This is Part IV in a series of posts about the history of Vitech. Part I recounts the company’s beginnings, in 1992. Part II tells the story of an influential mentor. In Part III, Vitech helps a company weather the Y2K transition in the late 1990s. In Part V, Vitech contributes to thought leadership for the developing discipline of systems engineering. Part VI concludes the history with two of Vitech’s executives noting the idiosyncrasies that evolved from the genesis of systems engineering in specific fields and encouraging us to expand our thinking on how systems engineering can help meet the challenges of the 21st century.
By the early 2000s, several more versions of Vitech’s CORE™ software had been released, and Vitech had served as a systems engineering consultant and mentor for numerous companies and government agencies. But several team members were chafing at the growing Washington, D.C.-area congestion, so Vitech began to look for a second location within driving distance of the capital.
Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center—dedicated to developing high-tech companies, adjacent to Long’s alma mater, and a half-day’s drive to DC—fit the bill. Vitech opened a satellite office at the park in 2003. At that time, the two offices were operated as sister units. The Blacksburg office in southwest Virginia became the primary location for software development and the back-office team, and the Northern Virginia office remained the home for sales and professional services given its proximity to DC.
It was during this time that Vitech landed a contract as part of the U.S. government’s Future Combat Systems, or FCS, effort. FCS, a venture to revamp and revision the infantry based on modern technology, was one of the biggest undertakings of the army since World War II. While this massive effort is generally regarded as unsuccessful, there were pockets of brilliance.
A redesign of a classic infantry carrier vehicle
United Defense Limited Partnership (UDLP), now part of BAE Systems, was a big player in this effort; their contribution was to be a redesign of their classic infantry carrier vehicle, the Bradley. In the newly conceived version, the infantry carrier vehicle was to have a sensor feeding real-time data back to a command post. One of the project’s systems engineering managers came to a Vitech training class taught by Jim Long (profiled in Part II of the history), father of Vitech President David Long. At the end of the four-day course, David recalled, “‘The manager said, “This is great! Where could I find myself some engineers who could do this?’”
Jim said, “You’re looking at them.”
So it came to be that UDLP engaged Vitech—both the CORE software and engineers—to develop the project. With UDLP’s expertise and Vitech support, the team was able to create a robust systems design. Jackie McGettigan, a senior systems engineer at Vitech, became the owner of all systems interfaces.
David Long recalled the weekly status-check meetings that McGettigan would attend. “At each of these meetings, the team lead would ask a question that no one could answer,” Long said. “There’d be a 15-second pause. Someone would say, ‘We’ll get that answer for you tomorrow. But Jackie would pipe up with the answer—crisp and correct.”
McGettigan had all the fundamental architecture modeled in CORE, and with the software doing its job of providing a single source of truth, she had ready access to the needed information. “She didn’t have to go ask a team or flip through a ton of documents. She just checked the model, and it was right there.” The outcome was that the customer had the information they needed when they needed it, and could move forward without a day’s delay.
A next generation systems engineering environment
In 2009, the company began developing GENESYS™, its next generation systems engineering environment. While CORE was integrated from requirements through architecture and test, it was built on 1990s technologies. As a result, it was fundamentally a closed system, not well suited to maximizing the value of systems engineering through connection to other engineering tools or the greater corporate enterprise. With GENESYS, Vitech sought to leverage its collective insights from CORE and countless systems engineering engagements. GENESYS would represent the next advance in systems engineering environments, continuing the line of innovation reaching back to 1967 and the foundational work of Jim Long at TRW.
In October of 2011, GENESYS was released.
In parallel with GENESYS, Vitech continued to develop new versions of CORE to serve its many clients and advance the greater industry. Guided by the principle of “balanced reflection,” Vitech strove to blend the best of industry with its own advances and insights. Recognizing the value of supporting operational architectures integrated with systems engineering, Vitech extended CORE to natively support the U.S. Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DoDAF) as a byproduct of good systems engineering. Vitech then extended the many integrated representations in CORE to include SysML (to which Vitech was a founding contributor) alongside traditional systems representations. In parallel, Vitech added new capabilities to bring additional power to its integrated, model-based systems engineering environment while continuously working to ease the burden of systems engineering and enhance the user experience of CORE.
Creating insight for customers
Zane Scott, vice president for Professional Services at Vitech, and a board member of INCOSE, began his tenure at Vitech during this time, starting as a contractor in 2009. He recalled the ability of CORE to create insights for customers. “We were working with a government client that was engaged in process re-engineering and improvement. We’d elicit their process and then put it all into the CORE database. Then we’d use a big plotter and print out an Enhanced Function Flow Block Diagram—the most complete representation of behavior in a system. When we took the diagram to the process owner, we’d tell them, ‘Based on our discussions with you, we think this is your process,’ and they’d say, ‘Well, but I do this, too.’”
Invariably, the process owners would gain insight into their processes and see how they could improve things. After all the changes, the customer would wind up with an “as-is” picture and a “to-be” picture, with new insights about how to do things. “They’d go away with the to-be pics, and their question was, ‘When can we get started?’” Scott recalled.
“The customers were able to dialog with us and make changes on the fly until the model matched their process. This showed them the areas where they could make improvements, and they provided the suggested changes,” Scott remembered. “The result we hadn’t planned on was that they now ‘owned’ the model because they recognized themselves in it. Both the ‘as is’ picture and the ‘to be’ vision were now their work product. The biggest challenge in managing process change—convincing the process owners to make the changes—disappeared. They were ready to move forward on their own ideas.”
Concepts applied to real-world problems
It was during this project that Scott met Jim Long. The government sponsors had asked Scott to present an introductory overview on project management to some of the contractors and process owners. The approach he chose to drive home the importance of thinking through all aspects of a system before implementing it was a novel one. “I taught them how to do laundry.”
Scott brought in two boxes, one to represent a washer, and the other a dryer. Then he had a stack of washcloths, some red, some white, and, unknown to the participants, some were pink. “They had to do a work breakdown structure of the process and follow it. If they failed to include the step of separating red from white, I’d hand them the pink washcloths.” It was an object lesson on the importance of eliciting a complete set of requirements.
Long, Sr. had been in the back of the room, observing. Long had alerted Scott at the beginning of class that he could only stay until lunch. But when Scott looked up at about 1:30, Long was still there. “He stayed all afternoon and then invited my facilitation partner and me to eat dinner with him and the Vitech engineer who was on our team,” Scott recalled.
At dinner, Long, with his characteristic directness, said to Scott, “You’ve been using CORE for about six months; what else would you use it for?” Scott explained that he would use it as a cold case tool for solving unsolved crimes. “I’d take everything I know and feed it to the tool. I’d have the tool tell me where the gaps are. Closing those gaps would then be my investigative plan.” Long asked what else he would use it for.
“I’d use it in doctor’s offices as a diagnostic tool. I’d use it to look at systemic interactions.” Long challenged Scott’s idea: Doctors would never buy such a tool from a non-physician!
“I told him I wouldn’t try to sell it to doctors; I’d sell it to their malpractice providers,” Scott recalled.
At that point, Long said, “You need to be working for Vitech.” That began a relationship that would culminate in Scott joining Vitech in 2009.
Scott remembered an important lesson from that conversation with Long. “First, Jim was looking for applications of the concepts behind CORE outside of the ways we were already working. Like most people,” Scott said, “I looked to my own background (in law enforcement) for the application, but Jim’s question made me focus on the conceptual level at the same time. Concepts applied to real world problems are the essence of effective problem solving. That’s the challenge that brought me to Vitech.”