Systems engineering

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Systems engineering integrates two disciplines: Engineering, the technical knowledge domain, and Systems which is an interconnected composite of people with tools and process that create a capability to meet an objective.

Two definitions of systems that encompass and summarize Systems Engineering are:

  • "A logical sequence of activities and decisions that transforms an operational need into a description of system performance parameters and a preferred system configuration." [1]
  • "An interdisciplinary approach that encompasses the entire technical effort, and evolves into and verifies an integrated and life cycle balanced set of system people, products, and process solutions that satisfy customer needs." [2]

"In summary, systems engineering is an interdisciplinary engineering management process that evolves and verifies an integrated, life-cycle balanced set of system solutions that satisfy customer needs." [3]


History of Systems Engineering

The first standards in what is now System Engineering were estabilished by the United States Department of Defense. These standards were put forth in Mil-Std-499 and it was used in the creation complex systems. Examples of these complex systems are submarines, aircraft and nuclear missiles.

Future of Systems Engineering

Following World War 2, systems engineering was developed to address the design, implementation and operation of large, complex technical systems. Along with it's sister disciplines: systems analysis and operations research, systems engineering flourished during the 50's and 60's. While it served well as a unitary problem solving tool where objectives and procedures are well defined and easy to agree on, management science and system thinking communities characterized it in the 70's as a hard systems approach because it derived its philosophical base from the hard sciences. Systems engineering emphasis is on the achievement of objectively stated goals related to the delivery of technical products appropriate for solving mechanical-unitary problems.

In the past decade, systems engineering had found system theory principles useful and has incorporated them into it's own methodologies. For now the systems engineer is interested not only in the components making up his focus of interest, he is also interested in the end user and how it performs in the field. Systems engineering thus calls on systemic principles in order to broaden the scope or scale of its action. Currently (Sage 2006) systems engineering includes the technical systems; their interaction with the human and environmental stakeholders; the systems that support the users' use of the systems, the enabling systems; and the organizations doing the development work, the process systems.

In the research paper published in the IFSR journal: Systems Research Behavior Science, Cook and Ferris argue, "...that, as such, systems engineering is an appropriate methodology for any problem situation where the solution can be expected to involve a substantial technical component." They contend that systems engineering is really a transdisciplinary metamethodology because of the use of many methodologies. They also characterize systems engineering today as analogous to Total Systems Intervention and believe that Systems engineering "...should be recognized within the Total Systems Intervention framework as the appropriate methodology to address issues in any category sector of the matrix. where it is anticipated that the solution is likely to involve design of something involving a substantial amount of technology. In turn systems engineering includes the insight-eliciting methods of systems thinking, and uses them to address issues in a manner guided by the Total Systems Intervention framework." [4]


Systems engineering education

Many universities offer Systems engineering programs, and the number is growing every year. In addition other engineering programs are moving towards a systems approach in their entire engineering program. Universities and industry normally feel that an engineering or business background, with "real world" experience is needed for the discipline. Therefore, Systems engineering programs are usually at the masters-degree level.

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References & Citations

  1. (MIL-STD-499A, Engineering Management, 1 May 1974
  2. EIA Standard IS-632, Systems Engineering, December 1994
  3. http://www.dau.mil/pubs/pdf/SEFGuide%2001-01.pdf
  4. Cook, Stephen C. and Ferris, Timothy L.J. (2007) Re-evaluating Systems Engineering as a Framework for Tackling Systems Issues. Systems Research and Behavior Science; John Wiley & Sons (169-181)