Defence isn’t a field that you’d necessarily associate with a culture of collaboration and breaking down silos. However, the Ministry of Defence has quietly been running an ideas platform - that enables those working across the entire defence network to submit ideas to be adopted internally - since 1990.
The platform has been through a number of iterations, initially paper-based, before adopting digital processes in 2012 (dubbed the GEMS Scheme). However, one characteristic of the programme that has remained the same is that it has always remained fragmented, with valuable ideas and discussions sitting within distinct processes and institutions.
That is all set to change, with the MoD moving towards a SaaS solution called Wazoku, which Stuart Laws, Defence Innovation - Ideas, MoD, is hoping can break down those barriers and allow new ways of idea creation to be adopted. This could include crowdsourcing ideas, thematic campaigns and cross-organisational contributions.
Laws spoke to diginomica/government about the project, which he hopes will not only boost engagement with the platform, but also drive additional savings and improve the experience of working in defence for people across the network (which includes the Royal Navy, British Army, the Royal Air Force, Joint Forces Command and Defence Infrastructure Organisation).
Laws explained that whilst the 2012 project to bring GEMS into the technology area, away from paper-based processes, was a success - it still wasn’t exactly ‘digital’ in its approach. He said:
“That worked really well for us for about six years or so. What we found was that we gained a better understanding of the benefits of an ideas programme, which was that it was far more than just about collecting ideas from staff, assess them and feedback. However, there was a lot of activity there that we were not able to capture, to drive and encourage. It was system that was designed to purely capture a forms idea, get an assessment and then provide feedback.
“For example, we weren’t able to do things like run themed challenges, or just generate conversations to see where that would take things. The ability to track and report in different ways was relatively limited. What we wanted to do was look across what was happening elsewhere and see what other people were doing.”
The Ministry of Defence landed on the Wazoku SaaS tool for its next iteration of the ideas platform, which is currently in Beta and being tested by 150 super-users. It wa procured through the G-Cloud framework and is set for an early March full launch. As a side note, Laws said that the G-Cloud was an invaluable procurement asset as it enabled the MoD to select from a provider that had already pre-competed fairly and was fully assessed.
Laws explained that the future of the ideas platform is to foster an environment where ideas creation, and collaboration around ideas, exists across the entire defence network.
“The Wazoku platform, by default, is open, which in itself will be a change for a lot of people in defence, because they’re used to silos. The first thing that the Wazoku platform is going to allow me to do is effectively take away the traditional silos of defence working and get people from different areas talking, who wouldn’t normally be able to collaborate and talk together.
“I’ve got a full bucket approach, so the gather and challenge stage, where I will enable different parts of the business to promote a particular subject where they want to crowdsource solutions against. But also allow our people, wherever they are, whatever rank they are, to raise issues that concern them on a day to day basis.
“We can then use the peer group review approach to all of those contributions to see which ones the business needs to pay more attention to and do a formal assessment against. And anything we agree to implement will then be visible on the system as we implement it, tracking the realised benefits.”
Laws adds that any activities raised will automatically fall into the systems archives, which will then cross-reference with new ideas created, in order to ensure that there isn’t duplication.
Switching from silos to cross-network collaboration will no doubt come with its difficulties, said Laws. However, the MoD is hoping that it can manage this in a way that puts the responsibilities in the hands of the people, rather than at the centre. He said:
“The MoD is broken down into a number of agencies and organisations. And then a core part of defence is broken into top-level budget areas. Each of those areas will have a lead person that’s responsible for the day-to-day administration and management of the Wazoku platform. And they will cascade that responsibility down to an establishment level.
“Each establishment will have someone who is responsible for keeping an eye on that part of the platform. So we spread the workload, but also maximise the engagement potential. It’s a new way of thinking for us and there’s bound to be some challenges along the way.”
Since the ‘digital’ version of GEMS was introduced in 2012 (i.e. not the paper-based version), the MoD has seen 7,000 ideas submitted across the network. Of those, 4,000 have reached a conclusion and 1,000 are still with the originators (so they’ve either not been submitted yet or have been sent back to be iterated on). Over all, 465 new ideas have been implemented over the six years.
Laws is hoping to accelerate this even further, with the hope of boosting engagement. He said:
“GEMS engaged around 3% of the defence population and generated around £50 million worth of saving over the 6 years. We are looking at the Wazoku platform to take that forward. We’d like to hit the 10% engagement figure and see logically if we can also at least treble the savings.”