The man with perhaps the greatest influence when it comes to Defence expenditure gave his annual assessment on reform progress and developments at Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group at Wednesday's ADM Congress 2018.
CASG Deputy Secretary Kim Gillis is clearly a busy man as he tries to keep in step with the quick march tempo of decisions demanded by the Government's Integrated Investment Program – he was scheduled to appear on a panel discussion innovation later in the day but unfortunately his advice was apparently required by Minister Pyne at short notice. For much the same reason, he lamented he had not spent more time with SMEs over the year but the continuing major reform presaged by the First Principles Review is also very demanding of his attention.
“Yes, reform is happening and it is starting to make a tangible difference on the ground.”
He admitted however that progress, while effective, had been slower than expected – “this stuff is hard but must be done”.
Capacity management is proving to be one of the greatest challenges facing the organisation, as it, along with defence industry as a whole, struggles to recruit, train and re-skill staff.
“The growth in numbers and complexity of new projects coming down the pipeline demands that we plan better, train faster, and retain the best and brightest in this country.”
“It means we have to define the right numbers, skills and mix between public servants, military and contractors for every project in the next 10 years, down to the day when the project will need to start to the time to the date when we actually role those people off onto the next project.”
Gillis thanked “a number of companies” for their One Defence approach in providing considerable levels of support, documentations and advice to enable the Centres of Excellence being established within CASG to learn from industry best practice. A matrix of CoEs is being established to mirror the way defence industry structures itself, covering the areas of commercial, corporate performance, decision support, engineering and technical, material logistics and program management.
He singled out First Assistant Secretary Procurement and Contracting Victoria Bergmann for praise: “[She] is making improvements and reforms at a pace unseen over many decades of Defence acquisitional reforms”. Bergmann leads a range of procurement discussions across the whole of the Commonwealth to ensure that the proposed changes to the Commonwealth procurement rules and finance regulations allow Defence and the Commonwealth agencies to deliver better outcomes for the government of the day, while decreasing the burden on industry and the SMEs. However Gillis said he was keen to make more progress with regard to reducing red tape for SMEs.
“Some of this burden is due to the pass-down to SMEs of documentation that should be the responsibility and the accountability of the primes – I've asked [them] to assist me in this process – this is a shared accountability and we need to do better.”
Notably, Gillis made a point of saying how pleased he was to see an increasing trend of women being appointed to senior roles, adding it was producing better organisational outcomes and fostering different and diverse thinking.
“Some of my strongest performers and agents for change have been newly promoted CASG senior females – they make me a better, stronger leader ... and they push the Group into places that it should always have been; places that have historically been bound by some of our gender or historical biases.”
ADM Comment: It was encouraging to hear that despite Gillis’ planned departure at the end of the year, succession planning is underway and efforts are being made to ensure a smooth transition. Gillis has brought a greater understanding of Defence
and Defence Industry to his role that has put him good stead to lead the reform efforts of the Group. One can only hope that his successor, regardless of who they are, follows his lead in championing the benefits of flexibility, diversity and agility.