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Information Superiority Requires Open Data Platforms

The Architectural Principles of “Open”

To understand the potential of open frameworks, we first have to look at their underlying architectural principles. The terms “frameworks” and “architectures” are often used interchangeably, but it’s helpful to differentiate the two. Open architectures provide the overarching concepts, or principles, of “open.” Open frameworks are the implementation of those principles for any number of missions across multiple domains—such as air, space, and cyberspace. 

We believe three key principles of open architecture are: modularity, government-owned open application programming interfaces (API), and a horizontal, enterprise view. Taken together, they enable the services and other components of the framework to be abstracted and employed in a “plug-and-play” fashion. This allows the three key principles to integrate with existing and new systems to achieve the mission in new and innovative ways while also removing vendor lock-in.

Modularity

In an open framework, services that support mission applications, such as security, system health and status, and monitoring and control—are modular and loosely coupled. This makes it easy to extend or enhance existing services, or to add new ones. At the same time, the underlying technologies are abstracted from the services, making it possible to easily and rapidly remove unnecessary components and replace them with new and more relevant ones. 

Open frameworks are able to achieve this by using approaches that promote loose coupling and modularization, such as containers and microservices. Such frameworks also leverage the most advanced open source software (OSS), as well as best-of-breed commercial and government off-the-shelf products (COTS and GOTS). This gives defense organizations the ability to quickly and cost-effectively adapt to changing mission and user needs. 

Open APIs

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. 

Horizontal Enterprise View

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.

Making Open a Reality

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

 

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