DPA criticised by the NAO (again)

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by MikeMcc, May 20, 2005.

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  1. The FT ran an article about a report the NAO has carried out on the DPA. In general it seems to be saying that the DPA is improving but could do better.


  2. Could the DPA do better? Having worked with the DPA/PE for a long long long time at all levels from Rob Walmsley down to SPTOs...they could hardly do worse now...

    The trouble is that every procurement is done to a formula and so it matters not that the price of fish changes or a different kettle of fish be forthcoming, you get the fish dish that events conspire to provide you with. Just to complicate that series of metaphors further, you then find that the MoD, your customer (one customer or two Vicar?) actually doesn't want a fish supper at all, he wants a Chinese menu...

    Listen just carry on, you all seem to be happy. Call me only if you want me to clean the windows at Abbeywood or Ensleigh..I could probably save you a fortune but I can't be arsed to fill out the inevitable PQQ.
  3. I think part of the problem is we over-spec absolutely everything. I worked on a bit of automatic test equipment that used a 10" monochrome plasma display (this was when they had just been developed). Because it had to meet all of the environmental specs (temperature range, G-shock and vibration, etc) the bl00dy thing cost £20,000. A bit of common sense would have suggested that we could have fitted an industrial PC (£2000) that would have had a bigger display + graphics capability and if the thing ever went wrong we could just throw it away and fit a replacement. We just seem to be so tied up with the need to have everything so perfect that it takes longer, costs more and doesn't have half of the capability that it could have.

    Accepted, in front line kit (Challie 2, Warrior, helicopters, personal kit, rifles, etc) it does need to be robust because you don't want it to go wrong at the most inconvienient time. But that doesn't mean that you have to blindly follow this mantra for all of the kit. I think that this sort of thing is what the report is getting at. There doesn't appear to be any mechanism in the procurement process for anyone to say that 'Stop - this is OTT, we can make it simpler and cheaper', the contractors certainly aren't going to do it, they'll be losing out in profits.
  4. Bravest thing I ever heard a serving officer say? No, not follow me those machine guns won't touch us boys..aaagh! He was a buffoon. No the bravest thing I ever heard was "This procurement is unnecessary and I recommend we cancel it."

    The civil servants went mad, the contractors competing were torn between genuine admiration and greed and his military masters quietly had him removed and then promoted to a more worthwhile job, once the kerfuffle died down! One of the civil service project management team was actually heard in the corridor to say "if we cancel this then we will have to find some real work to do...". He knows who he is and today he is a senior project manager on an electronic equipment project. NNNPD...Welsh scunner.
  5. I seem to remember on of those frequent "actions on encountering snake" emails that do the rounds every couple of months - went something like this...

    Issues ambiguous contract out to tender for snake. States that eel will be supplied as GFE, which must be modified to meet the performance requirement of aforesaid ambigous contract.
    3 years later, and £10billion over budget, a COTS Snake is bought from the US at a cost of £5 million per unit.
    DLO then discover Snake incompatible with any other in-service equipment, and is anyway irrelevant, as all other NATO forces now use Iguanas as standard. Sells snakes to Syria at £500 per unit.
    British forces die of Syrian snakebite on next op tour....
  6. Goatman

    Goatman LE Book Reviewer

    Cool.....I don't work in the DPA but I was a contracts officer in the back when long ago. The reason this comment sticks in your mind is because of the rarity value of a military man questioning the operational requirement.

    All the previous comments about the customer changing his mind are bang-on.

    The reason MoD are pants at buying solutions are exactly as outlined:
    - over specifying
    - not knowing what it is WE ( the end user) actually want and changing the reqt halfway through
    - the political imperative that ALWAYS comes into play

    ( " Well Sir, Abrams/MEKO class/IL-76 is clearly the best solution - but if we buy it , you can kiss goodbye to indigenous tank/ship/aircraft production in this country, which means 4,000 job losses - which in turn will translate into several Parliamentary seats changing hands - which will mightily p1ss off the PM - oh, and that means my non-executive directorship with BAeS/VDS/Cadillac Gage and my seat in the House of Lords will also go for a burton..." )

    The Army at large finds it convenient to blame the shiny-arrsed bean counting snivel serpents for everything that goes wrong in the procurement world....hey, those are INTEGRATED project teams people - usually led by serving soldiers in the case of Land systems projects....

    Peter Spencer is a nuclear engineeer by trade.....if he is even beginning to turn the Abbeywood cutlure around with a bit of rigour then good luck to him. ( plus he sponsored me for the London Marathon a few years ago so he can't be ALL bad ! )

    Having had to negotiate a contract involving US procurement regs a few years ago, if you think we're bad check out DoD's record ! Not that this means we shouldn't try to be better but there are no quick fixes.

    Le Chevre
  7. I would add that not only does the 'MoD' not know what it want, but that they are also hopelessly naive when it comes to writing contracts - so many loopholes for unscrupulous contractors to exploit...

    Which leads to a fairly big question:
    By de-nationalising our defence industrial base (think MVEE Chertsey), we were supposed to introduce all the wonderful market forces that would drive contractors to compete amongst eachother to produce the best piece of equipment for their customer...

    ...in reality though, does industry really compete to make the best product, or do they compete to make the cheapest product that fulfills the minimum spec, at mininum cost and risk to their shareholders?

    I might also argue that military officers spending a standard 2-3 year posting in an IPT might just about be getting the hang of things by the time they get their next job at the Byzantian halls of Main Building...
  8. Goatman

    Goatman LE Book Reviewer

    Actually, as you could predict G_B, I don't agree with that analysis.....in my experience ( and I've written from scratch a number of contracts in the last year : have you ?) most MoD contracts if anything are over-reliant on draconian clauses which, although pre-agreed with the defence industry, have rarely been tested in court. DEFCON 76 springs to mind....

    What I have found is that where Industry can pick and choose its buyers from the marketplace and reward them accordingly , the MoD expects to be able to train its own purchasers from scratch, expects them to operate purchasing powers individually that in industry would require Board level approval AND expects to pay them the same as people who are responsible for office procedures manuals.......

    Want better, more professional, more EFFECTIVE buyers? Pay them what they can earn outside or BETTER and you'll attract the brightest and best.

    As the advisers on Sid Meier's Civilization say:

    " I disagree Your Excellency ! " 8)

    Le Chevre - fonctionnaire 2ieme classe
  9. Ok, Ok...

    Perhaps I should have been a little more specific:

    The contracts themselves are not the problem, as you rightly point out the legality of these things are tighter than a Swan's Sphincter.

    What usually is the problem is the meat of the requirement, be it URD, SRD etc. Quite often those writing the requirment are not experts in terms of what the 'thing' should be able to do. Thus we often end up with wooly statements like "the system should reduce as far as practicably possible..."
    Then there's the old chestnut of the contractor only being obliged to carry out what he said he was going to do in the technical submission of his tender....
    "But we want it to do x...!"
    "Tough, we said it would do Y in the tender. You accepted that and gave us the contract!"

    I still maintain that we lose too much knowledge through postings and the career system. Bring back the General Staff corps...and more Chateau Lafaiete!
  10. They always seem to award the contracts to proven bad investments! Just because EDS or someone employ loads of ex-squaddies, we go along with the corruption every time!

    Guest what I'm doing when I leave? Hopefully not stacking shelves!
  11. Just check out this beauty..


    It's a KVM-type device for the Cormorant management system - a dumb keyboard, mouse and screen. That sounds all well and good but the keyboard has all its keys shifted so they're all in line vertically as well as horizontally. It's in a metal-line hard case (just like all Cormorant equipment enclosures) to protect from Tempest threat etc but....get this...you can only use it by dropping the front cover of the management system enclosure cos they forgot to fit a connection on the enclosure front panel. So, in effect, the many thousands of pounds this costs were absolutely pointless because it negates the tempest threat it is supposed to counter! They could have achieved the same aim by giving the guys a 17" TFT monitor and a rack-mounted Keyboard and Mouse. Too late for a GEMS award I suppose?
  12. This is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. I'm afraid I don't know what Cormorant is and what sort of information it holds and processes. If it isn't sufficiently high-level security-wise then does it need to be Tempest protected anyway! Tempest protection is another one of these all-encompassing requirements that is probably over-hyped. To gather information from a non-protected system you have to have some quite specialised (and not exactly small) kit if quite close proximity. For most systems they are either so far away from the enemy or aren't carrying useful information that might be of use.
  13. Goatman

    Goatman LE Book Reviewer

    100% concur....I bet it's also EMP hardened as well - great stuff - but against which threat exactly ?

    So the contracts guys went out and bought what was asked for in the Spec - which was written by.......the Army .

    There are , as you have rightly said, two sides to this and the IT wienies make millions out of us because the MoD tries to keep up with the cutting edge and then asks for additional functionality 'cos:

    " wow...that's really impressive...can you also make it [display results across an encrypted link] [ sit up and dance] [ make tea and iron my kit] "

    The other one that really p1sses-off those who have to negotiate a contract is when somebody comes up and says:

    " I've done a literature search , looked on the web and made a few enquiries and THE ONLY company that can supply what we need is [ Colt Industries/BAes/ owned by my cousin, funny thing] oh, and by the way they're starting work on the Z-berth tomorrow morning based on this budgetary quotation I asked them for three months ago so just crack on and send them an order there's a good chap..."

    A quiet plea: If you have commercial staff on your team INVOLVE them EARLY ( even though YOU may think it's all too technical for them to comprehend) and take their advice, even if it means your PTC envelope has to be re-drawn.

    That's enough b0llocks for one day, where's my Warsteiner - Skal, Happy Friday all :wink:

    Daz Ziegemann
  14. Good to see Titan and Trojan highlighted as good examples. The Corps put 4 x NCO/SNCOs (Armd Engr types) into Vickers from the very start of the project and it's these guys who have been doing the trials, test fits and assisting with the prctical ergonomics. This is the way to do procurement and prevents 'clever ideas' being intoduced by coneheads at the company and a more practical spin on most issues.

    Tempest is driven by the Int Corps Nazis who are the doom sayers of all things IT. Take a perfectly useful computer and give it to the Sy bods and they will give you back a perfectly crap type writer with little or no utility and all the normal aspects of usefulness disabled (such as those useless things disk drives and USB ports), Cnuts.
  15. Tempest requirements are driven by morons in the DPA who don't understand the subject and quote quantities of inappropriate specs instead of defining a top level requirement - in my experience at least.

    For instance, what are all the bits and bobs from Cormorant put in. A big metal box. Shut the door and Hey Presto no Tempest threat. But instead of a sane approach the contractor gets jiffed to provide all items to specs designed for use in situations (eg embassies) where you can't guarantee that the bug isn't in the wall/floor/door. But as it says Tempest on the cover and you never get ahead in the DPA by reducing the number of requirements it gets stuck in as a requirement. Complete waste of money.

    I watched this for submarines for God's sake - a sealed metal tube !