On December 21, the US Department of Defense (DoD) published a DoDI 5000.97 instruction documenting its policy of advancing the use of Digital Engineering (DE) throughout the DoD ecosystem.

It explains that “Digital engineering is a means of using and integrating digital models and the underlying data to support the development, test and evaluation, and sustainment of a system.”

What exactly is DoDI 5000.97?

DODI 5000.97 emphasizes the importance of digital models and the digital thread as key components of digital engineering. While DoDI 5000.97 covers a lot of ground, its key objectives can be summarized as follows:

  • Adopting digital models as a means of informing and supporting decision-making
  • Leveraging the digital thread as an authoritative source of truth for all digital artifacts
  • Continuously incorporating the latest design tools and technologies
  • Building out infrastructure that enables DE-based activities and collaboration
  • Transforming the organization to embrace, adopt, and support DE “thinking”

In addition, DoD will actively research and share best methodologies, practices, and tools through its own R&D efforts and training services. It will also develop and make available elements of the DE infrastructure. That is great news for your organization because you will get a lot of support from DoD when building out that infrastructure.

Why should you care?

Why is that significant, and why should you care? Well, for starters, if you want to continue being part of the DoD ecosystem or become part, then you must start embracing DoDI 5000.97 as of the date of its publishing. And that should be reason enough. But what does this mean?

On the surface, DoDI 5000.97 addresses practices that you are most likely already embracing, such as digital thread, MBSE, simulation, or others. DODI 5000.97 formalizes the use of digital engineering practices, including model-based approaches, for the entire DoD ecosystem. That makes it clear what to focus on, how to comply, and how to compete. None of that was clear in the past because there was only general guidance in the form of a 2018 DoD Digital Engineering Strategy.

By the way, the DoD formalization of the DE approach also impacts everybody interested or invested in MBx (Model-Based everything) simply because of DoD’s size and influence on other markets. Even if not the whole policy, a portion of it simply makes sense for most.

Now comes a key question: since nobody can focus on everything at once, what aspect of DoDI 5000.97 should you initially focus on?

Where should you begin?

While DE infrastructure, models, methodologies, collaboration, and organizational culture are all critical, I posit that lifecycle management of the various types of digital models and artifacts (design abstractions and processes) and traceability between them are foundational. This is because everything that DoDI 5000.97 addresses is predicated on an “authoritative source of truth” as defined in the document. That focus is further reinforced by the following statement in DoDI 5000.97’s graphical depiction of DE: “Data management should adhere to DoD Data Strategy goals – make data visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable, and secured.”

In other words, the first thing to focus on is the digital thread in context for various forms of structured data and use cases.

Digital Thread in Context

The digital thread, as emphasized in DODI 5000.97, serves as the backbone for managing digital models and ensuring traceability across the product lifecycle. The digital thread is nothing new, and chances are that your organization is already using it for one or more purposes, including design configurations and collaboration, virtual tests, and verification, engineering to manufacturing BOMs (Bill of Materials) transformation, regulatory compliance, digital twins, interpreting IoT data from the field, or others. But I bet that not all these use cases are handled via a single digital thread but through a use case-specific series of partial digital threads. Worse yet, chances are that the same information is duplicated in multiple partial threads.

This means that in this scenario, there is no authoritative source of truth because there is no traceability or data consistency between these individual use case-specific digital threads. Addressing this is what I would call a Digital Thread 101 objective: a single traceability solution across all data models and all use cases. I found it very interesting that the DoD chose to characterize the source of truth as “authoritative” instead of “single.” Authoritative implies the importance of the lifecycle context when interpreting data because the data keeps evolving. Single implies that data as such exists in a single location (explicit or federated). Both are important aspects of digital threads, but the “authoritative” is what DE is all about.

There are other aspects of the digital thread without which the DoD vision and policy of traceability and collaboration in context is not possible. This gets a bit technical, but make sure that your digital thread platform strategy accounts for the following:

Modeling new data structures and processes:

As DE practices and methodologies spread, there is a continuous need to account for new technologies, data structures, and artifacts—an open API and an effective data type modeling engine (data models, relationships, and process flows) are a must.

Maturity of relationships:

As design data and product history evolve, so do relationships within the digital thread between models, artifacts, and process states – the ability to dynamically evolve relationship history metadata is necessary.

Context-based collaboration:

As users leverage digital tread traceability for collaboration, they need to locate or generate views or abstractions that are not explicitly in the digital thread (ex: simulation models) – the ability to federate, share and exchange data in related data silos including preserving traceability to the collaboration activities is needed.

Collaboration with the full supply chain:

The DoD ecosystem includes all tiers of suppliers of the primary contractors – the ability to securely extend the same digital thread to the entire supply chain for bi-directional traceability, information exchange, and collaboration is a must.

How can Aras help?

Aras PLM platform is fully aligned with the principles and requirements of DoDI 5000.97 and is changing the paradigm for delivering proven digital thread solutions for the DE-driven enterprise. The combination of fully developed core PLM services, low code modeling engine, open API, and a community-oriented solutions delivery model make Aras unique in the DE space by offering:

  • A unified and expandable digital thread with bidirectional traceability throughout the broader DE enterprise and supply chain
  • Configuration and lifecycle management of the digital thread, including all models, product abstractions, digital artifacts, relationships, processes, and flows
  • Streamlined collaboration and decision-making across product lifecycles in context
  • Integration with the full range of engineering and enterprise applications
  • APIs and a rich ecosystem of application connectors supporting data exchange, data federation, and workflows
  • Availability, scalability, security, and as-a-service agility of the cloud with zero compromise on capability
  • Responsive to changing business requirements and evolving IT environments
  • Minimized upgrade challenges with managed upgrade services included with software subscriptions

Here is my previous blog on the related subjects: The Future of Product Innovation and PLM – Abstraction, Digital Threads, and Artificial Intelligence.

Case studies and validation

Aras Innovator has already been effectively deployed as a platform for various aspects of DE. Good examples are SAIC ReadyOne, a digital thread platform for DoD contractors, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a digital thread platform for their DE initiatives that include MBSE, simulation, and cross-discipline collaboration.

These deployments demonstrate Aras’ platform capability to support complex and evolving digital engineering use cases across the entire product lifecycle, validating its alignment with DoDI 5000.97.

How does DoD help with Aras?

Part of the DoDI 5000.97 is a directive on how DoD will support the digital engineering ecosystem, which includes infrastructure and approach. A great example of that is DoD’s engagement with LIFT for managing engineering tools and platforms including Aras PLM. The agreement includes access to help with evaluation, acquisition, customization, and training. In the case of the Aras platform, it is also backed by hands-on services from J2E, your partner in conquering defense industry challenges.


In summary, DoDI 5000.97 is a transformative step towards modernizing the development and sustainment of defense systems. It is also a transformative step for the rest of the manufacturing industry, which struggles with many of the same issues.

By detailing the requirements and benefits of this approach, the DoD created a very useful standard for a modern approach to the design and management of complex products throughout their entire lifecycle. This standard is built on the value of digital thread and the ubiquitous use of behavioral models as an alternative to BOM-centric methodologies.

Complying with DoDI 5000.97 is a mandated policy for defense contractors. Complying with DoDI 5000.97 is also the only way for non-defense contractors to become DoD contractors in the future. Delaying compliance reduces the likelihood of catching up with those who started earlier.

Visit www.aras.com or read a Digital Thread in Aerospace and Defense eBook to explore the strong alignment between the DoDI 5000.97 goals and Aras digital thread functionality.

If your enterprise has already implemented a single unified digital thread capable of supporting traceability for all use cases throughout the product’s lifecycle, please reach out to me. I’d love to talk with you about it.