Friday, January 27, 2012

Predicting the future of Systems Engineering

When invited to the Stevens Institute of Technology to speak about Systems Engineering, former NASA head Dr. Griffin talked about bringing to life "elegant systems" and by "elegant" he meens effective (bringing value to the users - system that actually works), efficient (bringing the value with acceptable use of resources - including mental resources of the users), robust (bringing the value in the broad range of conditions and situations) and without unintended and unexpected negative behavior.

Jack Ring talks about "Quality, Parsimony and Beauty".

There seems to be an agreement what "good system" is.

Dr. Griffin also talks about the origins of Engineering - in civil/military engineering first there were "best practices" or "state-of-the art' passed to talented apprentices from successful masters , then there was the science that explained why "the best practices" actually work (structural analysis explained why the bridges didn't fall).

Now in SE we're in the stage of artistry just like other branches of Engineering were in the 19th century.
Until the SE will not be able to provide consistent stream of "good systems" (just like it did in 50s and 60s aerospace and missiles) this profession will suffer more and more indignity from other practitioners.

I'll dare to say that the the Software Engineering is in the very same position, even that the SWE and SE are in the same category of "Complexity Engineering".
It's ironic that the ubiquity of SW in our world, increasing reliance of systems on the SW components and the williness of the public (until the Apple revolution) to accept non-elegant SW (Microsoft?) will not harm the SWE but will harm SE that builds non-elegant systems based on non-elegant software. Vulnerability of critical systems to cyber-attacks is seen as the SE problem not the SWE problem, while any success of anti-hacker software will be credited to SWE and the success of systemic solution to the same problem will go unnoticed.
Just as the UK INCOSE brochure states - bad SE is in the news, good SE is invisible.
As I said earlier - our profession suffers from the fact that its successes are not celebrated anymore (as the Apollo's success was).

Have we examples to celebrate "good systems' and credit them to the success of the SE? These will be the examples for the "elevator's speech" - "I'm the Systems Engineer and I'll do for you what my collegues did for those guys!". Anyone?

So I'll dare to predict that if the SE will not find the way of consistently bringing to life "elegant systems" and receive the credit for this our profession will wane and disappear. The future is in systems. But if consistent methods will be found then the sky (or space) is not the limit!