Improbable Defence

From open standards to open book: taming data with Envitia's Data Discovery Platform for more accessible synthetic environments

In this blog series, we look at how specialists across industry are using Improbable’s synthetic environment development platform, Skyral, to collaborate in new ways and help defence transform how it trains.

Tim Stringer, Partner Success Manager

The term ‘data-driven’ has taken on a particular emphasis in recent years. After all, it’s now very hard to find something untouched by data at a time when nearly everything is digitally connected.

In a previous blog, my colleague explored the emergence of ‘data lakes’: large data repositories often originating from the breaking down of data silos. This has ultimately been a boon for technological innovation as we steam into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and encounter its many faces – The Internet of Things, AI, cloud computing and so on.

There’s an unfortunate but perhaps inevitable byproduct of this explosion of data: there’s lots of it, all over the place. And to be most useful it frequently needs locating, organising, converting to open standards, cataloguing and tracking. It’s a ubiquitous problem, one that needs specialist attention.

Enter Envitia. A data compilation and analytics company, its flagship product, the Data Discovery Platform (DDP), is based on open standards for discovery, management and analysis of information. The DDP pulls together internal and external sources of data to enable a single source of reference in a format that is easily searchable and available for analytics. Simply put, by harnessing Envitia’s DDP, we can grip the challenge above and start to make better sense of data.

It’s this core concept that appeals to the defence industry as it strives for data-driven digital transformation. Widely regarded in both civilian and defence spaces, Envitia recently completed a DASA-funded project under Dstl to create a prototype catalogue for the Defence Simulation Centre (DSC). It proved hugely valuable. Previously disparate content was categorised, correlated and tagged with metadata to make it easier to locate, interrogate, use and use again.

This compliments Envitia’s extensive experience in the geospatial data field. They’ve worked closely with the Environment Agency, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the UK Hydrographic Office. And in a move that further strengthens ties between the defence sector and industry, Envitia was recently awarded a £1.2m contract by the Royal Navy to deliver an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) capability that will underpin the Navy Digital Programme.

The evidence speaks for itself: Envitia are industry specialists and experts in their field. So we’re delighted to collaborate with them in a partnership that sees the Skyral Exchange showcasing the potential of Envitia’s market offering for greater visibility, accessibility and the reuse of government-funded content, models and assets, such as those that might be stored in the DSC.

Making sense of data for better synthetic environments 

I referred to my colleague’s blog before. Its title bears repeating: we need open, accessible content and data to make collaboration our competitive edge. When we build synthetic environments that enable personnel, policy makers and decision takers to understand and adapt to the fluid, fast-moving challenges of tomorrow, we need the means to more easily access the latest assets, models and applications. For this to work, we need libraries and catalogues to communicate with each other.

It’s a process called catalogue federation – and Envitia are specialists in it. Together, we’ve created a concept demonstration to highlight where a catalogue federation between the Skyral Exchange and a representative instance of the DSC rapidly enables the search and selection of appropriate Government Furnished Assets (GFA) for efficient release into a synthetic environment solution. 

The demonstration shows how, by applying Envitia’s catalogue federation expertise, a synthetic environment developer could access existing defence content through the Skyral Exchange. It’s an approach that might equally be applied to content stored by another commercial company or an academic institution.

Put into practice: an exercise planner developing a synthetic environment in readiness for training decides that they want to replace an unsuitable vehicle in their solution with a more appropriate option.

For this, they require the ability to search a Digital GFX repository to determine what content is already in the defence estate. The Skyral Exchange federation concept demonstrates the ability to select this from the Exchange front page before subsequently filtering by content type and metadata tags. Since they’re after a replacement land vehicle, they apply these filters to down-select.

The planner is presented with a variety of suitable options. It’s a hard choice – there’s a huge amount of models and content, listed neatly and clearly compatible with an array of military simulation training applications, including VBS4 and SAF-TAC. Each is surfaced in the Exchange with all the necessary information and metadata tags to make an informed judgement on the asset.

Choice made, the planner selects the appropriate asset and the system adapts the composition data schema to facilitate its use in the synthetic environment solution.

Scenarios like the above may not be production-ready but they still serve a crucial purpose. They’re testament to the power of industry collaboration in probing existing boundaries and, in this case, exploring the mechanisms to deliver content that’s more open, more accessible, and much more discoverable.

New opportunities for industry, a new future for defence

There’s a key word here: discoverable. Making things hard to find might be good for covert operations, stealth missions and espionage but not for building the next generation of defence synthetics. It’s hard to reuse an asset or model without knowing where it is, what it does and what type of compatibility it has. Discoverability is a hugely important part of reuse in realising value for money for end-users. A methodical, standardised approach to managing and tracking content and data is key to achieving this.

And when we talk about ‘open, accessible’ content, what we’re really saying is that something needs to change in order to make this a reality.  As things stand, industry does not have a mechanism to directly discover and best enable content reuse from within the defence estate, reducing the time to solution and the release of value for money for military communities. But should synthetic environment developers building solutions for MOD customers obtain access to the modelling and simulation assets and data that sit within the DSC (alongside other defence repositories), we’d see a significant step towards the rapid, efficient and effective use and reuse of previously procured content.

It’s a tantalising prospect – and it’s within our grasp. By collaborating with Envitia and working in lockstep with MOD’s aspirations for the Defence Synthetic Environment Platform (DSEP) and Defence Synthetic Enablers (DSEn), we’re demonstrating a future where the above benefits will bear fruit to hasten a new generation of defence synthetics made more accessible, more quickly, more economically and more collaboratively than ever before.

The Skyral Partner Network consists of organisations that share our commitment to developing the best possible capabilities and getting them into the hands of end users fast.