#DigitalAF: Digital Air Force - The Prelude

January 2019 was the first touch point of Harled Inc. with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The founder, Chris Young, had just wound down a tech startup based out of the University of Waterloo's Velocity Incubator and was informed of an opportunity with the RCAF.

By the end of the year, the RCAF would find itself on an intimidating but exciting journey of digital transformation.

The Interview

An early interview took place at Communitech between three members of the RCAF and Chris regarding the need for a technical lead to join the RCAF's innovation outpost, The Flight Deck.

As the Technical Lead for The Flight Deck, Chris was fortunate to lead four cohorts of talented University of Waterloo co-op students to discover, conceptualize and deliver projects including aircrew financial administration, flight logistics, intra-organizational communication and the Canadian beacon registry verification. These four waves of experiments proved that a repeatable model existed to drive technical innovation in software through the RCAF. However, it was clear that it would not be easy.

Building Confidence

The confidence and expertise of the RCAF grew over the course of these 16 capable co-op students delivering projects with real-world impact to various operational domains of the RCAF. Each of these projects were executed with the understanding of large enterprise but with the mindset of a start-up. That is, they were mostly likely to fail, so learn fast and iterate quickly! Not a simple feat when combined with the bureaucratic DNA of government and the sensitivity of defence.

The initial success was a native iOS application called FinTrax delivered in winter 2019. FinTrax was deployed to the electronic flight bags (iPads) to aid in the financial management of missions of several air mobility squadrons. This paved the way for the second project, Dispatch, which was delivered in the summer of 2019. Dispatch was initially scoped as a mini internal Expedia for the RCAF to aid in booking of services for missions and air crews. This project laid the foundation for the next four years of technical disruption in how Canada's Department of National Defence thinks about modern software, what it means to run an internal offering and how to digitally transform the way the RCAF operates.

Keep reading to learn about the "first team in", who secured a foothold for digital in the RCAF and established a first of a kind modern software offering in defence.