Now we’re talking

When language is a barrier, Integrative Engineering enables communication

ChallengeTo present information that answers the right questions in a form that makes it easy for decision makers to understand and take appropriate action.
SolutionIntegrative Engineering uses JMP® to synthesize data from disparate models designed by several organizations working on the same defense project.
ResultsJMP breaks down communication barriers, allowing team members from private companies, governments and universities around the world to merge their expertise to accomplish a common objective – the design of a ship, for example.

If it weren’t for JMP, Janel Nixon would need an interpreter.

“JMP is the one language we can all understand,” she says.

Nixon is the founder and CEO of Integrative Engineering, a consulting firm that works primarily with private companies, governments and universities on projects for the defense industry. She’s currently engaged in the Naval International Cooperative Opportunities in Science and Technology Program, more commonly known as NICOP, which encourages international collaboration in areas of interest to the naval community.

In this work, JMP statistical discovery software from SAS serves as a catalyst for collaboration, whether the issue is varying levels of technical expertise or a literal language barrier.

“The people I work with are very technically savvy and have a good understanding of the engineering aspects of what they’re designing,” says Nixon. “But a lot of times, the decision makers at the top don’t speak the same language – they’re less interested in the technical details and more concerned about the implications to their mission.

“JMP helps bridge that gap.”

Communicating with decision makers

Nixon founded Integrative Engineering (formerly Integrative Solutions) for the purpose of working with engineers to help them develop well-conceived modeling approaches that offer practical insights to decision makers.

But in the course of her work, she found that engineers and decision makers often approached projects from different perspectives and didn’t always understand one another.

As a result, some decisions weren’t as well informed as they might have been.

So she evolved her business with the objective of helping make data more accessible, more purposeful and more goal-oriented – a job that’s more difficult when there are multiple players.

For the NICOP, Nixon collaborates with a mix of universities, companies and governments around the world. Each organization brings to the table its own models, and a lot has been invested in developing those models. The problem is that, taken individually, none of these models will allow a decision maker to answer the broader questions at hand.

For example, let’s say you have a design-performance model for a ship. That model can tell you how a small tweak to your hull design might affect the vessel’s top speed, but it won’t tell you anything about how fast your ship should go in order to best achieve its mission objective.

“The questions a decision maker wants answered are things like ‘How should I define my requirements?’ or ‘Which solution provides the best mission value for me?’ But those are questions that can’t be answered by examining the individual models.”

Nixon’s role is to collaborate with all parties on how to integrate their various models into an effective decision-support tool that answers those questions.

“The reason NICOP was funded was the realization that each of these individual models is like a piece of a puzzle; if you can figure out how to piece them together in the right way, you can answer the questions that are important to decision makers.”

Nixon brought in JMP, which promotes visual and interactive data discovery
on the desktop and in memory. JMP provided the foundation for an integrative modeling approach for how to fit the puzzle pieces into a whole, and to then present the sum of that data in an accessible format.

Sometimes when making a presentation – to an admiral, for example – you want to focus on “the most important, need-to-know thing,” Nixon says. “But often that person has a technical interest in how you arrived at where you did. JMP allows you to do that, to show them what’s behind the curtain – to tell them, ‘This is the model; this is where we got the data.’

“Generally, I don’t start with the technical detail, but I like to have the ability to go there if there’s an interest,” she adds.

Nixon works with the navies of other countries as well – Italy, the Netherlands and Canada among them – and sometimes not all parties speak English. JMP has been especially handy in forging the language divide.

“JMP allows us to speak the same language,” Nixon says. “I can dynamically, graphically show what I’m trying to describe, and we immediately reach a common understanding. So JMP has been a good way to communicate what everyone was trying to do with their models and their capabilities, and what everyone was bringing to the table.”

The toolkit

Technology prioritization is another area in which Integrative Engineering has assisted the military. The Pareto Plot in JMP has been instrumental in determining which technologies have the greatest potential for meeting objectives and which should be discontinued.

Among Nixon’s favorite JMP tools are the extensive capabilities for design of experiments, or DOE, which she finds particularly useful when organizations don’t want to share their models but don’t mind providing her with data from those models.

“So DOEs have been like a form of currency for us in sharing information,” she says.

Then Nixon uses the JMP Prediction Profiler to better understand what’s going on in the models and to determine that everything works correctly.

“We sometimes work bugs out with the Profiler,” she says, “If the trend doesn’t look right, you can explore and find that maybe someone had a misunderstanding of something or something was programmed incorrectly into the model.”

Monte Carlo simulations in JMP allow Nixon to filter out designs or cases that aren’t of interest, narrowing her analysis to what’s relevant.

Nixon says that there are JMP tools she uses for interacting with the people who build the models and tools she uses for interacting with the decision makers, “and they’re totally different.”

Regardless of the audience, JMP has something to say.

“JMP doesn’t just spit out an optimum answer,” Nixon says. “It shows the considerations that went into arriving at that answer: ‘These are the drivers of your decision; these are the tradeoffs you need to be aware of.’ This, then, allows my clients to better understand, to explore things from there and reach their own decisions, instead of me handing them something on a silver platter that they may not agree with.”

JMP allows us to speak the same language. I can dynamically, graphically show what I’m trying to describe, and we immediately reach a common understanding.
Janel Nixon

Founder and CEO, Integrative Engineering

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