…the DoD will evolve in the way engineers work, manage, engineer, and deliver solutions.

2018 DoD Digital Engineering Strategy, P16

Introduction

This is the fifth installment of a series aiming to describe the major organizational ‘building blocks’ necessary for the successful implementation of a Digital Engineering Strategy (DES). Digital Engineering (DE) is a rapidly expanding field that encompasses a great number of objectives, but chief among them is to leverage the power of the digital domain to accelerate the development of new capabilities to meet the complex needs of the world today.

Infrastructures and Environments – DE Brings a New Paradigm

Major to minor organizations have been implementing, managing, upgrading and replacing their Information Technology (IT) for many decades in order to meet the information management (IM) needs of their clients/customers – a continually evolving process, usually targeted at specific outcomes and/or results, and involve hardware, software and networks. Infrastructures and Environments supporting a Digital Engineering Strategy emphasize/exhibit certain characteristics above and beyond ‘normal’ IM/IT: namely, that they embody consolidation, collaboration and trust.

The New Reality – Geographical Spread

First and foremost, if the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it is that organizations can and should be prepared to operate and collaborate effectively from different geographical locations. Even before COVID-19, many large organizations already spanned provinces/states, and even continents. Beyond geographical separation is the ‘new’ aspect of ‘work from home‘, in which the individual can continue to effectively contribute to the team from a personal space. A DES should endeavour to accommodate this new reality via mature, secure enterprise tools and processes.

Today’s Enterprise Needs to Consider Global Reach

The Need to Detach From Program-Driven Support

Secondly, organizations need to pull away from the tendency to follow program-specific infrastructure and IT architecture upgrade projects. This is probably easier said than done, as most organizations default to a delegated arrangement – once a program has been identified, all of its needs and subsequent resources are normally housed under its umbrella. Unfortunately, this does not elevate the synergistic and accelerating potential of connecting the organization across the enterprise.

Stovepipes Are The Greatest Challenge

Meeting Multi-Domain Challenges Requires Addressing Organizational Stovepipes

Hand-in-hand with program-specific thinking, organizations are often hard-wired to create and invest in ‘silos of excellence‘ – better known as stovepipes. Stovepipes occur because people and information can become tightly controlled to the extent that they evolve into an entity themselves for executing tasks and producing output. In this way, they can be fairly efficient and effective in meeting their deliverables, however, the greater organization ‘suffers’ because internally-generated intellectual property (IP) is not easily made available to other sections that could use it for accelerating their efforts.

Protection Is Key

Which leads to an important consideration: data and models, regardless of their origin (but stemming from authoritative sources), need to be both shareable and protected. Whether the data/model involves classified information, or whether it comprises the intellectual input of a sub-prime contractor, the organization needs to set in place the proper safeguards without unnecessarily clogging the information flow. More and more, organizations are leveraging, or considering to leverage, the incredible power of cloud technology, which is a very versatile means of accessing, using, and sharing data. It does, of course, come with some security risks that must be factored into the DES equation.

Beyond IP protection, the incredible threat from the cyber domain means that significant attention must be paid there. Still, cyber security is a priority regardless of the engineering strategy being followed and thus there is not likely more investment and activity expected just because a DES is being pursued.

Solutions Must Be Scalable

Engaging workers and/or stakeholders across geographical distances means also accepting that more data is being ‘brought to the fight’. IM/IT structures must consider strongly the availability of processing resources on one hand, but also want to be ready to include the contributions of other/new stakeholders to the enterprise. In this way, the architecture must be able to quickly accommodate new users efficiently and effectively.

Tools being considered to support the enterprise should characteristically be integration-friendly and work with industry-standard formats and processes. It is important that the organization keep the focus on effective transfer and sharing of data/models, a key characteristic of a Digital Mission Engineering (DME) eco-system, and not be constrained to specific tools.

Conclusion

While working in and with the digital domain is nothing new for organizations (we’ve been doing it since the emergence of the first computers), the increased focus on rapid capability development under digital engineering has forced the review of our current architectures to support it. IM/IT strategy, in support of a Digital Engineering Strategy, must be able to look beyond just the provision of hardware, software and networks, and rather aim to establish infrastructure and environments that promote even greater consolidation, collaboration and trust, while keeping a steady eye on cyber protection.

Coming Next

We will now be moving on to the last, but most important, installment of this series: Focus Area #5 – Transform the Culture and Workforce to Adopt and Support Digital Engineering Across the Lifecycle.

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