Image Courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc

“I have spent six months with our industry leaders and . . . looking at examples of applied digital engineering. I’m impressed . . .[article]”

Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the US Air Force

One of my favourite books to read (and re-read) is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People because at its center, the book inspires the reader to really reflect on what things matter, and our approach to raising their importance to a level that we will act on them. Although the book has many key aspects, one that often causes me to pause is when it asks the reader to think of that one thing, that you are not doing now, that if you were to do it would increase your level of effectiveness in big, noticeable ways. For some people, that might mean incorporating exercise into their lives, or for others it might mean getting some financial counseling help – I think we can appreciate that if these are areas in which we are struggling, then almost any change would have an effect, and likely for the better.

What about at the organization level? Can a company or non-profit or even a government organization really examine its structure, processes, roles and goals, and possibly come up with new strategies that, if implemented wisely, could raise its level of effectiveness (whatever the metric might be for that)? I think it would be fair to say that such a change is indeed possible.

what is that one thing, that you are not doing now, that if you were to do it would increase your level of effectiveness in big, noticeable ways?

And, we have seen many examples of this over the years. For one, the incorporation of assembly line techniques enabled the mass production of commodities so that consumers were able to obtain products much sooner and thus radically saw their standard of living changed in a big way. The implementation of large-scale vaccination has seen the eradication of many heretofore debilitating and life-threatening diseases such as smallpox and polio. And finally, companies such as Amazon and Ebay have accelerated their businesses to new levels by leveraging digital marketing and distribution.

For many aerospace and defence organizations, a Digital Engineering strategy could have a similar effect. But, what do we mean by ‘Digital Engineering’ and what are the key elements of a Digital Engineering Strategy (DES)? I will use a series of blog articles to lay this out.

Digital Engineering:

  • according to Aurecon (an engineering, design and advisory company) – it is the art of creating, capturing, and integrating data using a digital toolset.
  • according to Cognizant (a professional services company) – Digital engineering is the practice in which new applications are conceived and delivered. Encompassing the methodologies, utility, and process of creating new digital products end to end, digital engineering leverages data and technology to produce improvements to applications—or even entirely new solutions.
  • the US Department of Defense defines digital engineering as an integrated digital approach that uses authoritative sources of system data and models as a continuum across disciplines to support lifecycle activities from concept through disposal.

One way we can [modernize our defense systems] is by incorporating the use of digital computing, analytical capabilities, and new technologies to conduct engineering in more integrated virtual environments. . .

Michael D. Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, US DoD

Benefits of a Digital Engineering Strategy

As a means to address the closing capability gap between the US and its adversaries, the US DoD sees Digital Engineering as a way to accelerate complex system development and acquisition while also reducing the cost and risk normally associated with such systems by more closely leveraging the digital domain. As shown in the figure below, the US DoD expects to experience significant improvement in:

  • making better decisions through greater transparency of information and knowledge
  • communication among and across stakeholders (government, industry, academia, international partners) normally involved with these systems/capabilities
  • flexibility and adaptability in design choices and implementation
  • confidence that conceived/proposed system with perform as expected
  • engineering efficiency and practices
2018 US DoD Digital Engineering Strategy, p 3

The Department of the Navy has proactively embraced digital engineering and believes it is the way we must execute business in the 21st century.

William Bray, Deputy Assistance Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation

Leveraging the DoD’s perspective here via their 2018 Digital Engineering Strategy, there can be five major focus areas to DE:

  1. Formal recognition of the value and need to use models to inform enterprise and program decision making
  2. The establishment of an authoritative source of truth of models and data to be leveraged across the system lifecycle
  3. The importance of improving the engineering practice by incorporating technological innovation and advancements
  4. Effective establishment of the necessary infrastructure (hardware, software, networks, protection) to optimize the benefits of Digital Engineering in operation, for collaboration and communication.
  5. Transforming the culture to accept, appreciate, implement and improve Digital Engineering across the enterprise.

Conclusion/Coming Up – Formalizing the Recognition of Models in the Engineering Process

Innovation and engineering have been closely tied for decades as means to develop and field complex systems. The pace of capability development globally is starting to show inefficiencies with current engineering processes as viable options to keep up with adversaries and to develop systems quickly and cost-efficiently.

Digital Engineering is being touted more and more as a viable path to better connect digital information such as models and data so that these complex systems can be built with visibility and responsiveness across the lifecycle. In the next blog, I will expand on the importance of formalizing model planning, development and use to the engineering practice.

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