DPRTE 2018 review: The defence supply chain comes together in Cardiff

Defence Procurement, Research, Technology & Exportability (DPRTE) 2018 was billed as the defence procurement event of the year and the huge numbers that made their way to the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff were certainly not disappointed.

With more than 1500 key decision makers from the defence procurement world in attendance, DPRTE 2018 provided a unique opportunity to showcase goods and services, as well as the chance to engage directly with both the key personnel and organisations responsible for setting strategy and operationally delivering an annual budget of over £19 billion.

Representatives from the Ministry of Defence and other public sector bodies, prime contractors, the supply chain and academia were all represented at the one-day conference and exhibition.

The need for innovation, agility and collaboration were key themes to emerge from DPRTE 2018, with constantly evolving threats across a seemingly ever-changing geo-political landscape placing demands on the defence supply industry to work more closely to keep pace and achieve more on smaller budgets.

Les Mosco, Commercial Strategies Ltd CEO and former Ministry of Defence Commercial Director, who chaired the Live Keynote Arena, gave his view on what was needed from the defence industry.

Mr Mosco said: “Change – the need for innovative and agile suppliers to help the UK defend itself against new and unconventional threats. Plus the constant need for better value for money, and sharper priorities, to squeeze more outcomes from budgets which do not keep up with either defence inflation or the widening threats to our citizens.” 

As expected, the Live Keynote Conference Arena was packed with delegates as it brought together some of the leading and most influential speakers from across the defence procurement and supply chain marketplace. The insights offered by the high-level speakers were invaluable for any business looking to succeed in the defence marketplace.

MOD’s Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Forzani told the packed audience that UK defence industry was facing challenging times with budget pressures and the need to do more with less but the answer to these issues was to work more closely with industry, pledging to increase SME involvement in the supply chain.

Chief Economist and Director of Policy at ADS Jeegar Kakkad gave his analysis of the potential impact of Brexit, welcoming the period of transition once the UK exits the European Union.

He also encouraged the use of free procurement engagement, telling the gathered audience: “We believe early engagement with the MOD to structure procurement opportunities and strategic approaches to procurement would allow the MOD to work with SMEs so they aren’t at the tail end of the procurement process but are actually involved quite early on.”

The Chief Executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), Gary Aitkenhead, outlined the role of the organisation and urged collaboration in order to drive better science and technology in defence.

DPRTE 2018

He said: “Increasingly the best technology and the best ideas are outside of government. What we need to get much better at is leveraging the wider community; widening international partners; leveraging industry; small players and large players and making sure we get the really best science and technology into the capability for defence that we need going forward.”

Jacqueline Rock, Commercial Director for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), set out her ambitions to transform DIO.

She told the arena: “A better estate; a better service; and a better business. It’s that simple. Commercially, within DIO we are going to deliver against those three betters.”

There was also a fascinating insight from Williams Advanced Engineering as they spoke of the crossover in innovation between the racetrack and the defence industry.

It was against this backdrop that the Product Showcase Exhibition provided a platform for around 120 organisations from the public and private sectors to promote their products and services directly to key decision makers in the defence market.

One such company was SFL Mobile Radio Limited, which was exhibiting at DPRTE 2018 for the first time.

Director Gavin Beach said: “We realise a lot of our customers come to DPRTE and getting our brand out there is very important to us. We are a small manufacturing business doing custom-build products and this event also allows us to see what support is out there for us. We have had a lot of help from the likes of ADS, CCS, and UKTI in investment in research and development into our new products.”

Other companies such as Getac UK could be found showcasing their latest rugged mobile devices, including the revamped X500 notebook and server products that launched earlier this year.

The exhibition contained a wide spectrum of products and services ranging from Popaloo’s portable toilet system to Orbis’ eye-catching eight-metre tall camo CCTV tower.

Orbis’ Louis Fordham was delighted with the amount of attention the company had attracted on the exhibition floor.

He said: “Our stand hasn’t been quiet at all today. A lot of people have been taking information away – in fact, we have had people coming back repeatedly seeking more information, which has been great for us.”

The event contained five knowledge transfer zones – each offering a range of educational sessions, allowing attendees to learn and share ideas.

Given the buzz around the importance of innovation on the defence industry, one of the biggest draws at DPRTE 2018 was the Technology and Innovation zone featuring sessions from Cranfield University; Dstl; the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA); Getac; BAE Systems; and British International Helicopters.

Richard Fisher, Research Fellow in Global Defence Acquisition at Cranfield University, kicked things off with a session entitled ‘Understanding the UK Defence Ecosystem’.

He said: “One of the main challenges facing the UK defence industry and the export and international partners that we work with is constrained budgets. Funding constraints are going to affect the whole of the industry so we have to work smarter; better communications; better networking and better relationships.”

Dr Lucy Mason, Head of DASA, delivered a presentation highlighting how businesses can engage with DASA through the Open Call and previewed upcoming competitions, which seek to reach out to non-traditional suppliers who may not realise they have a concept that might be of interest to the defence and security sector or wouldn’t know how to access these industries.

Dr Mason said: “We are quite a new and young organisation. We’ve done lots of really good things already. We’ve invested £19.2 million in more than 155 proposals from SMEs and academics across a whole range of defence and security areas and we are starting to have real impact in what we do.”

Collaboration and exploiting cross-sector opportunities were reoccurring themes throughout the sessions. A prime example of this was British International Helicopter Services’ Alistair Riches’ presentation highlighting the transferability of capability between the military and civil sectors.

The Supply Chain & Partnering Knowledge Transfer Zone was – unsurprisingly – a big draw for attendees as they heard how they could engage and actively pursue new business development opportunities across the wider supply chain.

Phil Blunden, Cyber Industry Engagement Lead, Ministry of Defence, was on hand to outline the mandatory cyber security requirements for suppliers tendering for MOD contracts as part of efforts to familiarise SMEs with the process prior to submission.

Tom O’Byrne, Procurement Campaign Lead at QinetiQ, delivered a session on The Art of Collaboration outlining the Prime Contractor’s commitment to engaging and collaborating with SMEs to provide innovative and flexible technical solutions.

The Buyer Excellence in Procurement Knowledge Transfer Zone saw the Procurement Advice and Support Service (PASS) put on a series of 30-minute interactive sessions designed to help develop knowledge and skills and help attendees think differently when applying the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.

The afternoon saw a first for the event, with the Doing Business with the US Department of Defense zone taking over the Keynote Arena to provide a ‘not to be missed’ opportunity to unlock opportunities available within the world’s largest defence procurement marketplace.

The US Department of Defense also made an appearance at the Export and Business Growth Knowledge Transfer Zone, taking part in a panel discussion with representatives from UK Ministry of Defence, Blank Rome LLP, Stucan Solutions, JGW Group, and the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

The Export and Business Growth Knowledge Transfer Zone proved extremely popular on the day with UK SMEs looking to take advantage of expert export advice and practical assistance from the Department for International Trade Defence & Security Organisation (DIT DSO).

DPRTE’s six Networking and Collaboration Zones offered attendees the opportunity to meet and discuss buyer and supplier opportunities.

The Defence Market Engagement Zone offered guidance on such things as Cyber Essentials certification and the Defence Contracts International online service.

The Defence Procurement Pavilion consistently saw a high volume of visitors throughout the day, with attendees keen to speak directly with the likes of DE&S, DIO and Front Line Commands.

The Innovation Zone was also a big draw, as key organisations such as Dstl, the UK Defence Solution Centre, techUK, Innovate UK, Cranfield University and DASA offered advice on potential funding options and bringing products / services to the market.

It was the same story at the Prime Contractor Engagement Village with attendees taking advantage of the chance to meet directly with the likes of BAE Systems, Airbus, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ, General Dynamics, MBDA, Raytheon, GE Aviation, Commerce Decisions, DXC Technology, Atkins, Cammell Laird, and Leidos.

Plans are already under way for DPRTE 2019, which will take place on 28 March next year. If DPRTE 2018 was anything to go by, then next year’s event is set to be another not-to-be-missed date on the defence procurement calendar.


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