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Mechatronics: An opportunity for collaboration

In April I was invited to speak about Jazz, the Jazz Integration Architecture, and Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC) at a Mechatronics Council Workshop for the CPDA in Cincinnatti, OH.

CPDA stands for Collaborative Product Development Associates, LLC. After some research, I learned that they are focused on product lifecycle management, and that they provide research in design, engineering, and manufacturing. All of this is interesting to companies that IBM works with to help develop complex physical products that contain a growing amount of software. I meet a lot of customers in software and systems engineering, so I decided it’s always good to learn more about their Collaborative Lifecycle needs.

Every conversation at the event revolved around the need for collaboration and the need to access incredible amounts of disparate data. In this case, they needed collaboration between the engineers who design the mechanical, electrical, and software systems involved in incredibly complex systems. This data was locked away in proprietary databases housed around the world. We were talking about the data required to design and develop gadgets like cell phones, automobiles, fighter jets, and weather stations!

The underlying challenge these teams face is the same as most software developers: the need to have transparency across all of that data. You can attempt to solve this problem the old way, which is to try to bring all of that data into a single datastore so you gain control of it. Looking back now, that approach feels so silly. Can you imagine if the Internet were designed this way? So, why would we do it for systems and software development?

Alternatively, you can try to solve this problem using open standards such as REST to open the repositories that house this data to respond to URL requests. This is a fundamental premise of the Jazz Integration Architecture: Be inspired by the World Wide Web and use RESTful interfaces to access data in repositories, as if that data were a resource at the end of a URL. Next, create a set of open specifications that define the nature of that data, enabling applications to discover and interact with each other’s resources. This is the inspiration behind the OSLC initiative. Focus on addressing the needs of mechanical and electrical engineering teams in addition to software development teams. Then YOU need to encourage your vendors to implement the specifications and allow for loosely coupled, linked webs of data that the entire engineering team (mechanical, electrical, software) can navigate, query, and have the visibility into that they need. This sounds like a daunting task, but a workgroup has already begun the journey: PLM workgroup on

Then came the Agile subject. Rather than assert that Agile was “the way”, I presented my dilemma about whether I should talk about this topic. As I was speaking the sentence, the mood in the room told me everything. As I told the group that I was advised not to talk Agile, their faces turned angry and heads shook aggressively, NO! Then when I explained that others advised me to talk about Agile, their frowns turned to smiles and they started nodding enthusiastically, YES. So we talked about Agile. We went back to the manifesto and to the principles of doing things incrementally and making sure the increments are right before moving on. We talked about the V-model and how you could nest agile iterations within it. That alone is worthy of it’s own blog. The group engaged in an active discussion of how they can apply this to their work. Overall it turned out to be an incredibly rewarding day of active discussion and brainstorming about a world that could be.

So, why am I blogging about this now? I was asked to relay my experience with the Mechatronics workshop because the principles of Jazz do apply in systems engineering and embedded software development. We can do better than a single, monolithic data store to store and access the project’s data.

And yes, companies who are engaged in Mechatronics are interested in best practices that can enable greater agility, responsiveness, and collaboration in their development process.

In the coming months more information related to systems and software engineering will begin appearing on provided by the team members who are dedicated to providing you with the best lifecycle integrations on the planet.

Carolyn Pampino
Collaborative Lifecycle Management Lead