The Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlined some of the leading practices that private sector organizations are using to create a range of “cyber-physical” products, and pointed to how government acquisition officials can learn from those practices to help frame changes in their own acquisition processes.

Examples of cyber-physical products that the GAO report points to include products it says are complex in nature, “such as combined networks of hardware and software, which require new processes to design, produce, and deliver.” Specific product examples include aircraft and uncrewed vehicles, GAO said.

“Similar to Agile software development, the iterative structure that leading companies employ when developing complex, cyber-physical products revolves around companies rapidly designing, validating, and delivering products,” GAO said a July 27 report.

The report outlines three key iterative cycles to develop cyber-physical products that eventually create a “minimum viable product (MVP)—one with the initial set of capabilities needed for customers to recognize value.”

The first of those practices includes design modeling and simulation, where product teams use technical data and feed it into a digital thread. Stakeholders “use this information to confirm that the team has captured the right requirements and is on track to meet them,” the report says.

The second practice is validation, where companies validate the design of products by creating prototypes. “This prototyping incorporates all hardware and software components to test the product’s integrated functionality in its operating environment,” GAO said.

The final practice is the production and delivery cycle, where “product teams then stop designing hardware for the given MVP and prepare parts for production, recognizing that they can add functionality through software updates later,” the report says.

GAO compiled the report after looking at 14 leading companies that the Federal government does business with and that are considered to be “leading” companies in their respective industries. Among the companies mentioned in the study are Cisco, Microsoft, and Siemens.

“Leaps in technology [have] changed the nature of the capabilities that agencies seek to acquire,” GAO said.

“No longer do agencies seek to fulfill their most dynamic mission needs by acquiring mechanical, hardware-based systems,” the report says. “Rather, agencies increasingly invest in cyber-physical systems – co-engineered networks of hardware and software, such as aircraft and uncrewed vehicles – to solve these needs.”

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Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.