The business value of curated model collections


It is common practice for museums and galleries to have curators who are responsible for acquiring, caring for and developing collections so that they remain important assets. Engineering firms can take inspiration from the art world and use curation concepts to better manage their own models.

Companies building complex systems such as naval battleships, jet aircraft and automobiles are moving from traditional, paper-based processes to digital and model-centric engineering workflows as part of the digital transformation. Product related models, simulations and data are used to digitally represent design concepts, mimic system behavior and test and optimize product performance under various conditions.

While model-based practices are now an integral part of product design and engineering workflows, models are rarely managed as a corporate collection, which limits their value, according to Donna Rhodes, senior research scientist at MIT’s Sociotechnical Systems Research Center. By establishing new curator roles and curation workflows, companies can maximize the utility of models as a real business asset, enable greater reuse, improve design efficiencies, and drive more innovation.

“We’re talking about management control and preservation like in an art museum, but also actively improving models in the collection,” Rhodes said during a recent MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series event. “Models become so valuable to companies that they can ultimately have greater value than the physical assets themselves — that is, if they can be reused.”

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Not every model belongs in a curated collection. For example, the myriad models used in the early stages of product development are not necessarily applicable elsewhere. However, mature models that act as a digital twin — a digital representation of a physical asset or system — are valuable additions to any curated repository, Rhodes said. Additionally, models that can be easily repurposed for functions beyond their original intended use have a place in a collection.

A curated collection of models requires a few basic building blocks. Governance is critical and should include policies that establish access controls and permissions, and a board or committee that makes key decisions. A governance body determines which models are allowed into a collection (a process known as joining), which models must be removed (known as deaccession), the evaluation of key assets, and the strategic roadmap for the development of the curated ones model collection . Establishing proper cybersecurity controls is another requirement, as is adopting technologies that improve usability in areas like search and model recognition.

While use cases for curated models are still evolving, one example with broad applicability is what Rhodes calls a “digital demonstrator” — a capability that could allow a company to demonstrate an offering to potential customers as part of a bid process. “Imagine you reach into a collection of models, pull out some models, and put them together in a way that you can actually demonstrate what a solution looks like,” Rhodes said.

What to consider when building a curated model collection

As organizations progress down this path, several factors are key to creating a collection of curated models and ensuring they deliver the desired benefits, Rhodes said.

Issues to consider include the following:

Build trust in the models. For models to be useful, potential consumers must trust that they are credible, especially if someone else developed them. Model verification and validation practices can help build this trust. It is also important to create mechanisms that provide insight into the origins of models, provide transparency into how a model was created and how it may have been repurposed, and provide context for related decisions.

Consumers who have more experience and expertise working with models are more likely to view them as credible, as are those who have a higher propensity to trust in general, Rhodes said. Model credibility is also affected by a person’s trust in the model developer and how easily models can be discovered and retrieved from a repository. “We will increasingly find ways to curate models for specific consumer needs, and the ability to do that will be very important in determining whether this idea of ​​a shared model repository would be useful for a company,” she said.

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Address governance challenges. Establishing strong governance standards is one way to build trust in curated collections of models. Organizations should establish a board of permanent members, including subject matter experts, tasked with making decisions about which models to add to a collection and which models to remove. Rhodes cited work supported by the US Department of Defense’s Systems Engineering Research Center to help establish criteria for determining whether a model is a candidate for curation. Relevant attributes include relevance to the organization, completeness of metadata and documentation accompanying a model, completeness of the model tree, potential for reusability, uniqueness of the model, and economic business case.

Governance efforts must also recognize that people do not want to give up their own models, and often prefer to use them at the individual or localized program level. Therefore, companies should consider a federated approach, where some models are kept locally instead of centralizing them in an enterprise repository. “Think of it as a system of model systems in repositories,” Rhodes said. “There are many things we are thinking about in terms of governance composition.”

View technology as an enabler. The whole concept of a curated collection relies on users’ ability to discover and access models. Emerging technologies in areas like data science, visual analytics and machine learning can help consumers discover relevant models and assist with curation and reuse processes, Rhodes said. For example, augmented intelligence could provide context for how a model could be repurposed for an entirely different context, facilitating human decision-making, she explained.

“We know that if we’re to make this idea of ​​business model collections a reality, the value of those collections must outweigh the investment required to create and maintain them,” Rhodes said. “But I think they can be very powerful, especially when we come into this world where every system has a digital twin.”

Watch the Exploring the Future of Curated Mockup Collections webinar

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