How to Choose the Right MBSE Tool

Find the Model-Based Systems Engineering Tool for Your Team

A model-based systems engineering tool can provide you with accuracy and efficiency. You need a tool that can help you do your job faster, better, and cheaper. Whether you are using legacy tools like Microsoft Office or are looking for a MBSE tool that better fits your team, here are some features and capabilities you should consider.

Collaboration and Version Control

It’s 2018. The MBSE tool you are looking at should definitely have built in collaboration and version control. You want to be able to communicate quickly and effectively with your team members and customers. Simple features such as a chat system and comment fields are a great start. Workflow and version control are more complex features but very effective. Workflow is a great feature for a program manager. It allows the PM to design a process workflow for the team that sends out reminders and approvals. Version control lets users work together simultaneously on the same document, diagram, etc. If you are working in a team of 2+ people, you need a tool with version control. Otherwise you will waste a lot of time waiting for a team member to finish the document or diagram before you can work on it.

Built in Modeling Languages Such as LML, SysML, BPML, Etc.

Most systems engineers need to be able to create uniformed models. LML encompasses the necessary aspects of both SysML and BPML. If you would like to try a simpler modeling language for complex systems, LML is a great way to do that. A built in modeling language allows you to make your models correct and understandable to all stakeholders.

Executable Models

A MBSE tool needs to be much more than just a drag and drop drawing tool; the models need to be executable. Executable models ensure accurate processes through simulation. Innoslate’s activity diagram and action diagram are both executable through the discrete event and Monte Carlo simulators. With the discrete event simulator, you will not only be able to see your process models execute, but you will able to see the total time, costs, resources used, and slack. The Monte Carlo simulator will show you the standard deviation of your model’s time, cost, and resources.

Easy to Learn

It can take a lot of time and money to learn a new MBSE tool. You want a relatively short learning curve. First, look for a tool that has an easy user interface. A free trial, sandbox, or account to get started with is a major plus. This let’s you get a good feel for how easy the tool is to learn. Look for tools that provide free online training. It’s important that the tool provider is dedicated to educating their users. They should have documentation, webinars, and free or included support.

Communicates Across Stakeholders

Communication in the system/product lifecycle is imperative. Most of us work on very diverse teams. Some of us have backgrounds in electrical engineering or physics or maybe even business. You need to be able to communicate across the entire lifecycle. This means the tool should have classes that meet the needs of many different backgrounds, such as risk, cost, decisions, assets, etc. A tool that systems engineers, program managers, and customers can all understand is ideal. The Lifecycle Modeling Language (LML) is a modeling language designed to meet all the stakeholder needs.

Full Lifecycle Capability

A tool with full lifecycle capability will save you money and time. If you don’t choose a tool with all the features needed for the project’s lifecycle, you will have to purchase several different tools. Each of those tools can cost the same amount as purchasing just one full lifecycle MBSE tool. You will also have to spend money on more training since you will not be able to do large group training. Most tools do not work together, so you will have spend resources on integrating the different tools. This causes the overall project to cost a lot more. This is why Innoslate is a full lifecycle MBSE solution.

 

It’s important to find the tool that is right for your project and your team. These are just helpful guidelines to help you find the right tool for you. You might need to adjust some of these guidelines for your specific project. If you would like to see if Innoslate is the right tool for your project, get started with it today or call us to see if our solution is the good fit for you.

 

Quick Guide to Innoslate’s Ontology

Innoslate uses the Lifecycle Modeling Language (LML) ontology as the basis for the tool’s database schema. For those new to the word “ontology,” it’s simply the set of classes and relationships between them that form the basis for capturing the information needed. We look at this in a simple Entity-Relationship-Attribute (ERA) form. This formulation has a simple parallel to the way we look at most languages: entities represent nouns; relationships represent verbs; attributes on the entity represent adjectives; and attributes on relationships represent adverbs.

LML contains twelve (12) entity classes and eight (8) subclasses. They represent the basic elements of information needed to describe almost any system. The figure below shows how they can be grouped to create the models needed for this description.

Most of these entity classes have various ways to visualize the information, which are commonly called models or diagrams. The benefit of producing the visualizations using this ontology means that when you create one model, other models that use the same information will automatically have that information available.

All these entities are linked to one another through the relationships. The primary relationships are shown below.

 

This language takes a little getting used to, like any other language. For example, you might be used to referring to something functional as a Function or Activity. These are both “types” of Actions in LML and implemented as labels in Innoslate. Similarly, you may be used to using different relationship names for parents and children for different entity classes. However, by using the same verbs for the parent-child relationships you can avoid confusion in having to remember all the different verbs.

You still might need other ontological additions. LML was meant to be the “80% solution.” You should look very closely at the ontology, as often you only need to add types (labels) or an attribute here and there. Hopefully, you will rarely need to add new classes and relationships. If you do add new classes, try to do so as subclasses to existing ones, so that you inherit the diagrams as well. For example, when the Innoslate development team added the new Test Center, they decided they needed to extend the Action class. This enables the TestCase class to inherit the Action class and other functional diagrams, as well as the status, duration, and other attributes that were important.

Hopefully, you can see the benefits of using LML as the basis for Innoslate’s schema. It was designed to be:

  • Broad (covers the entire lifecycle – technical and programmatic)
  • Ontology-based (enables translation from LML to other languages and back)
  • All the capabilities of SysML (with LML v1.1 extensions) and DoDAF
  • Simple structure
  • Useful for stakeholders across the entire lifecycle

For more information, see www.lifeyclemodeling.org and visit the Help Center at help.innoslate.com.

Do Frameworks Really Work?

Over the past 20 years, we have been using various “Frameworks” to capture information about architectures and systems. Beginning perhaps with the Zachman Framework, which is still one of the most successful. The Zachman Framework is timeless for this reason: it forced us to think about the standard interrogatives (Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How) and different perspectives (Executive, Business Management, Architect, Engineer, and Technician) as applied to the enterprise. The idea was to build models in each area, starting with simple lists and working into detailed models of the systems at a component level.

Other frameworks followed, included the DoD Architecture Framework (DoDAF – which came from the C4ISR Architecture Framework), the Ministry of Defence Architecture Framework (MODAF), the NATO Architecture Framework, and many others. All these Frameworks were built on the idea that the information could be easily “binned” into these boxes, but as we know many of the models in these Frameworks included maps between different data elements, such as the CV-6 from DoDAF that maps Capabilities to Operational Activities. Recently, the Object Management Group (OMG) and others have been trying to push out a Unified Architecture Framework (UAF) that combines the models from many of these other frameworks into a single, very large framework. OMG is also responsible for developing the Unified Modeling Language (UML), Systems Modeling Language (SysML), and the Unified Profile for DoDAF and MODAF (UPDM).

All of these framework and languages are ways to capture information about a system or enterprise and show them as a set of data, often as a picture or model with two or more pieces of information in the model. An example is the DoDAF OV-5a, which is a functional hierarchy of Operational Activities, which only contains a single entity class and the decomposition relationship between those entities. Another example is the OV-5b, which shows the Operational Activities and the “Resource Flows” (which many of us recognize as inputs and outputs to/from the Operational Activities) between them. Thus, we have now two entity classes and the associated relationships between them. Obviously, the information in the CV-6, OV-5a, and OV-5b overlap in that the same Operational Activities need to show up in each of these models. But how many of these different models would we need to complete describe a system or enterprise?

An alternative way to capture information is to use an ontology (and the DoDAF 2.02 is based on a rather large ontology – the DoDAF MetaModel 2.0 or DM2) that captures the information in a finite number of classes (or bins) and a set of relationships between these classes. The classes and relationships can have attributes associated with them, which are also pieces of information. At the ontology level, all we see is a mass of data, so most of us want to see the pictures, and most architects and system engineers seem to prefer this approach.

An alternative to the DM2 is the Lifecycle Modeling Language (LML), which contains both an ontology and a set of diagrams to capture the necessary technical and program information associated with a project. This language uses an ontology that appears simpler than the DM2, but actually hides the complexity through the large number of relationships between entities and the fact that the relationships can have attributes associated with them. LML purports to be the 80% solution to the ontology, meaning that you may decide to extend it to meet your specific needs. But let’s just stick with it. LML has 20 classes of entities, and each entity class has a number of relationships associated with it (over 40 in total). So, if we ignore the attributes, we have over 20(20-1)/2=190 combinations of information possible. Does that mean I need 190 or more diagrams to visualize all this information, perhaps – it could be less, but it could be more. Can we really have that many different diagrams to represent this information, which is what a Framework would require? And of course, if we add in all the attributes to both the classes and relationships, then we are trying to display a lot more information than this.

So, Frameworks are a useful starting point, which is how John Zachman uses his framework, and it may be enough for enterprise architecture, but it’s not a panacea for all of systems engineering problems. Sooner or later as we want to decompose the system to a level we can determine what to buy or build, as well as manage these kinds of projects, you likely will need to use a more robust approach. LML and this kind of ontology makes it much easier to capture, manage, and visualize the information. See for yourself. Go to www.innoslate.com and try out the tool that uses LML for free. Explore the Schema Editor to see the entire ontology. Play with the “Getting Started” panel examples. I think once you do you will find this approach works much better than the Frameworks. In addition, Innoslate has a “DoDAF Dashboard” that enables you to create DoDAF models directly from the dashboard, so if that’s what you are more familiar with, you will find it the easiest to get started. Notice that may of the other projects are automatically populated with the information from the other models. That’s because Innoslate reuses that information to automatically create the other views!