Disrupting Acquisition Blog

Summer Vacation and International Interoperability

by | Jul 9, 2019 | Design

Photo Credit to rawpixel.com

With summer officially underway, the thought that is now on everyone’s mind (regardless of being in Acquisition or not) is: Where should I go for vacation?

For those of us who dream of faraway places and then turn these daydreams into reality, we know first-hand the joys and thrills of international travel – experiencing an entirely different culture, seeing the ingenuity of other nation’s public transportation models, eating delightful new dishes, and taking scenic photos that’d make any Instagram influencer envious.

And, we also know the pains of international travel – missed travel connections, inability to communicate in the local language, and of course, jetlag. Oy vey, the jetlag!

As technology has advanced and smartphones have become ubiquitous, it’s become much harder to get off the grid and get lost (which may or may not be a good thing). Google maps for directions, ubiquitous apps for messaging friends and family, and social media galore.  But what is a key enabler of this?

Interoperability.

What does interoperability have to do with my summer plans??

Without plug adapters to charge your devices, we would be literally and figuratively lost. But not every adapter works for every device. For example, when traveling from the US to Europe, your hair dryer must be 220V compatible or it will become smoking toast when you plug it in (the US operates on 120 V). In this instance, you’d need a voltage converter rather than a plug adapter.

Fortunately, hair dryer engineers have solved this issue by creating dryers that are compatible for both 120V and 220V which saves both our hair and the environment. By having this international compatibility requirement in mind during their design phase, they were able to create a versatile solution that can be marketed to both US and European markets.

Ok, that’s great but why are we talking about hair dryers in an Acquisition blog?!

Similar to the hair dryer, acquisition professionals must consider future international interoperability requirements for the capabilities they are defining and purchasing.

The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) prioritizes three lines of effort, the second of which is strengthening alliances as we attract new partners. As part of this, the NDS instructs us to

“Deepen interoperability…. Interoperability is a priority for operational concepts, modular force elements, communications, information sharing, and equipment. In consultation with Congress and the Department of State, the Department of Defense will prioritize requests for US military equipment sales, accelerating foreign partner modernization and ability to integrate with US forces.

Without an international requirement during the design phase, it’s easy and common for engineering teams to create a US-only solution. By widening the aperture to consider future international partners, this not only creates a more versatile solution but rapidly shortens the timelines for partner nations to be able to connect and integrate with the US.

Creating an interoperable solution may even mitigate your engineers from re-designing the wheel: Many standardization and interoperability boards exist to help guide the design and development of new systems, so let your solution be a recipient of the lessons learned from prior systems and interface engineers (see Resources below).

And if expanding the aperture is truly too overwhelming or unrealistic given schedule, cost, and performance, then start small: Bookmark key policies curated by DSPO and by JITC. Look up an interoperability board. Find out who’s in your 6-shop. Invite that person to coffee. Make a connection so that when next time comes, you’ll have at least one person or place to go to for your questions.

So as we all work towards delivering better solutions faster, please consider that part of the “better solution” may mean faster integration with partner nations or more straightforward system-to-system connectivity. Encourage your design teams to consider an international solution that works in multiple theaters with multiple partner nations. While the short-term costs and performance impact may not be immediately apparent, the long-term benefit will certainly pay off and our NDS will thank you.

Resources:

2 Comments

  1. Nathaniel

    Don’t forget crypto and PNT standards. We inherit derived requirements from the NSA…

    Reply
    • Jen Choi

      Great additions Nathaniel, thanks for pointing those out!

      Reply

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Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors only and do not represent the positions of the MITRE Corporation or its sponsors.

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