When the Canadian army and the Department of National Defence set out to identify future requirements for their solider modernization program, they turned to a well-honed practice developed by Industry Canada – technology road mapping.
Through facilitated workshops, government and industry representatives, often with participation from academia, develop a guide to a sector’s future, identifying the technologies that will shape the marketplace and the concepts requiring R&D investment.
After facilitating almost 40 such technology road maps (TRMs) since 1995 – across a range of federal departments, provincial governments and industry associations, involving some 1500 companies – Industry Canada has the process down pat.
However, although it has made extensive use of the web to provide TRM participants ongoing access to all documentation, from workshop slides to steering committee minutes to the final report, this time the client wanted something more.
The army and researchers at Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) wanted an interactive way to capture the workshop discussions, encourage collaboration during the TRM, and keep the process evolving after the final report was completed.
They needed more than just a website. The solution was the Innovation Collaboration Exchange Environment (ICEE), an online repository for all of the TRM documentation and the first external facing wiki of any Canadian government.
“It’s Wikipedia for soldier modernization,” said Mariane Huard, DND’s deputy project manager for the Soldier System Technology Roadmap.
To date, over 400 registered users have posted some 200 projects related to improving the mobility, lethality, survivability and sustainability of the soldier. The online community includes over 200 defence industry users, over 150 from DND and DRDC and other departments such as the National Research Council and Industry Canada, and 30 academic researchers. Though the TRM process is extremely attractive to small- and medium-sized companies, large systems integrators such as General Dynamics, Raytheon, L-3 Communications and DRS Technologies are also contributing.
The workshops were completed in September and the capstone action plan is expected in early 2011, but the online collaboration continues to build. Even portions of the report are being written collaboratively on the wiki.
More important to a sector seeking early involvement in defence procurement projects, the military is paying close attention to the process, said Laurin Garland, industry co-chair of the Human and Systems Integration Sub-Committee. “There really is engagement on the part of the ultimate client, DND.”
Geoff Nimmo, manager of Industry Canada’s Technology Roadmap Secretariat, has guided numerous industry sectors along the TRM path and says the final product provides a bridge between where a sector is now and where it needs to be, and the technologies needed to get there. It’s a good estimation of “where to put your R&D dollars in terms of technologies and skills.”
“It’s industry’s technology roadmap; it’s their ideas,” he said. “Generally, the recommendations are on technologies needed five to 10 years into the future. [The final report] is not a policy document but it gives a good indication of what companies will need for the future and it can have an impact on government policy and programs.
“It is amazing how little companies know about each other. After a year in the TRM process, they’ve learned a lot about the types of networks and partnerships that could be established.”
The wiki is key to that long-term partnering. As well, it may go some way to addressing a long-standing problem in government, knowledge retention, by preserving information.
Creating the wiki was not smoothing sailing, Nimmo admits, and required numerous weekly meetings involving DND, DRDC and Industry Canada. “There were a few hurdles we had to overcome. When we did the first draft of the software, it was too complex. We had determined what we needed, but we hadn’t thought enough about how difficult it was going to be to use. If you are expecting industry and academia to throw material up there, you want it to be quite intuitive. Then we had to address the issues of privacy and common look and feel, both of which are key for government.”
They also had to create disclaimers since the wiki is not bilingual and does not work with templates used by the visually impaired. “The Department of Justice came out with the opinion that in both cases it was not exactly perfect but we had permission to move ahead,” he said.
His advice for other governments considering an external wiki? “You have to put yourself in the user’s perspective. You’ve got to make it intuitive and easy to use. Also, perhaps we went a bit late to our legal department. It’s nice to be able to say this has been blessed by the Department of Justice.”
The wiki, which was a finalist for the GTEC awards in October, it will be part of any future TRM, Nimmo said. “We’ll be able build on it for future projects.”