As the acquisition workforce steadily continues to operate in remote environments, the need for digital competency is greater than ever. To help bridge the knowledge gap in digital skills and understanding, DAU partnered with the Stevens Institute of Technology and the Systems Engineering Research Center to launch Digital Readiness, a nine-episode webcast series that focuses on emerging technologies and the impacts they have on Defense acquisition.
The pilot, “Age of Digital Engineering” aired July 9 and featured guest lecturer Dr. John Wade of the University of California's Jacobs School of Engineering.
“Digital engineering is an approach that captures and analyzes data,” Wade explained. “It enables people to leverage power of computing visualization, and communication to enhance efficiencies, quality and innovation across the complex system development lifecycle.”
Wade noted that quality and innovation are not always so easy to obtain in an universe that "is becoming increasingly complex" and that industry success should not be taken for granted. Understanding Digital Engineering from a historical perspective — knowing its foundations — is imperative to predicting its future impact.
“The digital transformation is all about using computation, visualization and communication, to make quality decisions and act on them quickly,” Wade said.
From the Treatise on the Circumference to Punch Card Tabulation, the strides humans have made with technology are undeniable. However, according to Wade, it wasn’t until the invention of the HP-35 pocket calculator in 1972 and then, shortly after, the Apple II personal computer in 1977, where technology had its first true digital breakthrough. This breakthrough paved the way for the Mead Conway Revolution, a prolific period in technology where engineers managed to fabricate 20,000 transistors into a single chip, and Moore’s Law, which predicts that the speed and capability will increase every couple of years while the price will decrease.
This is why Wade is optimistic that we’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital capabilities.
“The fact is,” Wade said, “we are all part of an increasingly digital world. COVID and the need for social distancing have accelerated the pace of change. If you are not connected digitally, you are not connected. The ability to communicate digitally, critically assess the validity of information, and create new information in a way that's private, safe and secure is becoming a requirement for everyone. It's critically important to us as a nation, with respect to our security and economic future, to embrace and advance digital engineering.”
Other experts, such as SSI Vice President Troy Person, erred on the side of caution when it came to embracing the industry’s rapid evolution.
During his July 16 panel “Drivers, Challenges, Opportunities,” he described Digital Transformation as a radical rethinking of how organizations use technology to change performance and maintain relevance during an ever-evolving world with impact on a larger scale.
“We woefully underestimate exponential growth,” Peterson stated.
And while growth is always a great modifier for success, it would be arrogant not to acknowledge the potential complications it could invite, if not managed carefully.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution describes the merging of the physical, digital and biological worlds. This modern phenomenon is exemplified in the widespread acceptance of tools such as Amazon’s Alexa, bluetooth headphones, and grocery store self-check-out stations – all invented to make everyday living more convenient. Peterson is concerned that the next step of modern convenience - the long-term development and deployment of augmented intelligence - comes with a great deal of risk.
“We need to be thinking about, as we automate things, that we keep the human in the loop, contextualizing the information,” he said.
This paradigm shift will require a constant awareness of where humans are in the digital ecosystem.
According to Peterson, leveraging the Agile Systems Engineering Lifecycle Management Model (ASELM) will create more competent digital models. Another method Peterson recommended for creating more competent models is by mimicking human system cognition — programming digital models to interact continually by switching between conscious and unconscious modes of thinking.
“Teaming is the best solution,” Peterson stated.
In a fitting conclusion to the Digital Engineering segment, the June 27 “Surrogate Pilot Experiments” episode focused on an in-depth examination of Digital Engineering’s impact. The webcast was presented by Dr. Mark Blackburn, senior research scientist at Stevens Institute of Technology and principal at KnowledgeBytes.
Blackburn called on his experience as a Principal Investigator for NAVAIR to provide an overview of the NAVAIR Systems Engineering Transformation (SET) Framework and how to implement SET Surrogate Pilot Experiments to align with the goals of the DoD Digital Engineering Strategy. Throughout the episode, Blackburn referenced formal artifacts and models.
“Engineers learn by example,” Blackburn said. “We have put modeling examples out there, which reflect on recommended modeling methods.”
Blackburn explained that the way models are developed must comply with a methodological approach, noting that there is a difference between method and process, with method being the production of modeling artifacts and process referring to a do-this formal compliance concept.
“It would be difficult to digitally sign off on a process, but you can digitally sign off on a model artifact,” he said.
To demonstrate this, Blackburn used the V Model, a software development life cycle methodology that validates and verifies questions such as, “Are we developing a product that fulfills the user’s software needs?” and “Are we developing this product exactly to the design specifications?”
“I think that we've done exactly what we're trying to do,” Blackburn said, “demonstrating the art-of-the-possible by doing everything in models to show we can.”
His comments perfectly encapsulated the sentiment of the Digital Engineering-block of webcasts for the series: they did exactly what they were trying to do and showed the art of the possible that digital engineering can provide.
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