The Commercialization of Technology is not a trivial undertaking, as it requires persistence to understand the requirements of potential customers through the elucidation of a detailed operational requirement document (ORD) and CONOPS (Concept of Operations). When one thinks about it, commercialization is the recognition or creation of a market or markets and the design and production of solutions to those requirements (which define problems or gaps). See Figure 1 below:
Figure 1. This requirements hierarchy shows the evolution of requirements from a high-level macro set of operational requirements to a low-level micro set of technical requirements. Note that each lower level requirement stems directly from its higher requirement so that all requirements are traceable to the overall DHS Mission.
This shows how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could view a requirement for the Transportation Security Agency – one of its Operating Components. It is illustrative of how a company or group can understand a problem. Very often, people confuse specifications with requirements – but requirements define problems and specifications define solutions. See https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/Developing_Operational_Requirements_Guides.pdf for a thorough and handy free reference to develop detailed operational requirements.
It is useful to demonstrate the commercialization process through a real-world example: Recently, I came upon a company in my travels that exemplified how understanding detailed requirements and using the commercialization process has enabled them to attract attention in new market segments. It’s also a story of what makes American business great.
There is a longstanding motto of the United State Marine Corps and a mentality that permeates all those who have had the honor of wearing the “Eagle, Globe and Anchor.” For one Marine, Blake Waldrop, who served in the Corps from 2001-05, he needed to understand the unsolved problems related to protecting our troops. Waldrop’s friend and fellow Marine, Lance Corporal Brian Parrello, was killed in action in Iraq in January 2005. Waldrop honored Parrello by studying what current unsatisfied needs (or problems) existed with body armor.
From the inception of the very first armor plate that Waldrop built in fall 2013 until now, his firm, RMA, was dedicated to understanding the needs of the law enforcement, first responder and military markets – and developing solutions that protect those who serve, bar none.
Since moving into its own production facility in Centerville, Iowa, in April 2016, RMA has produced more than 70,000 hard armor plates and supplied armor to over 400 police departments and government agencies. Through painstaking uncovering of requirements, RMA has reshaped its industry by selling direct to the consumer, which is an uncommon business philosophy in the armor industry, but it was clear that it was an unsatisfied need. As a manufacturer, RMA sells at prices more affordable than its competition, which is of the utmost importance, when you consider that grants and other funding for the protection of law enforcement and first responders are not readily available. Far too many officers protect themselves by paying for their armor out-of-pocket, which is where RMA’s direct-to-consumer pricing is so important.
None of this would be possible, of course, without providing solutions to the problems they uncovered by offering specifications (solutions). Not only do they have one of the lightest armor plates on the market, but they also boast the world’s strongest hard armor plate as well. In testing at a government-certified ballistic laboratory, one of RMA’s Level IV patented armor models defeated six 7.62×63 M2 armor-piercing rounds. How did Waldrop’s team set the armor standard in strength? The reason is simple and straightforward: They developed and tested a patented ceramic tile array to greatly reduce crack propagation. Conventional Level IV plates use a monolithic piece of ceramic which, when hit by an M2AP round, produces ‘spider web’ cracks across the plate, greatly reducing the plate’s ability to defeat multiple rounds. Their patented tile array essentially enables the ceramic to crack preferentially upon impact, mitigating the damage and integrity to the rest of the plate and ensuring full protection to armor-piercing rounds on other parts of the ceramic.
By adhering to the discipline of rigorously learning what the problems or requirements are of markets they are targeting, they were able to expand their solution set. RMA has grown to boast five plate models to the National Institute of Justice’s certified product list.
In the same methodical way, Waldrop has spent considerable time understanding the needs of the Department of Defense – a demanding customer. Through a deep understanding of emerging armor trends and the need to reduce the overall load for our military, it was recognized that new body armor not only had to provide important operational effectiveness for troops, but also would provide the longevity of the health of an active military end user. This was discovered through the requirements process elucidated in the previously mentioned guide. (See: https://www.marcorsyscom.marines.mil/News/News-Article-Display/Article/1603311/marine-corps-searches-for-new-hard-armor-plate-to-lighten-the-load/) The requirements process did not end here.
It was discovered that body armor protection for enlisted females was critical and growing. According to a Council on Foreign Relations article in 2018, women comprise 16 percent of the four main branches of the U.S. military and had unique requirements. Body armor is now designed and being produced specifically for women to accommodate their differing shapes compared to men, which will make the armor more comfortable for the wearer and, in turn, prove to be more effective operationally.
In conclusion, it is well known that taking the time to understand and develop real-world requirements pays off dividends – and, in also a real way, honors our military personnel like Lance Corporal Parrello, whom we will never forget.
I would like to thank all of my colleagues at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and White House for their encouragement and assistance in preparing many programs and books dedicated to helping others articulate effective requirements. In addition, I would like to thank Mr. Blake Waldrop and his team for letting me share their story as an illustration of developing solutions to meet detailed requirements.