In this interview series with Digital Transformation Officers (DTOs) at Wind River, we shed light on their perspectives as they help customers navigate a changing business landscape.
Roberto Valla is the Field Digital Transformation Officer (DTO) for the aerospace and defense (A&D) market segments at Wind River. For the first 28 years of his career, Roberto was with McDonnell Douglas / Boeing, where he worked on commercial, defense and space programs. He has broad and deep experience in the field, from engineering and program management roles to business development, sales and marketing. He joined Wind River two years ago, where he continues to contribute to the A&D sector, helping companies move into a cloud-native, software-enabled future.
Q: What are some capabilities that intelligence systems are bringing to your customer base in the next three years that you see as being really radical transformations?
Roberto Valla (RV): When I think about intelligence systems and new capabilities in aerospace and defense, it’s not the individual assets, but how they get integrated to deliver a specific outcome. The “glue” that holds these different assets together creates a much more effective and efficient way to achieve your objectives, whether it’s a business outcome on Wall Street or a military outcome on the battlefield.
Imagine a tanker transport aircraft. It not only performs its primary mission of passing fuel to other airplanes, but it can also function as a communication relay node. It can also host a cloud environment that manages the devices onboard the aircraft, like-real time operating systems, mission systems, radar, and defensive suites. Now, add in a fighter jet on the same cloud as the tanker transport. Those two aircraft now share the same tactical environment so they can seamlessly exchange information. Each asset performs their primary mission, but they are also sharing real time-information and situational awareness data, so they are effectively smarter together than they were separately. And that is a really exciting future to enable for our customers, where the whole is always more capable than simply the sum of its parts.
Q: What are some of the first steps that our customers are taking? And what might we expect as some of the downstream effects on products and services within the military.
RV: Traditionally, most hardware-driven programs in the A&D sector have gone through three, distinct phases funded through separate “colors of money”: development, production, and then a very long sustainment to support the product in the field. Now, we are moving to software-enabled solutions. Let’s take a code patch as an example. You develop and perform integration lab tests quickly, then move to the field to test it out, fix bugs and make changes, and then deploy it. Now you are commingling the “traditional” program phases and you need access to the various “colors of money” concurrently.
To address this challenge, the Department of Defense has realized they cannot fund many software-intensive efforts using traditional methods so in fiscal year 2021 they implemented a $600 million dollar “colorless” software project, increasing it to $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2022. This policy decision can bring real change not only in how software is developed, deployed, and maintained, but also in how programs are funded. Those changes should translate into faster time-to-market, and therefore a benefit to users in the field.
Q: What have you learned in conversations with our customers in terms of where they are at their journey in terms of technologies, processes, culture, and so on?
RV: By far, the biggest single trend transforming the industry is the importance of speed, of being able to accelerate how we develop and deploy software, the way we operate intelligent systems, and how we maintain and upgrade those systems throughout their lifecycle. The A&D sector is concentrating on three pillars to aid this acceleration. First is digital engineering. Think of this as creating a true digital thread that is not limited to just the prime contractor but also includes the entire supply chain. The second pillar is the move to Agile which includes DevSecOps and continuous Authority To Operate (cATO). The final pillar is open system architecture standards that make it easier to build interoperable systems, and avoid vendor lock-in.
These three pillars all aim towards a common goal: better, faster decision-making and ultimately accelerating what the military calls the OODA loop – observe, orient, decide, and act – in order to stay ahead of the adversary.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges along the way?
RV: In aerospace and defense, and probably true for other highly-regulated sectors, once the technology has proven itself, policies have to catch up, from “colorless” budgets in the military to safety certification procedures in the commercial side. The technology usually leads, the policies eventually follow. The bigger challenge, though, is people. In the A&D sector, we've accelerated some of the most remarkable inventions which resulted into history making milestones – from operating vehicles that explore far away planets such as Mars, to connecting any two airports on Earth with a direct long-haul flight. As we see technology changes coming, I think the policy and people elements needed to implement them will remain collectively the long pole in the tent.
At Wind River we are embracing new technologies, like cloud-native, software-enabled intelligent systems that continuously evolve throughout their lifecycle. One of the key benefits of a cloud-native approach is the opportunity to foster collaboration among teams that might have previously been siloed. I think that’s one of the exciting parts of the future, especially for our A&D customers who operate at the far/tactical-edge, where Wind River has enabled their success for the past 40+ years.
Interested in hearing more from Roberto? You can contact him through LinkedIn to follow up on anything in this article or to see how Wind River can help transform your business.