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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Systems Engineering - Various Perspectives

We are familiar with civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and the many other engineering disciplines. Engineering generally speaking is the application of science and its concepts to solve society's problems. For example a problem of crossing a river can be solved using the sciences of materials, welding, concrete pouring, etc.. through civil engineering which makes it possible to realize a civil solution. Also we can develop a product that lifts people up into the air and cross the river - called a helicopter - through aerospace engineering which makes it possible to realize an aerospace solution. Similarly, systems engineering attempts to solve problems through the realization of a systems solution using the concepts of systems sciences. One difference in the case of systems engineering from other engineering disciplines is that systems engineerings is not only based on sciences of systems, but also on the art of systems thinking.

Here are some perspectives on what systems engineering is,

1. An Engineering discipline focusing on system realization using well developed scientific approaches such as requirements definition, engineering and management; feasibility and trade studies; system interfacing and integration; technical risk control and management; system optimization; system life-cycle management and system modeling and simulation. Systems Engineering has been offered as a post graduate degree in many institutions around the world, mostly at the Masters level. A handful of Universities also offer PhD degrees in Systems Engineering. I expect in the next 10 years we will see B.Sc. degrees offered in systems engineering as a new engineering branch of study, it could also be offered in specializations or as a minor at the undergraduate level.

2. An Engineering approach which combines both art and science. The science of rigorous well-defined engineering theories, processes and approaches, and the science of problem solving using systemic approaches. The art of systems thinking.

3. A management discipline controlling the total system life-cycle. In this case systems engineering is viewed as the interaction of science, organization and the environment and their impact on the system throughout all phases of its life-cycle. It is also viewed as the application of methods, tools and technologies across the life-cycle of the system products.