It was apparent to me when I joined the United States Government (USG) as its first Chief Commercialization Officer that significant time and money were being wasted, at the taxpayers’ expense, on developing technologies, products and services that, in many cases, were already available or available through minor “tweaks” of a current capability, found in the private sector. I used to joke with both presidents for whom I worked that I didn’t want a government salary, but rather a small percentage of the billions of dollars per month we could save taxpayers. I went back to Wall Street to turn around companies before we could implement the processes necessary to accomplish the above – but truly believe it’s more needed today with our escalating national debt.
Technology foraging (TF) is the process of identifying technologies, products and systems applicable to well-formulated capability gaps. Technology foraging endeavors to identify, screen, and link various technologies to specific user requirements at the United States government (USG). Technology foraging is a continuum, starting with the collection of a business card up through a fully integrated due-diligence review of technology vendor(s), market(s), and requirements. Rarely does one identify a technology that is fully ready for deployment, yet remains unknown to the user community. More often, we identify promising technologies earlier in the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) continuum and/or technologies that are in development for often different applications. Our knowledge grows in quality and relevance as we learn more. Expanding our knowledge base requires active data gathering efforts, critical assessment, and technical judgment.
USG agencies shoulder the responsibility for supporting United States leadership in science and technology – specifically, to partner, engage, and guide the public and private-sector investments in homeland security technologies in order to deliver the most appropriate technology solutions to USG stakeholders. In the case of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there are three main market sectors for homeland security products/services: DHS components and other agencies with homeland security missions; the first responders at the state, local, tribal and territorial levels; and the 18 critical infrastructure and key resources sectors. Because the Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE) has diverse and multiple needs, no single enterprise research and development partner can adequately represent the full scope of participants, requirements, all hazard threats, environmental, political, inter-governmental, and policy requirements to facilitate the fielding of advanced capabilities. While DHS’s S&T has a portfolio of projects, the investments by other agencies and, especially the private sector, dwarf the DHS S&T investment. Thus, identification of innovative solutions from any source is not only mandated, but fiscally responsible. This document describes technology foraging functions, tactics and success metrics.
Technology Foraging Strategy
Technology foraging is the collection of data on technologies/systems applicable to homeland security requirements. Technology foraging is designed to identify, screen, and link potential technology solutions to user requirements.
Successful technology foraging:
- Identifies new technologies that may be applicable to USG user requirements
- Identifies emerging science that may be useful in technology development.
- Improves relationships among the R&D and operational communities.
- Matures the understanding of the promise of a technology.
- Is viewed as valuable input by USG subject matter experts & senior leadership.
This document provides perspectives, guidance, and advice on executing a technology foraging function. It is designed for the technology foragers actually meeting with our USG, R&D, and technology partners.
As previously noted, technology foraging is the collection of data on technologies/systems applicable to homeland security operational challenges and requirements. Technology foraging is successful when we are able to identify, screen, and link potential technology solutions to user requirements. Technology foraging is a continuum that never really ends, starting with initial scans and searches through a fully integrated due-diligence review of technology vendor(s), market, and requirements.
Because the USG possesses diverse and complex needs, no single R&D entity/partner can adequately represent the full scope of participants, requirements, all hazard threats, environmental, political, inter-governmental, and policy requirements to facilitate the fielding of advanced capabilities. Where there are real or perceived capability gaps that can be solved by technology, the greater homeland security capability development world will strive to fill that gap. Therefore, it will be imperative for USG to establish a robust capability that will leverage cooperative information sharing gathered from our extensive networks throughout the homeland security enterprise. A critical part of this information sharing will be to develop, whenever possible, detailed operational requirements documents from homeland security stakeholders to ensure clear understanding among all parties and uncover underlying capability needs.
Traditionally, science and engineering have relied on searches of the published scientific and patent literature to assess the state of the art. In a fast-moving and multi-dimensional field like homeland security, the real news about upcoming technologies can be found not only in the published literature but in project funding abstracts, gray literature, and websites. Often, the real news on innovations is held within a laboratory and accessible only by visits or personal relationships.
The challenges of using technology foraging to improve the delivery of useful technologies fall in two main functions:
- Informing USG
- A system for gathering technology intelligence
- A system for using this technology intelligence to inform USG agency programmatic decisions, homeland security community planning, and technologists’ direction.
- Informing the USG operational user communities
- Filtering the information so that only viable technological solutions are relayed.
- Developing communications linkages to various communities so they know us, trust us, and value USG partnering.
From a statistical perspective, the USG spends approximately $145 billion on R&D across several agencies and organizations, venture capitalists and others in the investment community spend between $5 billion – $7 billion per quarter on technology startups, and the top 1000 global firms spend roughly $500 billion annually on R&D. Thus, there are huge opportunities to leverage the investments of “other people’s money.” There are simple ways and processes to guide and lead our virtual partners to shape their products to the USG requirements. The potential impact of this engagement is substantial.
Successful technology foraging can yield “win-win-win” results:
- Win for the taxpayers through reduced costs of federal R&D.
- Win for America’s private sector because they link technologies to real needs, build business and solve problems.
- Win for America’s because the smartest, safest, cheapest, fastest, and best solutions are deployed.
Technology Foraging: A growth process
Technology foraging is a process. We cannot simply call a single site visit or other weekly updated “technology foraging” services and declare victory. There are many considerations that must be evaluated when beginning a technology foraging scan, and the relative inputs and expected outcomes will vary based on the breadth and depth of information necessary to make an informed decision.
Technology foraging is two-dimensional: it involves identification of an interesting technology AND the alignment of that technology to user requirements.
Open and free communication of the foraging product is central to success. If a tree falls in a forest…
Technology foraging has levels of maturation (See Appendix A). We have developed a 1-9 scale like the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) progression. At TFL-1, we would have an anecdotal collection of technology information through business card exchange at meetings, conferences, newsletters, etc. Many times this is passive: the forager comes across the technology during the course of business. At TFL-9, the forager would have completed a due diligence review:
- literature searches
- comparative analysis against a baseline technology
- mapping technology to the operational requirements
- comparative analysis of the technology v. the users’ capability gaps(s)
- quantitative technology comparison based on peer-reviewed data and/or independent testing
- fully integrated due diligence on technology vendor(s), market, and requirements
Climbing the TFL scale not only takes a more thorough search on the part of the forager, but requires that the needed information is available. The USG can easily establish agreements and partnerships with organizations to openly share information on research projects, development activities and other advancements that can contribute to more effective and cooperative development and deployment of relevant solutions to USG capability gaps.
Clearly, a technology foraging specialist must find where the technologies, products and services are. One-on-one interactions can be fruitful, but we do not have the resources to connect with the thousands of labs, R&D centers, and innovation companies out there. We work where possible in areas where technologies aggregate:
- Technical meetings
- Technology exhibitions
- Regional consortia
Below are some key potential technology institutions:
Government and National Laboratories; FFRDCs; UARCs; Test Facilities
The federal government owns or funds an array of R&D centers. Those with homeland security mission components represent an incredible resource of talent, facilities, experience, and linkage to operational customers. In many cases, they are doing relevant USG research funded from other sources.
The Federal Laboratory Consortium is an umbrella organization that loosely coordinates and celebrates their successes.
Private Sector and Other R&D Partners
The private sector is massive, diverse, and multidimensional. Potential partners range from multinational Fortune 50 corporations to sole proprietorships with an idea and entrepreneurial passion. The private sector also includes critical infrastructure owners/operators, lifeline utilities, universities, vendors, research institutions, associations, NGOs and more.
- Corporations: Our corporate partners represent not only huge R&D contributions to the USG enterprise, but are also critical infrastructure and customers of technologies.
- Academia makes contributions not only across the R&D spectrum, but also consulting and advising the operational community.
- Associations: Virtually any industry sector has one or more associations (concrete, chlorine, railroads, electricity, healthcare) at national and often local levels. These associations range from pure lobbyists to sector-wide research sponsors.
- Research Institutions: Many institutions are dedicated to R&D, including government laboratories, corporate R&D centers, contract research labs, testing labs, and university-affiliated centers.
- Standards Organizations: Various organizations and bodies set standards for the components, protocols, and operation of a range of HLS equipment, systems, and protocols. Working through these organizations is critical to successful deployment of technologies.
- Non-Government Organizations: NGOs provide a wide range of services, help coordinate volunteers and provide platforms for a variety of initiatives.
- Associations, Centers, and Labs that have a Science & Technology (S&T) emphasis: Every region has a complex array of organizations, work groups, academic centers, labs and other institutions that contribute to the science & technology/educational aspects of the homeland security enterprise.
- Financiers: Private sector research may be financed through the government, internal R&D funds, or externally. External funding through angel investors, venture capitalists, IPOs, and other vehicles requires someone to assess the financial risk; i.e., the value of the technology, market size, and other success metrics.
Foraging involves developing a research approach, information gathering, building a technical database around a potential technology, critical evaluations, and relationship building. Communications are also critical. Within the USG, a technology foraging specialist must discuss a known capability gap and candidate technology solutions with subject matter experts – often within more than one agency or group.
Foraging is not a targeted information collection like the more common Request for Information (RFI). Our technology foraging specialists needs to be opportunistic and look for novel moments where, for instance, a medical technology may have a homeland security application if it is repurposed. Foragers need to be aware of BAAs, technology needs, programmatic directions, and other aspects of the “S&T landscape,” but cannot limit discussions with developers to USG’s currently articulated “high priorities.”
We have the ability to provide actionable information to the developers to give a candid assessment of the technologies and specific requirements. An open and candid exchange among all parties enables cooperation and eliminates avoidable scenarios such as developers bringing us a $650 hammer or developers building a handheld detector weighing 5 kg only to be told “we wanted something wearable with an upper weight limit of 200 g.”
The author of this paper thanks Mr. Mark Protacio and many other former colleagues at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House (WH) for their support and dedication to the early development of technology foraging models for implementation across the US government to save both time and taxpayer money.
Technology Foraging Level (TFL)
|Characteristics||Technology||Applicability against Requirements|
|1.||Anecdotal collection of technology info through business card exchange at meetings, newsletters. Many times this is passive: the forager stumbles across the technology. The foraging, even at this level, is useless until communicated||Name and general operating principles||Maybe of use, based on name recognition (“high-resolution camera”)|
|2.||Detailed info on technology-gleaned from websites or other sources that can be mapped against the user requirements.||We know general characteristics||Start to compare to baseline technologies|
|3.||Detailed information from peer-reviewed literature and/or 3rd party sources.||We start to see evidence to support claims||Merits further investigation|
|4.||Detailed information on past performance or current technology development progress||Relevant capabilities demonstrated and verified||Worth an operational demonstration|
|5.||Identification of similar/ competing/complimentary technologies||Homeland security applications of technology identified||Understanding of technology landscape|
|6.||Aggregated cataloged and sort-able information on numerous potential solutions||Identify integration or interoperability needs for incorporation with large-scale systems||Understanding of how capabilities address operational requirements|
|7.||Comparative info on various solutions to stated requirements.||T&E completed on technology||Evaluations of technology solutions|
|8.||Reviewed quantitative technology comparison based on peer-reviewed data and/or independent testing||Analyze technology, product or service for scale-up||Informed comparisons of technology solutions|
|9.||Match of technology to requirements.||Manufacturing capabilities established||Strong candidate for application|
|10.||Fully integrated Due diligence on technology vendor(s), market, and requirements.||Ready Deployment||Enables an informed acquisition decision|
USG could establish in its Technology Foraging process three tiers that will shape the breadth and scope of various technology foraging activities based on a number of criteria and needs for each R&D project and related technology foraging search. The chart below shows how our three tier approach matches with the technology foraging levels.
Tier I – These searches are relatively quick turn-around and will focus on readily available information that will be used in support of lower-cost, near-term R&D programs to answer tactical questions on the current state of technology development, lists of potential partners or performers in the field of science, and whether existing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products or services are aligned to homeland security needs.
Tier II – These technology foraging activities are significantly more in-depth than Tier I searches and may include the acquisition of additional technology foraging reports or support staff to perform more in depth research. Tier II searches are designed for R&D projects that address Division level strategic questions and will result in detailed reports of current state of technology development, lists of potential partners or performers and a detailed analysis of alternatives.
Tier III – These are the most extensive technology foraging research efforts for high-priority R&D programs that have extended program length and require significant investment of R&D monies. These technology foraging efforts answer S&T or component level strategic questions and shape the path of R&D investments for the Directorate. Tier III efforts will span several months and provide interim reports on relevant R&D activity to determine potential partners or performers in DHS needs are unique and not addressed by current technology development activities that can be shared.
|TFL 1||TFL 2||TFL 3||TFL 4||TFL 5||TFL 6||TFL 7||TFL 8||TFL 9|