A guide to the basics of Interoperable Open Architecture

Contributor:  Andrew Elwell
Posted:  07/25/2013  12:00:00 AM EDT
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When reading the term ‘Interoperable Open Architecture’, you could be forgiven for glazing over. It sounds like a fairly taxing subject full of intricate details, which probably often leads you to the conclusion that it would make too heavy reading for 'right now' and so you keep putting off learning about it until tomorrow…or next week.

But you need to understand it today. The unavoidable truth is that it's likely to dictate the future of defence procurement and will be the driving force for all MoD contracts henceforth.

So to help make this as painless as possible, Defence IQ has put together this Dummies Guide to Interoperable Open Architecture. This guide doesn't cover all of the finer details but it should give you a clearer idea of what IOA is - for a fuller account please download RTI's excellent Whitepaper on the subject.

How do you define IOA?

Interoperable Open Architecture is the ability of systems, units, or forces to provide services to and accept services from other systems, units, or forces, and to use the services so exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together.

Simply: Interoperability enables any integrator to connect multiple components developed by different parties.

Things you need to know

  • Interoperable Open Architecture (IOA) is not the same as Open Architecture (OA). Companies have been making open components for a decade, but it is the creation of an open infrastructure, whereby these components become meaningfully intergratable with each other, that defines an Interoperable Open Architecture
  • IOA is being mandated by government but it will not be government led – the responsibility lies with the tier 1 suppliers to integrate the systems and implement the IOA
  • For the government, there is a move away from the old, one dimensional systems integrators and towards System of Systems Integrators (SoSI). Specifically relating to the electronic and software systems, the government is seeking to define a Systems of Systems Architecture (SoSA), which will be based on open standards and will result in a fully Interoperable Open Architecture
  • Before creating a truly interoperable system it is imperative that the data it processes is common among its sub-systems. A  System Data Dictionary – or data model – is needed, which will be controlled by a middleware solution and not by the individual components
  • The government needs the interoperable system of systems to be open and common to any supplier that wishes to access it. The prime contractors don’t necessarily like this concept due to commercial considerations and the need to maximise shareholder returns. Therefore the SME community is likely to be the driving force behind IOA as smaller companies tend to move quicker and are better placed to take advantage of commercial shifts.

Some of the programmes that are seeking to develop IOA

Advantages of IOA

  • IOA creates a level playing field for all suppliers, not just the primes
  • Allows for more cost-effective procurement for the end-user based on a truly completive landscape
  • Through-life maintenance and upgrades will be open to competition as the original supplier won’t have the monopoly on future integration
  • Technology can be designed to improve the warfighter’s operational effectiveness. It can also be redesigned and upgraded in an agile fashion that keeps up with the commercial world

RTI summarises the benefits of IOA rather succinctly:

“IOA promises to meet the demands of the warfighter for more, faster, better systems while reducing costs for initial delivery as well as enhancing the pace of through life upgrades and reducing costs for logistical support.”

This is only a brief overview, for a more comprehensive understanding of Interoperable Open Architecture I'd strongly recommend RTI's whitepaper.

Do you think IOA is an achievable goal for defence procurement agencies? Do the commercial or technological hurdles make it an ideal dream rather than a realistic solution? What do you think about IOA as a concept? Send in comments, questions and views to haveyoursay@defenceiq.com.

Andrew Elwell Contributor:   Andrew Elwell


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