When we design mission-critical systems, we know there are critical relationships between our components and their integration. We know this so profoundly that we build processes that demand collaboration and evidence of collaboration to the degree they are now standards for our processes. To the degree that people must collaborate, our tools must create interoperability to encourage collaboration and innovation.
Intuitively we feel we know what interoperability means, but critically we must take that next step to define what are the critical elements.
Interoperability is achievable and is based on assets, temporal asset versions, and asset relationships.:
- Accessibility to all assets when we need them, in their native representations
- Ability to navigate to the current or selected version of an asset in any repository
- Ability to create relationships between assets independent of repository
What is OSLC?
The Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration is an industry standard for integrating tools. Originating out of the development of the IBM Jazz tools, it was built on the powerful concepts of linked data and the web. Rather quickly it was identified to be valuable to the larger community and not held by a single company.
The community migrated ownership to OASIS for continued growth and enhancement. Here is where it grows with both the support of tool vendors and tool users.
At its core, OSLC defines how repositories can securely communicate, the data they expose, and the links allowable between the domains. Most visible to the users are the services to provide seamless access and navigation between tools with links direct to artifacts and rich previews prior to traversing links.
Collectively, OSLC provides the framework to make integration to a repository and service consistent for both tools and users.
The vision of OSLC is an ability to achieve interoperability in your enterprise making both engineers and IT Administrators successful.
Why do engineers need interoperability?
We need to be careful to avoid burdening interoperability with the needs of exchangeability. Exchangeability introduces the need for semantic preservation, synchronization across repositories, and access governance that is not the core burden of interoperability.
Interoperability to unburden the organization
When interoperability is done well, exchangeability is no longer a burden on the organization. Teams can access and navigate to assets natively in the tools where they are authored, and no exchange is necessary.
The result is that our IT teams can successfully manage our enterprise repositories, and our engineering teams are successful. However, we can use exchangeability as the warning for when interoperability has failed our organization or our organizational boundaries.
Interoperability to achieve collaboration within the engineering organization
There was a time when engineers could work on their own and work in a single tool or toolchain. What we observe today is that Engineering is a holistic practice. Many engineers of different skills play essential roles in delivering quality products.
Isolation of people or data is no longer a possibility and collaboration is essential.
The ideas of data and people collaborating are codified in our standards and best practices. Whether we are working with ASPICE, ISO 26262, IEC 61508, or DoD 178b, our objective remains consistent with assets of traceability showing the traceability of design.
Fundamentally this means we must collaborate and enable the sharing of knowledge. Collaboration is just good engineering practice and our tools must make this easier and more visible.
OSLC and Linked Data
Is Linking Data better than Synchronizing Data?
In the recent past, interoperability was defined as the ability to exchange data. Our engineering tools were file-based, and our processes often "waterfall" in style, so the collaboration flow was built on exchange. This meant the passing of files triggered our next flow and action.
To our great credit, both our tools and our processes have changed. Our tools are now shared repositories and our processes are now more agile and dynamic. This means the idea of interoperability can no longer be founded on the ability to exchange information, but rather present dynamic information as it is available.
Linking Data to reduce dependency and increase collaboration
Our goals remain consistent with having correct and timely information to make Engineering decisions. Our processes and tools have naturally changed the way we access information from a push of exchangeability to a pull of interoperability.
For this reason, we strongly believe linked assets become the target of the future of interoperability.
It is natural in engineering that our links between assets are strong and represent our dependency and need to collaborate. As the assets on either end of the links evolve it provides a natural forum to collaborate, inspect, and validate the consistency of the engineering design.
Enabling the pull on this data flow by the link affords the natural practices and tools to enable access to design.
Linking Data to avoid copies
From an infrastructure perspective, the value of linking, over synchronizing, is immense. The linked data will not have copies, can always require authentication before views, and can be updated when the data owner determines a change is needed—all without having to track down and refresh in multiple systems through manual or automated means.
And we know all of this is true since linking has been a core practice of our tools for years. What is now unique is the linking across tools, across repositories, and across configurations. It is the natural next step as we evolve out of the practice of synchronizations and exchanges.
How can your engineers benefit from OSLC?
OSLC creates the opportunity to address the demands of engineers for interoperability. It provides the ability to connect the engineering tools of choice in the enterprise avoiding the disruption of tool migration.
From the IT perspective, the ability of OSLC to avoid data replication and enforce authenticated access to assets enhances their ability to maintain the needs and the standard of the organization. It can meet the needs of the users and your IT organization at once.
OSLC for Tool Interoperability
OSLC (Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration) can be vital for your organization's ability to address these challenges. It enables data to remain in their systems of record while allowing the linking across domains to bridge silos in scalable enterprises, all while enforcing authenticated access to data.
It realizes the best of intentions of integrating the engineering repositories that we use every day.
Where can you find out more?
Learning more about OSLC is only a couple of clicks away.
The community hosts open resources at https://open-services.net/ for all to access and learn. If you have specific questions about OSLC and your needs, feel free to contact us.
As well please stay tuned to our blog as we discuss pragmatic applications of OSLC including configuration management, reporting, and product lifecycle management (PLM).