Winter is coming: Do more with less to remain competitive
The motto of the House of Stark in the HBO series based on George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is “Winter is coming”. With sequestration looming, significant budget cuts already enacted, and stiff global competition, Aerospace and Defense (A&D) companies are going to need to do more with less to remain competitive. Old ways, however, die hard--paper-based artifacts have been the backbone of the industry for its whole modern existence. This culture, however, comes at a very high cost, a cost it is quite clear we can no longer afford--so how can we do more with less, how can A&D companies prepare for the coming winter?
In a recent discussion with a Systems Engineering director in the government I learned that effective systems engineering, in his opinion, is still very much a hit or miss affair in Aerospace and Defense. He said that systems engineering is often considered an overhead expense, with dubious return on investment, that cost avoidance is not the same as saving money up front, and that the practices that we (IBM Rational) espouse are very necessary for the coming environment.
This can be visualized by imagining the following scenario: you have to build a 100 mile stretch of road and there are two alternatives:
Alternative 1 -- You have to do it using just picks, shovels, horse-drawn wagons, and human muscle-power. Your upfront capital investment might be less, but you will be severely limited by the tools you use, the processes associated with using these tools, and the underlying technologies.
Think now about the publishing industry--we can envision a similar situation with books and paper. If I have to use axes and horse drawn carts to cut down trees to harvest for paper--paper will be more expensive, and so will the books, and they are likely to be a rare comm
Systems Engineering is on this kind of cusp--we cannot continue with paper-based engineering. We must ramp up the infrastructure and processes to improve- by orders of magnitude- our engineering efforts. We know this can be done, painful though it may be at first--it has been done many times in our history.
It's not that we need to be willing to change, because the change will be forced upon us one way or another. The question is, can we get ahead of the curve, and profit from our position there? It's a bit risky, but the alternative is slow stagnation and economic death.
Systems engineering in the Aerospace and Defense industry involves integration between the inherently complex domains such as avionics, mechanical and software engineering. The product life cycle relative to other industries is much longer and the products have to adhere to stringent safety and regulatory norms. Lack of proper system engineering practices and tools may save money upfront but is akin to flying blind in an unknown terrain. You can learn more about Systems Engineering through this FREE e-book (Systems Engineering for Dummies) and more about improving Systems Engineering in A&D with this white paper.
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