The Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) team tasked with exploring how to develop effective workforce training to support the digital transformation of acquisition artifacts shared their insights at the 2023 Conference on Systems Engineering Research (CSER) held in March at Stevens Institute of Technology. Dr. Paul Wach (Virginia Tech) presented for the SERC team that, in addition to Virginia Tech, includes Stevens and Georgia Tech.
In 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) released its digital engineering (DE) strategy, which defines key focus areas of DE, including culture and workforce development. The team’s research aims to support the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) in defining curriculum that guides and assists the defense workforce through digital transformation, which the team views from two perspectives: digitization (transitioning largely text-based and static artifacts to a digital environment) and digitalization (artifacts that utilize the digital ecosystem and interconnected data to meet the intent of previous artifacts). DE curriculum will employ a tiered approach that considers students’ varied levels of expertise and backgrounds.
“Students will range from digital natives to people who have spent their careers with documents,” Wach stated during the CSER presentation. “[In our work to guide the curriculum], we look for the ‘aha’ moments that may occur in training and the moments that may cause students to stumble. The expectation is that once a student goes through training, they are immediately able to apply it in their job.”
The curriculum for the digital transformation is part of a larger whole the team refers to as the Simulation Training Environment for Digital Engineering (STEDE), a virtual learning environment that allows students to move from slide-based-learning to hands-on experience in a simulated real-world context. Much of the current STEDE ecosystem consists of MBSE models constructed around case studies and the data that originated in these models. The team sought to leverage previous efforts and constructs when possible for their current work, including the SERC Skyzer and Silverfish models as well as the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Firebird models and DAU’s Bulldog example. These case studies include unmanned aerial and ground vehicles and will allow students to explore the models, as well as the mission threads between model families.
Skyzer, created as part of a systems engineering (SE) transformation initiative, provided a case study to demonstrate the art of the possible for model-based approaches. Of relevance for the team’s research, Skyzer is an example of an ecosystem of interconnected models consistent with the vision for digital transformation and highlights the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach. Among the key insights gained is that content may originate from multiple sources across a data continuum. Also, identifying the original intent of acquisition artifacts rather than focusing on the current content of document-based artifacts contributes to true DE and effective transformation.
Bulldog, created as part of DAU’s curriculum for SE, is considered a prime candidate for exploring digitalization. The majority of Bulldog exists as a set of text-based artifacts, providing the research team the opportunity to create digitized versions that establish an initial baseline, and as a result, a comparison between the text-based and digital acquisition artifacts. The team digitized these artifacts (incorporated the data into models) and is now working on digitalizing them, thus using the power of those models to improve relationships and utility.
Defense workforce training is key to realizing the transformation to an ecosystem of seamless, living digital artifacts that update as the data from the source of each is updated. The impacts are wide-reaching. According to Dr. Nicole Hutchison, Principal Investigator, “Digital transformation is intended to bring acquisition forward and operate in a way that is more flexible and adaptable to evolving realities. This will help the Defense Department deliver products into the field and meet the needs of the warfighter more rapidly.”
The team plans to extend their approach to tools beyond MBSE. They are also creating a path to further the curriculum basis, which includes modules, templates, and models that will be incorporated for the defense workforce. Furthermore, the team is mapping the curriculum to core competencies defined in the DE Competency Framework (DECF), and the first iterations of the curriculum are expected to be deployed and shared with the community this year.
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