Improving Collaboration to Drive Innovative Engineering

Michael Vizard

Arguably economic advancement is tied directly to innovation, which in turn is dependent on collaboration. Building innovative products is hard enough when everybody involved in the project is in the same building and works for the same company. But in today’s global economy it’s much more likely that the development of any given product is going to involve teams of engineers working in different countries that don’t all have the same level of competency in a particular language. As such, the odds are good that something is going to invariably go wrong during the development of almost any complex product.

Hoping to address that specific issue, IBM is building a Systems Engineering Tools Integration and Interoperability platform with the EADS aerospace consortium as part of a Software Platform of Engineering and Integration of Things (SPRINT) project.

According to Asaf Adi, manager of simplified middleware and tools for IBM Research, the basic idea is to provide a method through which multiple organizations could mediate semantic differences that essentially describe the same thing across different engineering tools. A base level of context and understanding, says Adi, would go a long way to eliminating a lot of the misunderstandings that today wind up delaying any number of global engineering projects.

At the heart of this effort is a common open source markup language, called Systems Modeling Language (SysML), that is being proposed as a standard modeling language for engineering applications and the Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC). SysML is a dialect of the Unified Modeling Language (UML), a standard for modeling software-intensive systems that is driven by the Object Management Group. OSLC is an effort to allow software lifecycle tools to share data.

Economics obviously drove the globalization of engineering. But that phenomenon happened well in advance of anything that resembled a collaboration framework that works across multiple languages and engineering tools. In essence, IBM and its partners are now proposing that it’s high time the tools actually catch up to current engineering and economic realities.

It will still take a while for all these semantic issues to work themselves out. But it’s good to see some actual progress being made on an engineering issue that obviously has a lot of implications for our collective global prosperity.



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