08 A Practical Unifying Active Architecture -subm

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A Practical Unifying Active Architecture Concept.

MacDonald Dettwiler is a Canadian high technology company with a focus to work with international customers to provide solutions to their large system needs. Based on its core competencies, the company provides solutions to sectors of global niche markets, including those of surveillance systems, space systems, geoinformation systems. The company’s approach to building systems is via advanced information delivery through technology innovation and systems engineering attempting to use predominantly COTS products within its solutions.

The problem:
Not unlike numerous companies today, we have recognized that it is becoming increasignly difficult to competitively build and sell systems due to profound changes in market trends, technology trends and business needs.

A solution:
A small task team set out to evaluate the current complex sharp, qualitative, almost discontinuous changes in needs, competition, technologies and policies of customer base. It soon recognized that “a new paradigm is required to explain patterns of competitive success and failure in information technology.”[1] It became clear that “competitive success flows to the company that manages to establish architectural control over a broad, fast-moving competitive space”[1]

The team’s basic premise became to define a predominantly software system architecture

a) with a focus on military C2 systems by structuring the ill-structured needs, forms and changes in technology solutions;

b) with the requirement to optimize the economy of reuse of architectural components at many levels of reuse; and

c) with the requirement to minimize the impact of information overload (volume of data, lack of value in data, information from multiple sources, etc.), the variety of available information ‘systems’ in the market (fragmentation of information, differences in underlying representations and formats, etc.) and others.

The team devised a concept it calls a unifying active architecture. The basic blocks of this architecture are as follows:

– an active database,
– an active HMI framework,
– an intelligent data collection framework,
– domain specific applications,
– data and message replication and communication, and
– active agents.

The success of this architecture hinges on several key principles, including the following:

– information sharing
– active data reduction
– high value components
– distribution of authority with with intelligence
– underlying standards.

This architecture is intended to become the basic structural definition that systems engineers would be able to take over for further work. The architectural structure will be presented at the symposium along with an identification of core and supporting technologies and constraints that could be imposed by the future systems engineering in the problem domain at hand.

[1] From “how architecture wins technology wars” by Charles Morris and Charles Ferguson, Harvard Business Review, April, 1993