Guest viewpoint: Contractors need to adopt next-generation requirements-management technology

By Philip C. Deck

WATERLOO, Ontario, 1 March 2008.According to the National Defense Industrial Association, a new imperative emerging from the global war on terrorism is the increased demand for rapid response to changing threats. The good news is that efficiencies made possible by proven advances in requirements technology now put military and aerospace electronics contractors in a better position to help customers meet this imperative. Contractors can benefit today from adopting the next generation of requirements-management technology.

The first-generation requirements management technology presents a challenge: it is not designed to provide the increased level of visibility and traceability that contractors require to be in lockstep with the new thresholds of efficiency, speed, and flexibility that customers demand.

These tools were designed to serve business analysts. They are integrated with distinct silo lifecycle management tools and they are disconnected from the development process. As a result, data does not flow smoothly between the analysts who generate the requirements, the software developers who build the end product, the project managers who must review the whole effort, senior management who need certain key metrics to make decisions, and customers who must approve the work in progress.

This prevents analysts, developers, projects leaders, executives, and customers from accurately knowing the impact requirements changes have on other development areas and from determining whether dynamically changing requirements have been fully met. Costly gaps in communications may occur between these different roles and may leave customers worrying about the contractor's ability to deliver more against the new response time imperative. The consequences of mishaps can be significant in the war against terrorism.

Relief in sight

In contrast, the next generation of requirements-management technology solves this challenge head on. It is suited for military and aerospace electronics organizations. Its aim is to provide one unified response for managing requirements in direct relationship to all downstream development, quality assurance, and deployment phases of the lifecycle. So, it is a win-win for military and aerospace contractors and their customers as new efficiencies can percolate enabling these players to enhance their rapid response time.

The question is: how do military and aerospace electronics organizations know whether they need this type of technology? The answer is simple. They notice that they have outgrown their existing requirements-management technology. It no longer accommodates their expanding needs to deal with mammoth complexity in managing a huge number of dynamically changing requirements at the enterprise-level in tandem with other development efforts. This situation is an invitation to potential gaps and problems in delivering smoothly against the customer's vision.

The next generation requirements-management technology counters these obstacles and works this way: it sits in an advanced unified platform designed to remove the problem of silos and associated risks in implementing requirements management, change management, software configuration management, test management, and release management. In this platform, all these capabilities are engineered in concert by design so that each role in the lifecycle can be made more efficient and productive as silos are knocked down and communications gaps are eliminated across the lifecycle.

The advantage the next generation of requirements-management technology provides over the less advanced tools is that it fosters a flexible and secure data model for system development, forging data level connections, and improving collaboration, traceability and visibility across the lifecycle.

In environments that put the next generation of requirements-management technology to work for them, analysts, developers, testers, and release managers can collaborate more effectively via one holistic platform characterized by a unified interface and a common process.

For example, analyst, development, quality, and operations teams can collaborate using one lifecycle-management platform for requirements capture, traceability, change management, and management of development, testing, and deployment tasks.

Specifically, analysts can determine the impact of a proposed change by reviewing the status of all work in progress to implement the requirement. Development teams are automatically notified of any requirements change and update. And, project managers can assess the impact of change, as it occurs, within reused assets.

With advanced requirements change management, program managers can assess the ripple effect of changing requirements specifications and the impact of change on schedules and costs, development tasks, and testing efforts thanks to accurate metrics provided by platform.

In addition, senior management gain a connected view into all phases of development projects via powerful querying, charting, reporting, and dash boarding capabilities.

Customer relationships are enhanced this way because the technology fosters a seamless, real-time flow of requirements data between requirements producers and consumers, and allows traceability through every stage of the development process.

As a result of more effective collaboration and communication, new efficiencies can be gained across the board: in saving time and in lowering costs as well as in predicting more accurately costs and project schedules. All these advantages can help customers better meet their response time goals.

There is yet another area where the next-generation requirements-management technology can make a difference to military and aerospace contractors and their customers. These platforms allow contractors to more dynamically reuse requirements and sets of requirements and this portability from project to project is done via the application of change and configuration management principles to the requirements management discipline. This enables teams to easily keep track of the different versions of requirements and all the changes made to them, to link them to all the tests that must be completed across the lifecycle, and to go back to previous versions for re-use as appropriate.

With requirements configuration management, military and aerospace electronics contractors can save valuable time and money because they do not need to reinvent the wheel on contract bidding and software development processes. Instead, they can leverage pre-existing individual requirements, or sets of requirements, to streamline the bidding process, to quick start programs, and to deliver programs with greater efficiency and effectiveness.

This puts contractors in a better position to achieve new levels of competitiveness in bidding and in developing software for a wide variety of defense aircraft and systems, in real-time, absorbing and remaining in lock step with the many variances in specifications, U.S. national defense rules, and regulations in today's aerospace and defense sector.

Philip C. Deck is chairman and chief executive officer MKS Inc. in Waterloo, Ontario, an application lifecycle management (ALM) provider. Contact the company online at www.mks.com.

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