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National Ecological Observatory Network (Neon)

Establishing Systems Engineering on a National Science Foundation Ecological Project

The National Science Foundation promotes the progress of science in the United States. One of the organization’s key projects in recent years is the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) which is a “continental scale research instrument consisting of geographically distributed observatories, networked via state-­‐of-­‐the-­‐art communications.” This network will support many different types of ecological research across future decades, and is currently scheduled to go live in 2017.

The NEON network incorporates a multitude of highly complex systems including airborne and ground-­‐based research platforms, high technology instrumentation units, an education program, and an extensive cyber-infrastructure that connects all segments of the network. During the development phases, science requirements and system-­‐level requirements had to be captured from all the science and programmatic stakeholders and all requirements had to be traceable to “Grand Challenge” science questions that were the basis for the entire project. Project activities (planning, budget, schedule) were underway at the time Reed Integration, Inc. (RII) was asked to participate, but the systems engineering functions were not defined. RII was tasked with the establishment of the NEON Systems Engineering Office (SEO) and the design and implementation of the NEON systems engineering process to support the concept and development phases of the project.

Reed developed a robust systems engineering process based upon a hybrid of proven defense and aerospace program approaches. A Systems Engineering Management Plan (SEMP) was generated to define the process, identify the team members and describe the system development activities. The systems engineering schedule, associated task descriptions, and plans for future test and integration activities were incorporated into the Project Development Plan (PDP) and the Project Implementation Plan (PIP). To capture, define, analyze, and manage the science and system-­‐level requirements, Reed worked closely with all stakeholders on the project which included researchers, specialty scientists, engineers, government customers, educators, and programmatic personnel.

A formal trade analysis was conducted to determine the best system development management tool for the project and Reed initiated population of the software tool with existing system and science requirements and associated traceability data. Reed created a functional analysis for the overall system based upon various user scenarios to drive out additional, detailed requirements. As part of the system architecture development, Reed defined the system interfaces for the Interface Control Documents and generated the N2 diagrams for use by the project during early design activities.

Another critical role that Reed performed was the management of risk for the entire project. Reed created the NEON Risk Management Plan that established the risk management process, the risk information sheets for use by the entire team, and the Risk Register. Reed identified, analyzed and managed all project and technical risks throughout the development phases. Team members from design, research, instrumentation, and
project management areas were encouraged to submit their risks to the Reed-­‐managed process for analysis, tracking, and closure.

To maintain control over project artifacts and architecture, Reed established the NEON configuration management (CM) process. Reed chartered the Configuration Control Board (CCB), developed the NEON CM Plan, implemented the change request process and forms, and conducted the first CCB session to baseline the system-­‐level requirements.

Reed delivered the systems engineering expertise to provide the needed technical structure for the complex systems involved in NEON. The systems engineering group was established at a critical point and Reed’s CEO served as Chief Systems Engineer for the project during the concept and development stages. Reed worked closely with all project team members to ensure accurate definition of the systems and then presented systems engineering activity status at the Conceptual Design Review and Preliminary Design Review.

After the initial development stage was completed, Reed successfully transitioned the systems engineering responsibilities to NEON, Inc. personnel who would carry the approach forward into the implementation stages of the project.

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