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Fixing logistics

Tom Watt Defence Management JournalNovember 2011


PA Consulting Group’s Tom Watt investigates a new logistics initiative that hopes to succeed where those before it have fallen…

Despite the best efforts of the highly skilled logisticians and information architects in the UK MOD, defence logistics has been under considerable pressure over recent years, with enduring operations in challenging and unpredictable environments, ongoing budgetary restrictions and much public scrutiny and criticism, including the recent report by the Public Accounts Committee. It is inescapable that a number of initiatives aimed at improving defence logistics in the UK have not delivered fully on their promises. 

A persistent theme of the criticism is a lack of complete asset visibility (AV) and, by extension, the information required to enable effective management of the supply chain. The most recent logistics initiative has resulted in the appointment of Boeing as the MoD’s partner to deliver the Future Logistics Information Service (FLIS), which should address these issues and look to provide additional benefits from the cost savings realised. 

FLIS seeks to further improve AV and to deliver broader benefits across the logistics space, addressing other issues such as availability of spares for UORs and the provision of accurate cost information. This is an enduring need that has previously been considered in both equipment and research programmes, such as the MoD’s advanced Inter-Modal Transport Logistics Technology Demonstration Programme (IMT TDP), intended to provide the basis for a substantial improvement in future AV and, consequently, the supply chain. 

The TDP requirement was originally focused on equipment and systems; however, it quickly became apparent that a traditional equipment and systems approach would deliver few benefits. The programme was therefore quickly and successfully re-baselined as a capability development programme. Success relied upon an architectural approach, ensuring that integration across the Defence Lines of Development (DLoDs) was supported by innovative commercial constructs, and critically, required a comprehensive change programme to succeed. The programme was underpinned by an understanding of the complexity, dynamics and behaviours of the UK defence logistics enterprise, without which it could not have been developed.

Great expectations and past challenges

There are substantial pressures on FLIS. The MoD’s LogNEC team and Boeing need to ensure that it succeeds, and within the timescales necessary to support the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, where effective management of the reverse supply chain will be critical. Given the pressure to produce results and the tendency to focus on tangible deliverables, there will be a strong temptation to focus primarily on the integration of legacy and future logistics systems. This approach may distract from the implementation of the change programme that will be required to deliver the UK’s future defence logistics capability. Historically, it has proved difficult to successfully deliver change programmes enabled by complex information systems (IS); delivering the required combination of both hard systems integration and managed changes necessary for success is not trivial. There may, therefore, be some concern that the partnership might not deliver all of the benefits anticipated from the FLIS programme. 

Transformation for the better 

The challenge is to implement a successful logistics transformation programme that effects change more fully than those that have gone before. In order to deliver the substantial improvements required by UK defence logistics in such a complex environment, LogNEC and Boeing must endeavour to not focus solely on IS integration; although this may be critical, the required capability will not be realised operationally without a broad-based change programme, which draws upon an understanding of all of the factors that will influence its success. 

Factors for success 

The £800m FLIS programme will be delivered into an extremely complex environment, and therefore it is essential that this complexity is clearly understood and managed from the outset. During the IMT TDP, the complex behaviours of the UK defence logistics enterprise were identified and understood through causal mapping and systems dynamics techniques. The use of this approach can significantly help in scoping an effective change programme of the type required to deliver the desired outcomes and benefits. 

Amongst other benefits, the FLIS programme aims to improve the UK logistics architecture with a positive impact on AV, the effectiveness of the supply chain and its management. The programme will also need to implement the changes necessary to ensure that the staff working in the supply chain will support the new systems and processes efficiently. Doing so will result in improved AV and supply chain effectiveness, leading to greater operational availability and increasing confidence in the supply chain. There should also be an accompanying reduction in any disruptive behaviour, which will lead to further increased supply chain effectiveness and attendant benefits. 

These dynamics create two virtuous circles – or feedback loops – that, once initiated, should result in selfsupporting improvements in supply chain performance. In contrast, a supply chain that is not performing reliably or to expectations will not command the expected supportive behaviours, level of respect or adherence to processes and procedures. When this situation is allied with severe operational pressures, then process and procedure may be viewed as optional. As Air Vice Marshal Howard recently observed, for a soldier on operations, following correct process “might be second on his list of things to do”.1

Such a combination is a poor basis for the introduction of change, which is likely to result in ambivalence or resistance to the evolution necessary to transform defence logistics. This resistance must be managed if the programme is to succeed. There is a requirement for a well-planned and resourced change programme that recognises the difficult environment within which change is to be achieved. 

Choosing the right delivery strategy 

There are some fundamental decisions made early in the programme that will strongly influence its overall success, including the speed and extent of the attempted change. With FLIS needed so greatly, it may be tempting to try to deliver change and benefits rapidly. However, given its scale and complexity, such an approach is likely to cause significant resistance and disruption within the supply chain in the short and, most likely, mid term. 

With operations ongoing, this result could be difficult to tolerate. Attempting to make large-scale, rapid change within a large/complex and difficult environment seemingly offers high rewards, but in reality is high-risk and prone to failure. FLIS needs to provide large-scale, sustained change; doing so within complex environments suggests that it should be done over time, and in a planned and managed manner.

The need to minimise resistance to change and disruption suggests that the desired outcomes should be decomposed and realised via a series of changes that are less disruptive, rather than a ‘big bang’ approach. These should be ‘sold’ to the staff in the supply chain and designed to provide quick, early wins that will offset the negative aspects of change, continuing to build confidence in the supply chain and its future transformation, and delivering the sustained change required over time. 

Allowing for time

Change takes time to come to fruition, and the scope of FLIS is ambitious. While the Public Accounts Committee may wish to examine progress in the near term, it must be remembered that changing the direction of defence logistics is a significant undertaking, and wholesale change cannot be delivered in a matter of a year or so. Instead, it will be important to look for evidence of a well-founded programme that understands the need for broad-based change, demonstrates a clear plan for its implementation, and is realising early benefits. This approach will be indicative of better performance in the future and of the delivery of the high-performing supply chain that the UK requires.

Tom Watt is a defence expert at PA Consulting Group.

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