‘Try before you buy’: Defence stands up tech incubator

The Defence department has established an incubator function within its digital division to trial technology amid a wider procurement shakeup aimed at making it easier for SMEs to bid for work.

Defence chief information officer Chris Crozier disclosed the existence of the Defence Digital Group incubator at a hearing of the Senate inquiry probing sovereign capability in the technology sector on Monday.

Mr Crozier said the incubator is just one of the ways Defence is looking to increase SME participation since the group replaced the Chief Information Officer Group in November last year.

“Part of the transformation that we’re going through at the moment, I’ve moved from a heavily decentralised ICT procurement [function] to centralised one,” he said while responding to questions from independent senator David Pocock.

“Again, moving out contractors and consultant… [and] making it very clear to my first assistant secretary and her team that we need to be absolutely opened for business with a focus on sovereign capability.”

Mr Crozier, who joined Defence from Orica just ahead of the restructure August, said the incubator function – which is the responsibility of Defence’s chief technology officer – allows the department to “trial technology before we buy it”.

“The incubator function does not buy the technology. We loan it – for want of a better term – from these companies, and we don’t use it in our productive instances, we put it in a sandbox environment,” he said.

Mr Crozier added that while the incubator does not assist SMEs directly to get relevant security clearances, officers can provide sponsorship through that process, which is led by Defence’s Security and Estate Group and security vetting agency AGSVA.

“In some instances, they do require a sponsor, and I or one of my staff will sponsor them. We’ve done that in the past and will continue to do that,” he said answer a question from Liberal senator Richard Colbeck.

As part of the centralisation of procurement, Defence Digital Group is also looking at its “tender size” to make it easier for SMEs to bid directly, removing the need to partner with a prime.

“We’re reassessing the way in which we engage the market. We’re reassessing the way we package the work, so that we can open the door and drive these opportunities for SMEs moving forward,” he said.

Mr Crozier also said he has a personal interest in sovereign capability, and has made it clear to Australian IT vendors that support Defence during his conversations in recent months that “we are open for business”.

“I have seen the geopolitical movement and I’m here to provide service to this country. Sovereign capability is something I’m extremely passionate about… because if things turn bad, it’s those organisations and individuals that are going to help us out of a pickle.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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