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A CHALLENGE CALLED – ‘TRIALS ABROAD’

VK Saxena

For any successful procurement, a solid grip on the DPP is a-priori. Unlike the conventional trials in own country, trials abroad are a challenge as there is no chance of re-trial, re-re-trial and confirmatory trial, thus selection of MDTD becomes very important. The author from his personal experience explains how to do this right, the way forward...

The permission to carry out 'Trials Abroad' is an uncommon approval given by the DAC/DPB in procurement cases. Why uncommon? For many good reasons:-

  • Trials abroad are a very complex experience with minimal precedent success rate.
  • Experience has it that however comprehensive the composition of the Trial Team and however exhaustive the Trial Directive may be, the trial team comes back with some untested/un-evaluated serial of Trial Directive resulting in the entire vendor vertical being declared Non Complaint (NC). For want of a 'proverbial needle', the entire machine gets to be junked.
  • There are issues related to the level-playing field, when different countries, different equipments and different trial scenarios are involved.
  • Each and everything in its entirety (Main Trial, MET, QA, Documentation, and Certification for a host of pre-trial evaluated features/Waivers if any) must fit in the rigid window of stay in the foreign country. There is no chance of revisit at a later date
  • The general wisdom in the procurement domain is, 'trial abroad' is best avoided.

With all the above negatives and more as given and known, still sometimes the uncommon approval comes. The reasons are:

  • In complex weapon systems having a wide range (need not be depth) of constituent elements each on a separate chassis/entity a very large number of pieces need to be put together to constitute one try able Fire Unit (FU).
  • Foreign OEMs normally have reservations in bringing such large nos of weapon constituent pieces from their shores to ours on the NCNC basis, firstly due to sheer cost involved and secondly, due to the magnitude of the logistic nightmare
  • This is the situation with one vendor. Consider three to four vendors participating in the procurement case and then imagine the quantities involved and the logistical and management challenges to put such nos through the trials process by the buyer.
  • Sometime, the operational urgency and expediency may not allow the type of time frame involved in the regular trial process.

Be that as it may, suppose the 'Trial Abroad' decision has come. Then what? How to ensure success of it is the purport of this piece. There is no magic-wand to make it a success, only some practical experience in once failing in the endeavour, and at the next time making a success of it. I wish to share what I learnt through this dual experience. May be, it is of some value to the middle level officers who are hands on with the procurement process and may be faced with such challenges in times to come.

The first challenge upfront in the 'Trials Abroad' case is to constitute a 'Multi-Disciplinary-Technical Delegation, in short called the MDTD. Who should lead it, is a make/break decision? Essentially, an officer in the competency vertical to which the equipment belongs. Typical of an infantry patrol leader, the mainframe stakeholder (inspective of rank) is the patrol leader; he carries with him the specialists of all shades and genre to complete his job. The team leader should have:

  • Good knowledge of the niti-gritty of the procurement process not in theory through the DPP but by actual hands-on. Somebody who has done it and knows the strengths/weaknesses and nuances of the procedures and hierarchical approvals involved therein.
  • A positive attitude. The one who proceeds with a 'hope of success' rather than a 'fear of failure'. The one who trusts reasonably and not suspects for the sake of suspecting ('Guilty unless proved innocent' scenario).
  • Character qualities and spoken reputation - above board!

Another major decision issue is the composition of MDTD. While it is plain to imagine that all stake-holders in the project must go, there is always a premium on numbers that can be carried. That is where the requirement of ruthless and unbiased selection comes beyond, the user as leader, the most essential reps are the maintainer and quality control persons, besides reps of Ministry, Finance and WE Dte.  We need to:-

  • Prioritise the persons into 'must', 'should', 'could', or 'essential' or 'desirable'.
  • While it is better to err positively on the main stake-holders and decision makers, the other could be 'should'.

Then there comes the important issue of carrying the observers or in other words, the Ombudsmen. These are those persons who are not in the upfront decision route but are situated upwards in the hierarchy of the sequential procurement channel. Since these will ultimately get involved in vetting/approving/analysing, they might as well be around when the trial process unfolds in the foreign country. My experience on ombudsmen is as under:-

  • Least numbers possible.
  • Integration must be established a-priori. What do I mean by this? It has been the experience once that ombudsmen try and make their own coterie and tend to run a parallel trial on the fault-finding lines. In that, the thrust of the approach is based on 'how something did not go right' rather than ensuring that a-priori actions are taken that 'something does go only right'. In a worst case scenario, these could be hob-nobbing with the OEM, independent of the Trial Team Leader; thus willy-nily playing the game of opposition benches.
  • In this context, it is better to clarify to the observer/ombudsman team while still in our own country, that while they must do there their job with the degree of freedom as demanded by the same, the single-point primacy of the Trial remains in the Team Leader and their role is of facilitation, advice and support rather than suspicion, fault-finding and 'ours' and 'theirs' approach.

Now let us graduate to the Draft Trial Directive. Multiple problems are surmounted here which beckon for a very matured approach. Sample these:-

The first of these is the issue of ensuring a 'level-playing field'. In the conventional trials in India, there are common denominators for comfort, such as terrain for trial, firing ranges, firing conditions, weather, and time of the day/month/year which is same for all vendors. What about in Trials abroad? Each and everything of what I stated above is different for each vendor. How to create a level playing field? Here are some thoughts:-

  • Specify things like terrain type (dessert/semi-dessert/plain) similar to the types as obtaining in India (show on ground if vendor queries).
  • Try and ensure that aspects like Weather /Temperature /Time of the day etc, generally become same far as possible.
  • To do the above try and squeeze trial window as much as possible. Also so phase the trial windows as to get similarities, keeping in mind the sensitivities of different time zones in the countries of OEMs spread across the world. Bunching similar time Zones is an obvious option.
  • Specify these aspects most clearly:-

Unlike the conventional trial, since there is no chance of re-trial, re-re-trial, confirmatory trial, re-confirmatory trial etc, it is to be made sure that EACH AND EVERY SERIAL IN THE TEST PARAMETER IS POSITIVELY VISITED BY THE TRIAL TEAM. Any single serial left blank will mean “Non-Compliance” since there is no second chance to revisit the serial, once the MDTD comes back. What are the ways to obviate this? Some thoughts:-

  • Firstly, it is to be made sure that every member of the MDTD understands the above position and compulsion. More importantly, it is to be made sure that every vendor understands this.
  • The trial Directive needs to be so made as to ensure that every serial of the Directive is visit-able
  • For the above, the 'vendor query' session must be taken very seriously and waivers/deviations, where required must be obtained before leaving the Indian shores.
  • The vendors could well be advised to run Mock-Trials in their own countries prior to the arrival of MTDT.

Lastly, since the time is at premium and everything is to be completed in a short window, making the Time-Work graphics laid out day-wise and hour-wise is a very good idea. It is tremendous amount of hard work but experience has it, that it pays very rich dividends.

Like I always say in all my procurement related articles - 'IT IS POSSIBLE TO MAKE PROCUREMENTS HAPPEN'. It only calls for a solid grip on DPP, making of correct documents and trying to foresee potholes and taking a-priori actions to avoid them.

(The author is the Ex-Director General of Army Air Defence. The views expressed in this article are those of the author in his personal capacity. These do not have any official endorsement.)

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