“[The US Department of Defense] DoD 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”

DoD Digital Engineering Strategy, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering, June 2018.

Once the decision has been made to institutionalize models to support a digital engineering enterprise, the focus naturally switches to the fidelity of those data-driven models and the organization’s ability to optimize their application in evidence-based decision-making. This model repository, or authoritative source of truth, thus requires definition, governance and lifecycle application.

What Is the Authoritative Source of Truth?

In everyday parlance, reference data, models or other information can come from a number of different sources. When an article or text is written, it is often peppered with numerous markers that point to authoritative references that support the statement or inference that is being made. A dictionary or thesaurus is a reference; an instructional guide is a reference; even subject matter experts (SMEs) within an organization, if well-trusted, can be considered to be authoritative voices for decision-making within that organization.

Examples of Authoritative Source of Truth Data/Models, DES, page 9

From a digital engineering perspective, the authoritative source of truth must contain key elements of the system technical baseline – traced from its current state to other points historically along the lifecycle. This connectedness and traceability (often referred to as a ‘digital thread‘) ensures that not only are the constituent models kept up-to-date and relevant, but also that their data-driven effects are communicated and propagated to other systems/stakeholders in the most timely manner in order to optimally affect and track key decisions.

The goal [of the authoritative source of truth] is to enable delivery of the right data to the right person for the right use at the right time

DES, page 8

For example, imagine an assigned mission to provide security and stability in the South China Sea (see below). This may entail an assessment of both red and blue forces, and may also need to consider future capabilities of both sides. Multiple domains (Land, Sea, Air, Space, and Cyber) and the systems that operate in them are all potential sources of strength and vulnerability, and thus accurate modeling of these forces can be a game-changer for decision-makers.

Mission Models can involve many systems or Systems of systems (SoS)

Within this operational area, it may be desired to conduct effective Maritime Information Warfare (MIW), which, among other things, seeks to achieve ‘narrative dominance’ and to do so via effective control of the physical, information and human domains. From a system/digital mission engineering perspective, the impacts of sensors, command and control systems, computers, etc play a huge role in determining what types of mission outcomes are possible. Data and models representing these systems must be of the highest caliber, hence authoritative, and must have the flexibility to rapidly consider new parameters and capabilities.

The Authoritative Source of Truth Must be Governed

To be effective, the authoritative source of truth must be established by the organization using clear standards, procedures and guidelines that promote its inherent value as well as institutionally protect its integrity. Governance assists to ensure the models are properly-managed, and that stakeholders are apprised of the correct ways to collect, share, and maintain the models and data accurately.

Organizations can take advantage of existing data management structures to govern their authoritative source of truth. (Source: Analytical Graphics Inc)

Organizations also must recognize the importance of establishing access and controls for the pertinent stakeholders to the authoritative source of truth. In many cases, users are not going to need access to all data/models at all levels for them to contribute effectively to the system design and development across its lifecycle. Further, while an organization will want to establish access and controls across itself, it may also need to consider access/control of other proprietary data, which may be critical to the system design process, but that may have some level of intellectual property sensitivity assigned to it.

The Effectiveness of One System Often is Connected to Other Systems

With respect to our South China Sea example – satellite, ship, communications, RADAR and missile system model information can be combined within one scenario. Or, several scenarios could be built that access similar (and authoritative) data/models that are representative of the actual systems. It would make little sense to have separate naval warfare staff (anti-air, surface, sub-surface) create mission planning models for the same defence systems while employing different data sources. The missile model that is being used for strike assessment against the enemy should also be used for evaluating possible jamming effects against it. Organizations need to ensure their personnel are responsible and ready for creating, sharing, accessing and protecting this data as part of normal practice.

Applying the Authoritative Source of Truth Across the Enterprise

Once defined and managed, this data/model repository must be fully-leveraged to digitally represent the system (or system of systems) in question under the auspices of its intended mission and across its lifecycle. Users must take advantage of the ability to quickly access the models they need to incorporate new data, structures, etc and then communicate (again digitally) the impacts of those new changes or data. If correct traceability has been achieved, stakeholders across the enterprise should be able to rapidly realize the effects on the mission, contractors, suppliers, etc.

When Authoritative Models are linked, rapid mission analysis can be achieved and impact assessed.

Across the authoritative source of truth continuum, system capabilities and effects can be brought into the mission impact analysis, and this can then also include the effects of other models such as logistical, financial, technical etc. Notionally, the available stockpile of Missile System A may be greater than that of another operational Missile System B, but System A may also be more susceptible to expected jamming sources in the South China Sea. Therefore System A may be less operationally effective than System B, despite its greater numbers. Regardless, the various operational planning staff need to have this authoritative reference data available to them in a form for ready consumption, analysis and communication.


It is no secret nor surprise that when the best resources are applied to a problem or idea, the probability of success tends to go up. The same is true for taking a model-based approach to improving the engineering practice for complex system conception, design, development and implementation. A commitment to securing the best kinds of models and data to be leveraged by the organization (the authoritative source of truth) is a step towards creating a more effective and resilient organization.

Timely, trusted and secure information that can be shared across the DND/CAF is the foundation of sound, evidence based decision-making. Analysis using authoritative information can tell us how well we are performing in DND business and how effective we are in CAF Operations.

Judy Thomas, ADM(IM), DND Defence Information Management Plan 2019-2022

Coming Up

While some may consider the principles of digital engineering and digital mission engineering to be somewhat timeless, the existence of new and evolving technologies creates other opportunities to improve the effectiveness of the digital engineering practice.