Open architecture is often seen as a prime way of saving money, says Chris McDonald. But is this really the case, particularly when it comes to complex military operating models?
Marking homework. Now that’s one thing I *won’t* miss from life under lockdown. It’s time consuming (not another English paper?!), frustrating (I’m an engineer, not a linguist) and often plain bewildering (what on earth is a ‘fronted adverbial’?!).
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m taking many positives from helping home school the kids – not least a new found admiration for teachers. But it’s also reminded me of how tempting it is to start anew with a blank piece of paper, rather than take the time to go back and amend something already underway.
It’s the same with open architecture.
As I suggest here, open architecture is a way of making it easy to add, upgrade, and swap computer and software components, saving money in the process and making it easier to integrate future and as yet unknown systems. This approach applies both for software in the private sector, and the public sector – including Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) in Defence.
Now, it’s reasonably straightforward to start afresh and design a brand new open system. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, that’s not always the best way to achieve cost savings.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, evolving current systems and developing them in a structured and comprehensive way can very often be the best way to save money. And let’s face it, in a post-Covid19 world, virtually every organisation will be looking for ways to strengthen their bottom line.
So what’s the best way of doing this? Here are three steps which help organisations turn vision into reality.
1. Design an appropriate evolution pathway
Before embarking on any significant overhauls, engineers should first focus on ensuring they have a comprehensive understanding of the system in question. What is its purpose and capabilities? How is it structured in terms of data, user interaction and context? What sub-systems does it already have and how do these fit into the system?From there, an evolution pathway can be developed, identifying expected future capability needs, and focusing on functional rather than open objectives. At this stage, the focus is on understanding and clarity. After all, if you don’t have a vision you will never achieve it.
2. Consider new functionalities
It’s important to understand how any new functionalities fit with the development, and use these to work towards the evolution journey. Of course, it may sometimes be necessary to use products that don’t progress toward the vision – for reasons of availability, prohibitive cost, or training complications – but the default should always be to keep moving forward.
3. Collaborate for the collective good
This is far more than just a catchy slogan, it’s actually pivotal to the whole process. If this philosophy underpins every system, and also enables and supports strengthened connectivity and translation between systems, interdependent capabilities will be the result. And new capabilities can also emerge through better collaboration, with more performance gains made possible at enterprise level.
For example in the military, CEMA information obtained from multiple services, nations and assets inform a holistic situational awareness picture. This will indisputably lead to better informed and more trusted intelligence from which to gain military advantage.
Tempting though starting afresh may be, the key aspect to open architecture is not to use a boom or bust approach; but rather make sure that enhancements move in the right direction.
Set the vision, and make each step a part of the journey. The benefits will not be immediately apparent, but in the cyber and electro-magnetic increasingly congested and contested environment, evolution not revolution it is the best way forward.
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About the author
Chris McDonald is Lead Systems Engineer, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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