A wholesale increase in capability across the Australian defence force has led to innovative approaches to assist with the corresponding increase in workload for the managers of the defence estate. Colonel Tony Rogers explains how the capital facilities and infrastructure branch (CFI) of the Department of Defence is managing an increasing number of complex defence infrastructure projects.

Projects being managed

As of May 2022, the staff of CFI Branch, which forms part of Defence’s Security and Estate Group, are managing approximately $36 billion worth of capital infrastructure projects across the Defence Estate. These projects include infrastructure works to support the introduction of new capabilities into Defence (including armoured vehicles, aircraft, ships, submarines, space systems, and guided weapons), as well as renewal of the existing Defence estate with Base redevelopments and critical system upgrades. Redevelopment and upgrade works include fuel installations and to heavy vehicle maintenance facilities, explosive ordnance storage buildings, education facilities, office accommodation, live-in accommodation, vehicle shelters, specialised ranges, and satellite communications installations. Defence is the largest Commonwealth landholder in the country and has a built-estate replacement value of well over $80 billion.

Shoalwater Bay, QLD – Urban Operations Live Fire Training Facilities (source: CFI Branch)

The need for a shift in approach

With an increase in new capabilities over the next few years, the infrastructure supporting these capabilities needs to be updated. CFI Branch staff (approximately 100 Australian Defence Force, Australian Public Service, and contractors) currently manage around 185 infrastructure projects with a total value of approximately $36 billion. This is expected to significantly increase in the future without a commensurate increase in staffing.

Shifting to a more programmatic or portfolio-management approach while meeting Defence and government policies and legislation is the current approach to workflow management, coupled with supplementation of project staff with specialised contractors.

 

Structure of the CFI branch

The current CFI Branch structure includes seven delivery directorates and three supporting directorates. Each delivery directorate has a director and typically three teams of between three to five members. Each team is responsible for a number of projects that are valued, in aggregate, between $2-5 billion. The three supporting directorates assist with branch-level programmatic coordination, internal quality assurance, executive support, specialist procurement advice. and standing offer panel management.

 

Edinburgh Defence Precinct, SA – Land 400 Armoured Vehicle Workshop (source: CFI Branch)

Current delivery approach

CFI Branch currently receives capital infrastructure projects from all areas of Defence through the Estate Planning Branch. Upon handover to CFI Branch, each project has an approved broad scope, a geographical location and a financial allocation spread across a number of years. Each project is then allocated to a Delivery directorate to be planned, developed, and delivered as a stand-alone project using contracted project managers, designers, and builders.

This approach has been in place for a number of years and has served CFI Branch well until now. The recent increases in investment in Defence capabilities as well as the Defence Estate will result in a significant increase in the volume of projects and their respective values. Therefore, a necessary change in management approach is needed.

 

CFI Financial Actual/Forecast expenditure (source: CFI Branch)

How the CFI Branch will change project delivery

Programmatic approach

This revision in approach is essentially aggregating similar projects together to form a program of works. ‘Similar’ is deemed to be either like-capabilities (for example, new armoured vehicles for Army, including main battle tanks, cavalry vehicles, engineer vehicles, self-propelled artillery) across the country, or geographically (for example all new Air Force capabilities being supported by RAAF Base Tindal, NT). Challenges with this approach include aligning programs for greatest efficiency and dealing with multiple project sponsors who control the project budgets and have, at times, competing demands.

Contractor support inside CFI Branch

A second approach being adopted in parallel is increasing the ability for existing staff to engage contracted personnel to cope with increases in workload. To facilitate this approach, a new panel of suppliers of specialised staff is being established and will soon go live. This panel of suppliers – the Capital Facilities and Infrastructure Specialist Services (CFISS) Panel – follows a rigorous two-stage procurement process for companies to provide appropriately qualified and experienced staff to assist permanent staff inside each delivery directorate, or as a program approach for a ‘turnkey’ client-side project management service. These teams can increase and decrease in size as the workload or project portfolio fluctuates, overseen and with continuity provided by the permanent Australian Defence Force and Australian Public Service staff. These specialised contractor staff will be highly qualified and experienced in construction project management, security-cleared, and available to work full-time at a Defence site in Canberra.

Puckapunyal Training Area, VIC – Armoured Vehicle Simulation Training Centre (source: CFI Branch)

How this will help

The ability to aggregate projects together to create larger programs of works creates efficiencies in two key areas – procurement activities and ongoing management – thus delivering greater value for money for the Commonwealth. Relieving staff from multiple procurement and associated administrative activities allows these limited resources to focus on the ongoing management of projects, including the inevitable adjustments to scope and timeframes driven by changes in the Defence Capability programs.

Supplementing existing project teams with additional in-house embedded resources will further extend the capabilities of the delivery directorates to take on additional programs of work, to be overseen by the existing Australian Defence Force and Australian Public Service staff. Existing staff are in the best position to provide continuity, mentorship and maintain quality control over the management outputs of the whole CFI Branch.

Ongoing increases

Increases in Defence capability over the past few years will continue, leading to increased pressure upon the supporting elements of the Department including infrastructure. The adoption of a programmatic approach to delivering increased capability on the Defence Estate, along with the efficient and selective use of additional contractor staff, will enable CFI Branch to continue to deliver the right infrastructure in the right place at the right time.

Author: Colonel Tony Rogers FAIPM CPPD is a professional Engineering Officer and Fellow of the AIPM. He is currently posted as the Director – National Projects in the Capital Facilities and Infrastructure Branch of the Department of Defence in Canberra.

This article appears in the Winter 2022 edition of Paradigm Shift magazine. Find out more about the AIPM digital magazine and take a look at the full edition.