Process Concerns When Navigating the Transition from Sustainment to Engineering Software-Reliant Systems

Mike Gagliardi, Joe Kostial, Nicholas Reimer, and Douglas C. Schmidt coauthored this blog post.

The Defense Innovation Board (DIB), a group of leading thinkers in the area of national security that advises the Department of Defense (DoD), recently gathered to discuss the issue of U.S. dominance in software. The resulting report noted that in this age of artificial intelligence and machine learning, with military systems that are increasingly networked and automated, the DoD’s ability to maintain superiority will be “directly linked to our ability to field and maintain software that is better, smarter, and more capable than our adversaries’ software.”

In our work with federal programs, we have observed that organic software sustainment organizations are increasingly tasked with engineering and developing the software capabilities of acquisition systems. In other words, organic software sustainment is expanding beyond its traditional purview of software maintenance and repair into software engineering and development. Our initial post gave an overview of the issues that the DoD should address to make this transition successful. This post explores process concerns and provides recommendations for supporting teams transitioning from software sustainment to engineering.

The cost of externally contracted software acquisition, as well as costs associated with the proprietary nature of end-state software without clear government-use rights, is driving the DoD to develop organic software engineering capabilities to help achieve the objectives outlined in the DIB report cited above. These objectives, and the software engineering expertise required to meet them, have been outside the scope of the DoD’s traditional software sustainment organizations. To avoid the concerns of externally contracted software, the DoD increasingly supports the creation of government-managed labs and centers, as well as the transformation of organic sustainment organizations into engineering organizations that expand traditional government software capabilities.

The issues explored in this series of blog posts stem from the SEI’s experience as a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC). Our mission focuses on creating and transitioning

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