Is Systems Engineering Extinct?

09-29-20Andy Skotnicki
Andy Skotnicki

What is Systems Engineering?

If you’ve been in the industry any amount of time then you’ve probably heard a variety of answers. Although it’s actually not a difficult concept to understand, it is very difficult to execute, and most don’t do so effectively or at all if we’re being honest. Many SETA centric companies, and even customers, have tried to standardize SE into a set of repeatable processes as SETA-type contracts grew in size, and traditionally trained and progressively experienced Systems Engineers began to retire. These repeatable processes include areas such as Requirements Management, Configuration Management, Risk Management, and so forth. The common theme in each is the emphasis on management rather than/at the expense of engineering. SE should include actual multi-disciplined engineering at its core, but also leverage management processes for coordination and communication purposes, especially as programs/projects become complex and require a level of formality to ensure predictable closure. However, all too often SE is equated only with management processes and not with critical thinking, systems thinking, problem-solving, and architecture/solution development. So unless long-term emphasis is put back on educating, training and mentoring people vice blinding following/applying cookbook management processes and tools, there will continue to be an expanding divide between SE and the engineering of Subject Matter Expert (SME) driven “point solutions”, resulting in an “unbalanced equation”. The weighted affect of workforce contribution can be expressed as seTA (weak SE, over-reliance on management processes and tools, and SME driven). So is SE extinct? Follow this topic to share your thoughts.

Yes, SE is probably extinct, at least as we fondly remember it, but there is hope. Very few can still keep up with ever increasing organizational and system complexities anymore without help. Artificial Intelligence(AI)/ Machine Learning (ML) and Mixed Reality (VR/AR) technologies (at a minimum) will play/must play an ever increasing role as we move forward. These technologies will assist us in closing knowledge gaps in legacy understanding (where we are), proactively anticipating and responding to operational/ business need-for-change indicators/metrics, determining urgency and prioritizing based on limited resources, identifying feasible options that are within the optimal range, and continuously adjusting to manage known and unknown risks to achieve a successful outcome, then do it all again. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Well it looks like SE is still a much needed engineering discipline after all, but we must adopt new technologies to regain its original prominence.

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