NATO, Innovation, and Industry Partnerships: Interview with Canada's Ambassador to NATO

By Jill O’Donnell, Industry Relations 3/8/2017
As Canada prepares to host NITEC17, Ambassador Kerry Buck discussed the role of Industry in supporting NATO's innovation agenda, and Canada's national innovation strategy. Read on for why procurement processes should consider multinational solutions

​Fast-moving security challenges and rapid technology design in the private sector call for NCI Agency and Industry partners to work together in new ways in order to keep the Alliance's critical communications and information systems resilient. From 24 to 26 April in Ottawa, Canada, the Agency will explore new models for NATO-Industry collaboration and how they can be put into practice through its annual flagship conference, NITEC17, with the theme of "Sharpening NATO's Technological Edge: Adaptive Partnerships and the Innovative Power of Alliance Industry." As Canada prepares to host NITEC17, Ambassador Kerry Buck, Permanent Representative of Canada to NATO, discussed the importance of innovation for NATO, the role of Industry in supporting NATO's innovation agenda, and Canada's national innovation strategy. Read on for Ambassador Buck's thoughts on why procurement processes should consider multinational solutions, what NATO could learn from Canada's Defence Acquisition Guide, and more.

The 2016 Warsaw Summit Communique reinforced the imperative of supporting innovation through greater collaboration with Industry, emphasizing that to keep its technological edge, NATO should identify relevant emerging technologies in the commercial sector and implement them through innovative solutions. How will these efforts impact NATO's overarching mission?

 The relationship with our defence Industry, throughout the Alliance, is vital in order to keep our technological edge.  The NATO Communications and Information Agency plays an important role in that area by supporting innovation, evaluating products and implementing innovative solutions.  In Warsaw, leaders also talked about greater defence industrial and technological cooperation across the Alliance, building relationships and partnerships toward a common goal.

Our efforts to be more innovative have had, and continue to have, an overall positive impact on NATO.  Embracing innovation through increased collaboration with our Industries, in order to acquire and adopt emerging technologies, strengthens our capabilities.  NATO standing forces draw upon the military expertise and capabilities of our member nations.  Implementing emerging technologies helps ensure they are kept well equipped, well-resourced and well trained in order to meet their objectives, whether engaged in crisis management, cooperative security or deterrence. 

In my view, NATO is doing a good job of collaborating with Industry and we are always working to improve that relationship. Take for example the NATO Industrial Advisory Group, that has Industry experts from each of our Nations and Partner Nations that advise the Conference of National Armaments Directors.  This is an important function for Industry inside NATO.  There is the annual NATO Industry Forum, hosted by the Commander Supreme Allied Command Transformation and the Assistant Secretary General Defence Investment, where we can engage in high-level exchange with Industry leaders.  Our procurement agencies hold annual Industry conferences that present upcoming business opportunities and I understand NITEC17 will once again include an innovation challenge.  In addition, Industry has been invited to participate in NATO's Exercise Trident Juncture and Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exercise.

Partnerships with Research and Development (R&D) facilities is also important.  In Canada, for example, the National Research Council (NRC) and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) are carrying out leading edge work involving Industry and academia, in collaboration with the Canadian Armed Forces to bring innovative technology to our military personnel.  I should add that DRDC is also well connected with NATO's Science and Technology Organization. This industrial and technological cooperation across the Alliance allows us to benefit collectively.

Implementing innovative solutions responds to the challenge of operationalizing new technologies.  This involves R&D and Industry, as well as acquiring these technologies through our procurement processes.  Best value procurement has been a positive step forward in that regard, putting greater emphasis on the technical aspect rather than price alone.  However, we need to be faster at implementing new capabilities and that is an area of focus not only at NATO but in our Nations as well.  Innovative acquisition is our challenge and I am confident we will see progress in this area. 

 

In previous interviews, you have indicated that diplomacy itself is in need of innovation, as the highly "networked" world we now live in calls for new forms of engagement beyond traditional state-to-state relationships. How might efforts to improve NATO-Industry collaboration be part of an expanded approach to modern diplomacy?

In 2013, the North Atlantic Council approved the Framework for NATO-Industry Engagement, an important document that speaks to the principles of NATO-Industry relations and the many avenues for those relations.  Universal principles such as trust and transparency, fairness and inclusiveness, mutual benefit and cooperation, are fundamental to building strong relationships.  

The Framework also highlights two initiatives, Smart Defence and Connected Forces Initiative, which aim to generate opportunities for multinational cooperation where Industry can play a major role.  It is this multinational cooperation and the universal principles mentioned above that bring our discussion in line with modern diplomacy.  

Improving NATO-Industry collaboration, by being more transparent and inclusive, would enable Industry to bring forward better informed solutions. This could in turn lead to NATO's needs and priorities being better served.  After all, innovation occurs in the commercial sector and harnessing the benefits of innovation can help achieve our common objectives and strengthen our relationships, not just on a bilateral but also a multilateral level. 

Today, our NATO procurement process does not place value on bids from Industry that propose a multinational solution and perhaps it should. Encouraging multilateral Industry collaboration could support multilateral relationships and cooperation.  Another potential area for consideration is the many Nations in NATO that are less active in NATO procurement or the defence Industry in general.  Perhaps, we should look at how we acquire capability to strengthen the defence industrial base throughout NATO and the Alliance's overall capacity. 

Canada is pursuing an ambitious national innovation agenda. How does that strategy impact defence organizations in Canada and their relationships with Industry? Are there lessons for NATO?

The Government of Canada has a vision to build Canada as a centre for global innovation.  The Innovation Agenda, led by our Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, touches all federal government departments, including Defence.  It consists of six key themes: entrepreneurial and creative society; global science excellence; world-leading clusters and partnerships; growing companies and accelerating clean growth; competing in a digital world; and ease of doing business.

Regarding Canada's approach to innovation, we have developed key national strategies that move us forward in the areas of science, technology and innovation, and other areas.  We have put in place an economic action plan and have built science and technology partnerships with established and emerging innovation networks around the world.  Partnerships are an essential catalyst for innovation because these collaborations accelerate the pace of discovery and adoption of new products.

Canada puts considerable emphasis on supporting Industry and academic partnerships, has undertaken government-based R&D work, and is investing to support and encourage private sector investment in innovation. The Government of Canada continues to invest significant resources into ensuring that Canada retains its place as a global leader in science, technology, and innovation.

Defence procurement creates conditions that encourage Canadian companies to innovate in order to improve upon existing products and technologies, as well as develop new ones, to serve domestic and international markets.  It is important to nurture the relationship between defence and Industry so that the customer and provider are on the same page and capability demands are met.  Ultimately our defence organizations benefit from these relationships with Industry and partnerships with innovation networks.

It is important to keep our defence Industry well informed about what we are doing and our capability needs. Take for example Canada's Defence Acquisition Guide, which is updated annually and available on the Internet.  All of Canada's Defence programmes and projects are described in terms of requirements, budget estimate, timeline and point of contact for additional information.  Canadian Industry called for that information and the government responded.  Perhaps NATO could do the same with the capability packages.  We want Industry to be engaged early, to allow it to deliver the best it has to offer and the innovative solutions we need.   

Canada is the host nation for the NCI Agency annual conference, NITEC17, from 24 to 26 April in Ottawa. The conference theme is focused on innovation. Can you give us a preview of the themes conference goers might expect to hear from Canadian Defence officials?

Canada is pleased to host NITEC17 in our nation's capital, the city of Ottawa, from 24 to 26 April.  Similar to previous conferences, NITEC17 will present substantial NATO business opportunities to high tech companies attending and will offer participants an excellent networking opportunity. This is a great event for Industry.

I should also add that 2017 is a special year for Canada; it is our Nation's 150th anniversary.  The city of Ottawa is ready to host the world, so come and join us for NITEC17 and experience not only a fantastic conference but also a fantastic 150th birthday celebration. 

Themes that conference goers might expect to hear about from Canadian Defence officials include: the transatlantic bond between Europe and North America, which remains at the core of the Alliance; the security and defence advantage gained through innovation; the vital relationship with Industry in advancing innovation; and finally, the importance of partnerships between government, Industry, academia and international partners.

With Industry from throughout NATO converging on Canada to attend NITEC17, let me say a few words about Canada's defence and ICT sectors that will be represented there and about doing business in Canada. 

 You may be interested to know that Canada's defence sector represents about 700 firms doing approximately 10 billion CAD (7.5 billion USD or 7 billion EUR) per year in sales with activities spanning the full range of defence.  Our ICT sector generated revenues of 172 billion CAD (129 billion USD or 121 billion EUR) in 2015 from 37,400 companies.  As I have already mentioned, Canada has an assertive innovation agenda.  Our high tech sector is highly innovative and we are open for business with Industry from likeminded NATO nations.  Canada offers a competitive environment for investment, innovation, production and trade. We have a competitive tax regime; an open trading economy; integrated infrastructure and proximity to the US market; strong technical education; a skilled workforce; good R&D support infrastructure; and supportive government policies.

Visiting companies are welcome and encouraged to connect and partner with Canadian companies in pursuit of not only NATO business opportunities, but also North American defence and ICT business opportunities.  Come to NITEC17 and let's talk.

NCI Agency would like to thank Ambassador Buck and the staff of the delegation of Canada to NATO for their support of this interview. To register and view the full agenda for NITEC17, visit www.nitec.nato.int

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