The Requirements Interchange Format — also known as ReqIF — is an XML file format. It was developed for exchanging requirements and all relevant metadata between different software tools throughout the product development process. ReqIF also helps to define efficient workflows for sharing requirements between partners, as well as updating them. But what are the origins of the standard, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of using it? Read on to learn more about the ReqIF standard.
Requirements Management (RM), particularly in highly regulated industries like automotive and aerospace, requires exchanging a huge amount of data between many different organizations. Of course, sharing information back and forth is nothing new, and people have been using documents and email to do so for decades. That being said, the complexity of products and the amount of software that comes with them have increased exponentially over time. And naturally, the more complex the product is, the more complex managing its requirements becomes as well.
Over time, more and more companies began to rely heavily on IT systems to document and manage requirements in order to keep up with the huge volume, plus the changes that occur throughout the product development cycle. That being said, with different companies using various systems and formats, exchanging requirements was still cumbersome and resulted in miscommunication, data loss, and a lack of traceability and versioning. If that weren’t enough, mishandling requirements can be incredibly expensive and time-consuming, causing go-to-market delays that no organization wants. That’s where the Requirements Interchange Format (ReqIF) comes in.
The origins of the ReqIF format
ReqIF originated in the automotive industry, where it is not unusual to have tens of thousands of requirements you need to manage in order to develop a product. It requires an enormous amount of effort to keep requirements for a product, component, or system up-to-date. And in large part, that effort is manual, since updating requirements can only be automated if they are all in the same formats.
Communicating all those requirements and keeping them up to date was managed with the help of IT for a long time, but as product complexity increased, it became clear that the industry required a standard to automate the exchange and clear communication of requirements.
The challenge ReqIF addresses
On top of increasing product complexity, the manufacturing industry as a whole is spread widely across the globe, meaning that a high level of international cooperation is needed to develop products like cars, airplanes, defense systems, etc. And every time files are exchanged in varying formats across different software solutions, there is potential for data loss and miscommunications, leading to expensive and time-consuming errors.
Add to that that the amount of software in these types of products increases every year while development and change cycles have gotten significantly shorter, and you have quite the obstacle on your hands.
To solve this challenge, a consortium of German automotive manufacturers called HIS (Herstellerinitiative Software) collaborated with ProSTEP iViP to create the RIF standard for exchange requirements in 2004, which was later revised and renamed to ReqIF in 2010. Today, ReqIF is an internationally recognized standard used across the manufacturing industry and supported by more vendors every year.
Key advantages of using ReqIF
ReqIF is an XML-based file format that allows the automatic transfer and updating of specifications, including any graphics and tables that come with them. To exchange requirements via ReqIF, one partner exports a ReqIF file and shares it with the other partner. This can happen via a shared file repository or even as an email attachment. In other words, complex requirements made up of specifications, tables, graphics, attributes, links, and more can now be automatically exchanged between manufacturing partners using different software tools. Here are some of the other main advantages of using ReqIF:
1. Structured data
ReqIF files contain structured data made up of individual requirements which give you insights into structures, related elements, and traces, with clear guidelines for what needs to go in the description of the data to help different software systems interpret it easily.
2. Loss-less exchange
The information you see in the ReqIF file mirrors the information you see in your Application Lifecycle Management platform (like codebeamer X, for example) so there will be no discrepancies between the data or data loss due to file transfer.
3. Incremental updates
When you import a ReqIF file that has been updated into your product development environment, you will be able to clearly see which elements, attributes, and traces have changed (and just review and re-validate things which have changed).
4. Automated transfer
With an internationally recognized file standard, an exchange file exported from an RM tool can be automatically imported and interpreted by another software tool as long as the partners involved set up the correct import and export options.
5. Traceable with visibility
You can integrate imported requirements into your product development system, establishing traceability throughout the whole development lifecycle while providing visibility to suppliers and customers alike.
The challenge with ReqIF
If used correctly, ReqIF can simplify multi-disciplinary collaboration in product development in the manufacturing industry. It can also help save time and money in the go-to-market process, reducing delays made due to errors. However, just because a standard is internationally recognized doesn’t mean that everyone chooses to adopt it. The success of the format depends on all partners involved setting up the correct import and export capabilities in their own toolchains and adhering to the standard’s data guidelines as closely as possible. Some companies feel that RIF, ReqIF’s predecessor, already offered a substantial degree of standardization along with add-on tools from solutions like IBM DOORS.
While this could work if every vendor in your development ecosystem used the same tools and configurations, it's hardly the case in reality, meaning that it is not a sustainable economic solution in the long term for companies to reject the use of ReqIF.
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