Enterprise System-of-Systems Model for Digital-thread Enabled Acquisition

Principal Investigator:  Tom McDermott, Georgia Institute of Technology

Timeframe:  July 2017 – July 2018

Research Thrust Area: Enterprises and System of Systems

Sponsor: Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Engineering)



The Department of Defense is embarking on a set of initiatives to transform DoD acquisition processes and guidance for engineering and manufacturing development in a full digitally enabled environment.

The strategic goals of the DoD Digital Engineering transformation are to [Zimmerman, 2016]:

  1. Develop and maintain a culture and workforce that adopts and supports digital engineering across the lifecycle.
  2. Formalize development and use of models for providing an enduring authoritative source of truth.
  3. Foster the integration of models and data sources across program disciplines to inform enterprise and program decision making.
  4. Establish supporting infrastructure and environments to perform engineering activities, collaborate, and communicate across stakeholders.
  5. Leverage advanced tools, computing, and advanced capabilities to improve system capabilities, automate workflow processes (as applicable), and generate digital artifacts and deliverables using models.

The SERC is supporting Digital Engineering efforts through research tasks such as Transforming Systems Engineering Through Model Based Systems Engineering and the Engineered Resilient Systems program. These efforts are focused on assessment and development of collaborative digital engineering environments as an evolution in processes, methods, and tools. However, additional research is needed to characterize the related path for the DoD acquisition enterprises: Digital Thread Enabled Acquisition.

Previous research in the SERC defined a set of methods and processes to model trans-formative change in large scale enterprises—the enterprise systems of systems methodology. In this research task, this approach will be used to develop enterprise transformation model that can be used to provide insight into the value of different acquisition strategies and incentives. To limit the scope of the project, we will focus specifically on the impact of digital engineering on the DoD’s approach towards owning the technical baseline. 

“Owning the technical baseline” means that “[Department of Defense] program managers and personnel have sufficient technical knowledge of their engineering development  programs to ensure program success by making informed, timely, and independent decisions to manage cost, schedule, and performance risk while ensuring disciplined program execution.”  [U.S. Air Force, 2015] This initiative is well-aligned with the Department of Defense objective of achieving dominant capabilities through technical excellence and innovation. Owning the technical baseline will allow the Department of Defense to respond more quickly and without disruption to changing mission needs and to opportunities for technical innovation.


 The following high-level approach will be conducted.

The research team shall:

  • Perform structured interviews with key stakeholders in Department of Defense and major defense contractors
  • Investigate impact of Digital Thread on Department of Defense’s approach towards owning the technical baseline, and the corresponding impacts on the business ecosystem
  • Identify opportunities and challenges (e.g., intellectual property, training, infrastructure,…)
  • Identify and analyze potential modifications/improvements to Digital Thread and corresponding processes
  • Identify short-term and long-term value propositions for each of the key stakeholders
  • Identify possible incentives to accelerate adoption

Additional questions to guide the research include:

  • What changes are likely to emerge from the transition to digital engineering processes, methods, and tools? 

  • What are the enablers and barriers to such innovation in the DoD acquisition enterprise? 

  • What stakeholders will be affected and how will they likely embrace or oppose change? 

  • How might stakeholders be incentivized to embrace innovation and how will this be measured? 

  •  What are the leading and long-term indicators of change? 

  • How might the value of such changes be predicted and measured? 
Within this acquisitions enterprise, major areas of competing goals will include shared government and contractor access to the set of design data, scientific and technical analyses, decision trades, process and tool data, development approaches, and even engineering notes and discussions that form the project technical baseline. Shared goals will not be developed with mandates, but will be enabled through innovations in methods, processes and tools that create “win-win” strategies between stakeholders. Research that focuses on the enablers and barriers to effective innovation in these processes is needed, and is the primary driver of an enterprise view. 

Research Team

Research Team: 

  • Chris Paredis, Georgia Institute of Technology/Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Thomas McDermott, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Molly Nadolski, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Paul Collopy, University of Alabama in Huntsville


Major Deliverables:

  • Final technical report (at completion of task)



none to date


Transition:  The focus of the research is on developing a conceptual model of the impact of Digital Thread capabilities on the DoD acquisitions processes.  The opportunity for this research to inform and influence acquisition processes in the future is significant.  Facilitating a transition towards digital engineering within the acquisitions context is the long-term goal of this project.  Within the scope of this initial effort, the research team will work closely with the DoD stakeholders to make sure the interviews and resulting conceptual models contribute directly towards this long-term goal.  It is expected that further research and implementation will be necessary to complete this long-term transition strategy.


Collaborating Institutions

Project Researchers