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In this four-part series, Booz Allen examines the four features of the Digital Battlespace—open, smart, at the edge, resilient, and secure. In part one, we detail “open”—how open architectures enable connected systems to quickly update using flexible processes and why they're critical to achieving information dominance.
More than ever, the nation's military leaders understand that information superiority is vital to success in the Digital Battlespace. This means having the right information presented in the right way in the right place at the right time, so decision makers can act faster than their adversaries.
But as Department of Defense (DOD) organizations deploy data platforms and systems to gain and maintain information superiority, they frequently encounter impediments that undermine their ability to get the right data to where it is needed, whether at the enterprise level, the tactical level, or at the edge—where rapid information is most critical. These challenges include siloed data that make collecting, analyzing, processing, and delivering insights difficult; closed, proprietary data platforms that inhibit the ability to keep pace with rapidly changing missions and technologies; and vendor lock-in that interferes with the ability to innovate quickly.
While many defense and intelligence organizations are moving toward open architectures and systems to keep pace with today’s rapidly changing missions, the ultimate solution to achieve information superiority requires truly open frameworks. These make adding, upgrading, and swapping components easier, giving organizations the speed-to-delivery and agility to keep pace with change while making it possible to take advantage of the latest commercial technologies to achieve that speed and agility.
By using open frameworks, defense organizations can quickly replace or reuse services, data, infrastructure, and user experiences across the entire enterprise. Such flexibility enables organizations to expand and strengthen their current mission applications—and create powerful new ones—as the mission requires. Let’s take a look to learn more about open systems and how they can enable warfighters to be more ready, survivable, and lethal.
Warfighters face communications challenges even between teams due to compromised sensor connections and jammed or denied communications channels. They are often totally cut off in delayed or disconnected, intermittent, low-bandwidth (DIL) environments.
A complex, global mission that maintains mission synchronization means coordination may be necessary across several military and commercial networks, using data from multiple sensors, and across a multitude of platforms and devices. But all of these data sources and communications networks bring challenges with the sharing of data and deployment of algorithms for analysis.
Open APIs, the second principle of open architecture, are also critical. Among the barriers to speed-to-delivery and agility are interfaces that are currently proprietary, or that have been highly customized. These limitations make it more difficult for defense organizations to bring in new technologies, or to reuse capabilities across different mission areas. Open APIs, on the other hand, enable organizations to bring in any technology or application using the self-service capability. This capability can be applied to current proprietary systems by enabling them to select the data sets and applications they need for a given purpose and then configure their systems accordingly. Open frameworks can host any number of applications that are “black boxes,” as long as they can connect with the frameworks, and with one another.
The third principle of open architecture is the horizontal, enterprise-wide view. Instead of being limited to a vertical approach—supporting only the program of record—open frameworks enable organizations to orchestrate mission workflows across the entire enterprise. This can be achieved because, in open frameworks, the system’s concept of operations (CONOPS), business logic, and data models are not hardwired in. Rather, they are abstracted from the framework so that they can be easily extended with new mission threads and applications. With an open framework, as the mission evolves, the framework evolves with it.
The enterprise-wide approach also emphasizes reuse and building for reuse, so that frameworks can scale on demand. The potential of this approach can be seen in the commercial world, in the way that web-based mapping services have expanded on their initial role of helping people get from one place to another. Mapping services are now embedded in a host of apps—from Uber, Airbnb, and Yelp to Snapchat and Instagram—that have transformed how we organize and execute daily tasks. With open platforms, defense organizations can just as powerfully transform how they organize and execute their missions.
Even when frameworks are designed from the outset to be extensible and adaptable, they still may not be truly open. The technologies and processes used to build the frameworks can only be brought together with the right combination of mission expertise, software expertise, and user input—while removing vendor lock-in.
Mission expertise is needed to make sure that the framework provides the necessary capabilities to support all mission application and user needs. At the same time, software architects and engineers are best suited to design the open framework as they have the knowledge and experience to take advantage of the latest technologies and design patterns. Without that software expertise, so-called “open” frameworks tend to remain tightly closed.
User input is just as critical. If the open frameworks don’t meet their needs—if, for example, the user interfaces are too confusing—the frameworks will be used improperly or not at all. The most effective approach is to get regular user feedback as the framework is being developed and implemented and incorporate that feedback in frequent iterations.
Getting the right combination of mission experts, software architects, and users is both an art and a science. All three groups not only have to be on board, they have to collaborate closely with one another, almost as one mind. It’s important that they work shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the entire process of building and implementing open frameworks, from creating a common vision to continuous prototyping to extend and add mission capabilities.
As the three groups learn from one another and build trust, they integrate their perspectives and expertise to work toward a common purpose: to design military systems that allow mission adaptability and leverage full data sets while also being cost-effective, smart, resilient and secure, and capable of operating at the tactical edge to achieve overmatch in the Digital Battlespace.