found to be unable to supply a suitable boot (how does that even happen???) and the RAF now has a boot shortage.

Going on these web pages it looks like somebody has bought out Hayes & Cann allowing them to put the boots back into production so maybe there will be a happy ending to all of this:

http://www.airfieldequipment.co.uk/haynes-cann-boots/4583557117

http://haynesandcann.weebly.com/

One sour note the current rumour on Pprune is the MOD might well go for an American flying boot now, lets hope they see sense!

Chris
Chris
May 24, 2014 3:30 pm

OK so the choice is 1) go back to the original supplier that the MOD all but destroyed trying to cut a few pennies of the price and be seen to have made a stupid error (as if), or 2) go to a new (American) supplier, buy something different with loads of ra-ra statements that its a much better deal, better product etc and never need to apologise for earlier stupidity?

American boots all round then. Better or not its the only option that doesn’t make the MOD team look dumb.

x
x
May 24, 2014 4:14 pm

@ Fedaykin

RAF personnel actually wear issued boots? Really? Gosh that is sad. :(

There was time I just thought boots were boots. Then some nice chaps from the Royal Marine’s Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (as it was then) put me right. Boots aren’t just for Christmas but for life.

@ All

I think the main problem is the Whitehall machine is just too big. That isn’t to say I think the MoD has too many civilians just too many departments fighting for survival. Probably the Dutch have a lot less just doing vital work. I bet for the concrete cloth order they sent a civi and wedgehead while “we” kill the process with vested interest. Reminds me of how somebody said in some ways the Argentines in the Falklands were better equipped. I suppose a military government did help, but perhaps supplies selling to ultimate customers and not civil servants played a part too…….

@ Fedaykin

They don’t wear these issue boots with issue nylon socks do they? Really? Gosh that is sad. :(

There was time I just thought socks were socks. Then some nice chaps from the Royal Marine’s Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (as it was then) put me right. Socks aren’t just for Christmas but for life.

What if they have to march anywhere? Or carry heavy loads? Or just be on their feet all day? :)

Fedaykin
May 24, 2014 4:59 pm

A fascinating insight into your life there x

:-)

dave haine
dave haine
May 24, 2014 5:10 pm

@ X

Indeed, boots are tools- use them for the wrong purpose and they’ll let you down…

For instance… aircrew clothing has to be fire resistant and zero static, so funnily enough, ordinary infantry boots don’t cut it…

x
x
May 24, 2014 5:20 pm

@ Fedaykin

Dude this is an important issue. Airfields are quite large. How many person hours are lost due to RAF fitters getting poorly feet? How much is spent by the RAF on renewing nylon socks each year that could be spent on Typhoons or whatever?

@ dave haine

Um. I suppose they have special anti-static shag-pile in their buildings too? How much does that cost per square yard? Do the nylon socks impact the on the performance of the anti-static shag-pile? These are serious questions that demand serious answers.

mike
mike
May 24, 2014 6:22 pm

@X

You needed the Royal Marine’s Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre to tell you about boots? Thank goodness they are useful for something post 1991.

Blimey ;)

I wonder how much promising small company tech/equipment has been overlooked/barred due to the hugeness of the MoD/’not an established company’ attitude.

x
x
May 24, 2014 6:49 pm

@ Mike

When you have witnessed death dealers of that calibre cooing over footwear there has to be something in it.

In light of my musings on RAF anti-static shag-pile I am now wondering if Wardroom Chintz has some stealth property of which I am unaware. We all know of the hidden capabilities of Black Maskers could the Fleet’s truth strength not lie in its weapons and sensors but in a seemingly sub-standard printed fabric?

What about Army barrack linoleum……………………………..?

Midlander
Midlander
May 24, 2014 8:24 pm

Just linking back to the concrete cloth, Chris expresses it exactly a great product and an helpful customer. TD rightly gets depressed, but look on the bright side! – British innovation is being bought by a NATO ally and sustaining the company, must be preferable to the MoD killing the company and product! Difficult to see the MoD culture changing which is why maybe a wider NATO approach to accelerate the uptake of these products could help. In terms of the MoD, my unscientific reflection from insiders I have dealt with is that MoD culture which, although very proud and well intentioned, can only be described as internally orientated, complacent, traditional, not helpful for small, companies selling new innovative things. An example to look at is the Israeli high tech start up culture and the cutting edge stuff which gets to the IDF.

CBRNGuru
CBRNGuru
May 24, 2014 11:27 pm

Hmm… TD, a pretty lame story. I am working on several contracts with the Dutch at the moment and without doubt it is hard work compounded by the fact that procurement has had a complete overall and has gone from single service procurement to Joint Service procurement so I can tell you that several projects have been signed off by the service 3 star but then get swallowed into the black hole of procurement and then it is just a waiting game. One project was to be delivered in September last year to assist in the nuclear conference in The Hague this March, but is still waiting procurement sign off.
On another note, JP2110 was to be delivered to the Australian Defense Force in 2012, but First Pass has only been achieved Feb this year with second pass and RFQ in 2016/17 and that’s for COTS equipment!!
I’m sure that I can rummage up quite a few more from the past. Abbey Wood is no worse or no better than another procurement organisation. You can pick up good and bad stories like this from all over the Defense World.

Chris
Chris
May 25, 2014 8:54 am

CBRNguru – ref they’re all as bad as each other – maybe the difference you see is that your particular organization is not one of the small eager outfits trying everything they can to get stuff into the front line because they really want to help the lads/lasses who put their life on the line for the rest of us? You don’t need to answer that. Obviously from the experience of Concrete Canvas the MOD made business difficult and the Dutch did not.

But taking a slightly wider view, each country’s MOD equivalent pointing to other countries’ defence procurement organizations and exclaiming “They are just as useless as we are!” as justification for their own poor performance is hardly commendable. It might be the foundation for the complacency though. No need to put effort into efficiency measures, or to finance proper reforms, or to stop employing the deadwood, or to worry about internal spend. Why bother when every other procurement organization is equally lack-lustre…

That’s a pretty poor situation all round. Don’t you think?

I dislike the current system with a passion. Not because its bad for the SME, but because its bad for the taxpayer. The vast ever more complex requirements sets covering every conceivable aspect of a 40 year service life* applied to a multiple tier competitive bid process ensures very long lead times – each downselect must take a year minimum (4 months requirement generation 2 months industry response 6 months deliberation) and there seem to be a minimum of two stages after PQQ (which incidentally is structured to dismiss SMEs before the competition starts). Then there are rebids and revisions and BAFOs and price negotiations and contract negotiations and proofs of concepts and IPR wrangles – nothing ready for production after years of fighting the procurement process. Each bidder shovels cash into their bids; the further along the process they go, the more it costs. But just to get the first bid in against the modern ITT would likely require a stack of documentation 4ft high replicated 5 times to save poor MOD the unacceptably difficult task of making their own copies. A 20ft high stack of paper. 55000 sheets. 300kg+ of printed matter delivered to MOD for free? The cost of the team trying to put a) compliant, b) technically achievable, c) appropriate, and d) rational answers against each of the ridiculously detailed requirements is considerable. I have seen bid teams burn seven figure sums trying to get a bid together in the few weeks elapsed time available (using the ‘if it takes one couple nine months to make a baby we’ll use nine couples and can do it in one month’ technique) – huge teams working in parallel suffering constant rework by executive demanded change of individual factors without realizing the consequences ripple out through the team etc etc. Ultimately the costs of both winning team bids AND the costs of lost bids will be paid by MOD – businesses aren’t charities and all the work they do for customers must in the end be paid for. Hence the winning team’s cost for the project will always be vast, because all the bid effort and waiting time is embedded under hourly rates/overheads/sundries or whatever. Add to this that MOD accepts no risk – none at all, according to the Peter Levene model – so project teams have to wedge in as much risk contingency as they can. Number one risk being MOD will change its mind.

Its a crass system that burns huge amounts of money for no gain. Once the final choice is made and the project triumphantly moves to Demonstration & Manufacture, the MOD moves in and starts redesigning the proposed equipment anyway – we need longer range/better protection/more seats, our standard comms system is now different you must fit the new one, the threat environment has changed we need a rethink… So why not just pick a design up front and go straight to the redesign on the fly – it would be much cheaper and quicker all round.

* The detail in requirements is I am sure driven almost exclusively by the morbid fear of MOD being sued for ‘not doing their job well enough’. Hence there are for example requirements relating to the Kyoto Protocol which I understand are impossible to comply with because the Protocol applies to the nation state as a whole – which defence contractor is going to assume financial responsibility for the country’s ecological performance over decades? But the response if marked ‘non-compliant’ still marks the bid down. Its pretty pathetic seeing how many requirements exist just to hook future cost responsibility on the contractor and have nothing at all to do with the product fitness for purpose.

By refusing to accept risk, the MOD pays for it in spades on every contract. If the contract goes well that’s extra profit for the contractor, if the project goes badly then huge effort is expended in arguments over whether the requirements changes (of which there will be many) or the basic proposal caused the risk to become a cost.

Enough. Its a hideous process that delivers poor value for money very slowly. And because the multi-stage competitive process takes so long the end product, even if its performance surpasses the original requirement, will arrive on the front line as old technology and too late.

banner man
banner man
May 25, 2014 2:09 pm

Slightly ironic that the contract went through the EDA….

CBRNGuru
CBRNGuru
May 25, 2014 5:57 pm

, I believe my perspective is slightly different; I work for an SME and have done for the last 15 years. I would say it has taken 10 years to build up a very good working relationship with the Delivery Team. We know everyone in that team that deals with our product, we know the commercial people that are assigned to that Delivery Team. We know the present boss of the Delivery Team very well; we teach our product direct to the MoD, we have access to any facility we wish within the Defence CBRN Centre. We also have a very good working relationship with Dstl and are working on innovation though Niteworks and working on several projects with other SME’s. There are plenty of SME’s getting work through MoD and being protected by MoD when a circling Prime comes looking about like vultures. We have complained in the past about Primes in a contract and had them kicked out of Projects.
It is not all sweetness and light and you have to work hard to forge relationships with people, because ultimately that is what it boils down to. Understanding the customer, the reality of a bid from the Project Team, what they like to see in a bid. Bringing the expectations down from a gold plated solution to a viable cost effective solution that is fit for purpose and meets the majority of requirements.
Having sat on the other side of the fence at the user level, you just want what you think is the best, but sometimes that best is reassuringly expensive and is way beyond the requirement because it can do 60 other things that are of no purpose to what you want it for.
Again, from my view Delivery Teams are changing, realistic time frames are being placed on projects and realistic expectations are being put into place as to what can be achieved within requirements and contracts are being tighten up.
The only way to ensure understanding is having that relationship on a continuous basis, you may not like some of the people within a Delivery Team but you just have to grin and bear it and understand how they tick. This business (CBRN) is I suppose no different to another business involving SME’s, its all peaks and troughs and you need to be versatile to be able to move quickly around to see other opportunities in different regions of the world and try to spin as many plates as possible.