MITRE Promotes Software Standards Development through Worldwide Partnerships

June 2012
Topics: Software Standards, Open Source Software
Software standards allow products created by different vendors to work together seamlessly.
globe with computer code

You may not be aware of it, but your car is the product of hundreds of standards. Take the steering wheel, for example. "When automotive makers develop new cars, there are standards for how to design parts such as steering wheels," says Char Wales, a MITRE lead information systems engineer. Without standards, each type of vehicle would require costly proprietary parts and subsystems. The same holds true for software.

Software standards—the common formats of a document, file, or data transfer used by developers while working on programs—allow products created by different software makers to work together seamlessly. Open standards also reduce development costs. MITRE has a long history of working at the forefront of major software standards efforts.

The Department of Defense recognized the need for this type of standardization in 1994, when then-U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry issued a directive that all DoD systems should use open and commercial software standards. It marked a key moment for the military's technological evolution as well as for MITRE's role in standards development work.

"The idea of the DoD directive was to get away from the development of one-off, proprietary systems," Wales explains. "If a vendor develops a proprietary system, the maintenance is up to them forever. The interfaces must be based on industry standards so that systems of systems can function. Standards allow data to be exchanged across systems even if the systems are developed by different vendors."

One key way MITRE influences the development and adoption of standards is through our partnership with the Object Management Group, which was already ongoing for several years by the time of the DoD directive. (See "A Longtime Partnership Leads to Standards Success.")

Even-handed and Unbiased

The fact that MITRE doesn't manufacture products and maintains vendor neutrality has enabled the company to contribute to the development of many standards.

"We have a diverse sponsor base, so we take the broad view, across the whole government," says Dave Lehman, MITRE senior vice president and chief operations officer. "We have the ability, because of our role managing federally funded research and development centers, to come into standards bodies like OMG and be viewed as even-handed and unbiased."

Richard Soley, OMG's chairman and chief executive officer, echoes these sentiments. "MITRE has worked with us to develop standards relating to military communications, command and control systems, and data sharing in civil and military government settings," he says. "The company's commitment to open standards and real proofs of concept has ensured that OMG standards are fit for their purpose and successfully support both government and commercial use."

MITRE's work starts with a request for proposal, or RFP, for a given software standard. "We work with vendors in the RFP stage to be sure the document has the proper requirements, so what comes back to the government is useful as a standard," says Wales. Following the RFP, the specifications move through a series of review committees in an approval process until OMG formally adopts them. It generally takes a year to 18 months to complete the process. (For more details on this, see "From RFP to Standard".)

A Coalition of the Willing

In MITRE's collaboration with OMG over the past two decades, we have supported modeling language definitions and profiles that have become open standards. Fatma Dandashi, a lead modeling and simulation engineer, has supported the development of a number of standards, including the Systems Modeling Language (SysML), a graphical modeling language that enables the analysis and design of complex systems.

Dandashi began to work with OMG in 2002, when she presented MITRE's response to the organization's request for information on SysML. OMG adopted SysML in 2006 and made it widely available for use in 2007. SysML has been so successful that a number of MITRE sponsors, including the Defense Information Systems Agency, now use the standard.

Dandashi, who describes OMG as a "coalition of the willing," continues to work with the organization. Her involvement with OMG has contributed to the development of the Unified Profile for DoDAF and MODAF (UPDM), which is the DoD mandated standard for development of architecture models. Her current activities include collaborating on applying a standard known as the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) standard to create a model of a mission and using SysML to develop system models to see how those fit in the overall picture of the mission. "The model tells us what systems are interdependent and how they affect the mission," she says.

hData Standard Makes Waves in Healthcare

For the last several years, MITRE has contributed to the development of hData—an electronic method of exchanging health information between patients, doctors, hospitals, and clinics— in an effort to promote the adoption and use of secure electronic health record systems.

In addition to OMG, MITRE worked with Health Level 7 (HL7), a health IT standards organization, to refine and promote hData. "Through the Healthcare Services Specification Project, a formal collaboration between the HL7 and OMG, we have been able to move hData forward," says Gerald Beuchelt, a principal information security engineer who works on the project.

"To best foster adoption of the base exchange protocol, we went through OMG, since it's more of a technical organization. HL7 focuses on the clinical relevance of standards and how it ties together from a clinical perspective." Last year, OMG officially adopted hData as one of its standards. The next step is for an OMG task force to further refine the hData specification based on active user feedback.

To Rich Byrne, a MITRE senior vice president, the company's standards work exemplifies the best of what MITRE has to offer its government sponsors. "This work is a great example of bringing a diverse community together to advance a technically sound solution to a problem of national importance."

—by Maria S. Lee

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