SERC research team released Technical Report SERC-2018-TR-109 for Research Task 182 “Enterprise System-of-Systems Model for Digital-Thread Enabled Acquisition “on July 13, 2018. Questions may be addressed to Principal Investigator Tom McDermott or Co-Principal Investigators Paul Collopy, Chris Paredis and Molly Nadolski as well as other researchers.
In June 2018, the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering (DASD/SE) released the Department of Defense (DoD) Digital Engineering Strategy, a comprehensive strategy for the transformation of DoD engineering methods, processes, and tools to the digital age. The strategy outlines five strategic goals for the transformation, targeted to “promote the use of digital representations of systems and components and the use of digital artifacts as a technical means of communication across a diverse set of stakeholders, address a range of disciplines involved in the acquisition and procurement of national defense systems, and encourage innovation in the way we build, test, field, and sustain our national defense systems and how we train and shape the workforce to use these practices.” These goals center on the definition, development, and use of a program “authoritative source of truth” – a government/contractor shared set of digital data and models that move away from static and disconnected program artifacts toward a fully integrated digital information exchange in order to improve the accuracy and timeliness of program decisions across the system lifecycle.
This report presents the results of a research project that was conducted in parallel with and independent of the development of that strategy to understand how that strategy might evolve and change the way the DoD conducts acquisition of new systems and supports existing systems. A multi-disciplinary research team conducted a qualitative analysis of that transformation, using interviews of over 25 stakeholders currently involved in Digital Engineering (DE) initiatives across multiple DoD agencies, NASA, and the FFRDC/UARC community. These interviews were then used to develop conceptual models describing what that future DoD acquisition enterprise might look like, given success of DoD DE initiatives. These conceptual models were developed independently from the released strategy, but the interview process found strong alignment with the strategy across the stakeholder base, so the models in this report were organized to align with the five goals of the DE strategy.
The research was targeted specifically on the impact of DE transformation to the DoD acquisition enterprise – the government program offices, acquisition professionals, and contractor practices that develop, operate, support, and maintain defense systems. It provides the first holistic assessment of how that transformation might evolve, and what benefits can be expected from the change. The research was conducted around a set of “central questions of interest” provided in initial interviews with DASD/SE sponsors. These are:
- How will DE help the acquisition enterprise respond to the realm of the possible with warfighter needs?
- What are the opportunities that can be gained from deeper information in the authoritative source of truth?
- How will DE make the acquisition process more efficient and reduce rework?
- Can DE make it easier to ingest new processes and incorporate acquisition expertise into acquisition tools?
- How do DE documented architecture principles add value to development and acquisition processes?
- How will DE environments capture and maintain lessons learned within and across programs?
- How can DE improve the performance of the acquisition workforce, at every skill level?
These questions address the perceived value of the DE transition to DoD acquisition. The research methods used in this project are designed to bring focus to the value of enterprise level transformation outcomes and what are the leading indicators of change that would reflect achievement of those outcomes. The methods center on three questions: what are the desired change outcomes, who will lead/oppose the change and how will they interact to affect it, and what are the enablers and barriers to the change process? A set of qualitative tools were used to assess these questions – tools adapted from a large base of research on enterprise and innovation-driven transformation processes.
The project produced five conceptual models reflecting the future DE-enabled acquisition enterprise, one for each of the goals in the DE Strategy. The systemigram conceptual modeling tool, which includes both a narrative of change and accompanying concept diagram, was used to capture the combined views of the interviewed stakeholders. The five models are 1) the Authoritative Source of Truth, 2) Digital Engineering to inform enterprise and program decision making, 3) the Digital engineering infrastructure, 4) technical innovations to improve engineering practice, and 5) changing workforce and culture. These models were reviewed in a workshop setting with the sponsor team and approved for publication is this report.
In addition, the project conducted a workshop focused on how innovation will drive the DE transformation. This was a brainstorming exercise that produced an additional set of narrative “anecdotes” used to inform the conceptual models. The results of this workshop are also documented as a standalone result.
The model results had immediate use in informing the sponsor of potential metrics reflecting the performance or DE change initiatives. The systemigram diagram naturally produces insight on change metrics, which are the outcome of the relationships modeled in the diagram. In addition, the diagrams are useful in agreement on a lexicon that describes the future system, identification of all involved stakeholder groups in the process and their individual value sets, and identification of key enablers and barriers to enterprise change. These results are documented in the report.
Taken as a whole, this process provided significant insight on three central themes: what is the Authoritative Source of Truth how will it be provided, governed and used; how will DE transform the work that defense acquisition program offices perform, and how should they prepare; and how should the DoD enact change to their workforce and culture to ensure a successful transformation? The report identifies a set of recommendations for future research that addresses each of these themes.