Smart Ecosystems - digital ecosystems for a joint future

Worlds Unite

Interconnected Systems – the cross-domain megatrend for software and systems – will be the challenge in future software engineering. USPs will increasingly be generated by interconnecting one’s own software with other systems. To achieve this, a change of paradigms is going to take place: from monolithic single systems to open, interconnected, scalable, and service-oriented Software Ecosystems.

So far, three different system classes can be characterized today: Information Systems, Embedded Systems, and Mobile Apps. These system classes are continually evolving. In the area of Information Systems, Emergent Enterprise Software Systems are the next phase of the evolution towards the Internet of Services. Interconnected Embedded Systems, on the other hand, are becoming Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) and will finally lead to the Internet of Things. In both system classes, Mobile Apps are also being increasingly integrated into business processes today.

So-called Smart Ecosystems represent the mid-term evolutionary phase. They form a bridge between the Information Systems domain and the Embedded Systems domain. Smart Ecosystems connect Emergent Systems and CPS into a single ecosystem, in which the Internet of Services, Things, and Data merge with each other, thus resulting in cross-organizational innovative solutions. Business processes and technical processes are equally valuable and impact each other mutually in order to achieve optimization from global perspectives. As an extension of the classical Software Ecosystem, the Smart Ecosystem also integrates non-trivial Information Systems and non-trivial Embedded Systems. They function as one unit, which dynamically uses context-dependent information to achieve common higher-level goals (which no single system would be able to achieve on its own).

In the research area “Smart Ecosystems”, Fraunhofer IESE deals with the challenges for Software Engineering resulting from the integration of Information Systems and Embedded Systems. Our research unites these two system classes – and prevents the two worlds from colliding! Our goal is to develop a holistic approach for the Software Engineering of “Smart Ecosystems”.  

Smart Ecosystems – Key Challenges

In the research area “Smart Ecosystems“, we are preparing for the future of Software Engineering. Smart ecosystems offer opportunities, while raising new engineering challenges at the same time. Fundamental differences in engineering just one of the two (either information systems or embedded systems) bear the risk of entering the market too late, with insufficient quality, or even both when engineering the integrated combination of the two.

Smart Ecosystems pose engineering challenges due to their differences in nature:

  • Gaining control over complexity: Smart ecosystems have an inherent complexity due to the number of systems being integrated, their size (the sum is more than just adding up the pieces), and their interconnections with other ecosystems.
  • Managing diversity: Smart ecosystems have different methods, processes, technologies, and tools in each domain. Successful evolution (after successful integration) requires alignment and coordination of all engineering activities.
  • Achieving interoperability via designed openness: Smart ecosystems often envision on-demand collaboration of organizational units or whole organizations. Human and cultural factors have to be considered throughout the entire ecosystem lifecycle.
  • Handling uncertainty: Smart ecosystems do not always know their context – neither at development time, nor at runtime, nor at operation time. The interactions between multiple services and entities in different versions and variants deployed in arbitrary ways can easily lead to unwanted side effects.

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Smart Ecosystems - Our Research Topics

All good things start with small steps into the right direction. This is also true for research on a holistic approach for Smart Ecosystems. In particular, we are investigating the following topics:

  • Lifecycle management in Smart Ecosystems: Given the multitude of single systems, how can different processes, methods, and tools be reconciled?
  • Modeling of requirements and workflows in ecosystems: Given uncertain contexts and ad-hoc connections, how can requirements be elicited and documented for single systems?
  • Architectures for Software Ecosystems: What do building plans, structures, and system behavior look like? How to achieve control over the inherent complexity of the interconnectedness? How to design the governance of ecosystems?
  • Runtime technologies: What do runtime platforms look like that enable high quality (e.g., security and safety) in Smart Ecosystems?
  • Participative software development: How to design open and collaborative cooperation with equal rights across organizational boundaries?
  • User Experience plays an important role in how innovations are perceived and used. How can software enable its users to work effectively and efficiently in an ecosystem?

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