A LITE ON NITEWORKS
By Yvonne Headington
During the past decade Niteworks has become an established model for co-operation between industry and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Confirmation of the MoD’s commitment to Niteworks was received on 30th July 2013 with the award of a £17 million three-year MoD contract, which includes a possible further two-year option. Following announcement of the contract, BATTLESPACE visited Niteworks’ headquarters in Farnborough and spoke to Managing Director Simon Jewell about the organisation’s progress since 2003.
Simon Jewell is ideally placed to provide both a military and commercial perspective on Niteworks’ undertakings. After serving with the British Army and with the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, he held a number of senior appointments within BAE Systems; most recently Managing Director, Strategic Capability Solutions. He has also enjoyed a long association with Niteworks, having held the appointment of Managing Director in 2007- 08 and again since January 2012.
Simon Jewell described how Niteworks was established in order to address specific needs. The objective was to find “a mechanism through which you could get the early engagement of industry to help deliver improvements….The MoD wanted to engage with industry but it either had to select somebody through competition….or attempt to have a dialogue with everyone, which clearly is impossible.” The basic challenge was to find a form of “agile engagement”.
An Experimental Experiment
As set out in the 2005 Defence Industrial Strategy, Niteworks “was established to provide an integration and experimental environment to assess the benefits of Network Enabled Capability (NEC) and the options for its effective and timely delivery”. However, Niteworks’ remit was not strictly limited to NEC since work focused on both the network and information flows.
For instance, a typical early Niteworks task would have been to consider information exchange requirements between UK and allied Forces working within an operational environment – and thus the changes that would need to be made to communications equipment in order to facilitate information flows. Clearly a number of companies could be in a position to offer potential solutions. “Niteworks not only allowed the engagement with industry” said Simon Jewell “but also allowed the effective engagement pan-industry and that feature of Niteworks has remained all the way through to today.”
During its early years Niteworks faced considerable uncertainty. As the MoD’s finances tumbled into a budgetary black hole towards the end of the last decade, the organisation’s work may not have continued beyond the original £47 million Assessment Phase contract. Niteworks had to prove its worth against competing Defence priorities and offer ‘value for money’.
With the renewal of Niteworks’ contract in 2008 for another five years, the MoD directed the organisation to expand its decision support focus (reducing the emphasis on NEC) and adopt a more competitive business model (attracting funds from across the MoD rather than reliance on a single MoD funding line.)
Supporting the MoD
Simon Jewell describes Niteworks as providing evidence-based decision support to the MoD by engaging with “an agile commercial model capable of providing rapid recommendations and solutions”. Project management is a key function but much of the organisation’s work is technical. “It is a systems thinking, systems engineering environment which allows multiple companies to all come together with the MoD to work through complex issues”.
The MoD sets out the organisation’s priorities which are: to support frontline operations, capability improvements & enhancements and acquisition decisions. Considerable weight is given to achieving ‘value for money’. That said, Simon Jewell emphasised that there is a “hugely strong customer ethos within Niteworks” and while there has to be an awareness of costs