Conclusion

This course has covered the background to systems engineering. It began by addressing the question ‘Why is systems engineering important?’ Two reasons were discussed:

  • projects go wrong, and the increasing incorporation of software means that they go wrong more often now than in the past

  • complication, complexity and risk are all increasing and need to be managed.

In the second section I examined the development of
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5.3 The systems engineering methodology used in the course

The aim of systems engineering is to achieve a solution that is effective and sustainable through its life cycle, together with the associated processes and facilities needed to realise the system and introduce it into the real world. Therefore it is important that systems engineering is itself conducted in full consideration of the following five systems:

  • the technology development system that provides new or modified technology for the other systems
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5.2 The aims and principles of system engineering

The aims of systems engineering can be divided into those to do with its outputs and those associated with the process itself. As far as its outputs are concerned, systems engineering aims to ensure that:

  • the requirements of all the stakeholders are taken into account in engineering the system

  • the system, as engineered and realised, meets the requirements of stakeholders

  • the system, while meeting the req
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5.1 Introduction: the general framework

The general framework of systems engineering adopted in the course consists of: a hierarchy of elements; aims associated within its outputs and process; a set of principles; a division into technical and managerial components of the process.

The lexicon of system engineering used in the course contains the hierarchy of elements:

  • strategy: meaning the accumulated decisions concerning the areas in which an organisation operates and its lon
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4.7 Summary

This topic has examined the historical development of systems engineering and modern concepts of the subject. It has discussed:

  • the beginnings and early development of the subject as policy analysis

  • the use of systems engineering in organisations

  • the development of methodologies associated with information technology.


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4.5 Methodologies associated with information technology

I recently undertook an exercise in a company that manufactures various types of agricultural machinery. I was happily using the term ‘system’ in its general sense when a senior manager stated ‘In this organization we use the word “system” to mean a computer system, for other types of procedure or activity we use “process”.’ This is a commonly encountered distinction and the evolution of computer systems, and particularly software, has been an important contributor to systems
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3.11 Summary

This topic has introduced the systems approach, which is the foundation of systems engineering. The systems approach consists of three elements.

  • A set of concepts that can be used to understand the structural and dynamic features of operations systems.

  • Methodologies for managing change. Two current methodologies have been presented: the hard systems approach can be applied in situations where there is a measure of agreement about the
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3.10 Systems techniques

The two systems methodologies provide a framework for the application of problem solving, analysis and design techniques. These fall into three groups.

  • Diagramming: ranging from single systems maps to complex flow charts. Diagrams of one sort or another provide a method of analysis, design and communication.

  • Modelling: simulation is used extensively to analyse the dynamics of an existing system and to predict the behaviour of a propos
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Stage 7: Implement changes

Finally, the agreed changes are implemented.

Like the hard systems approach, soft systems methodology is not seen as a ‘one pass’ procedure, but as a learning process. Iteration is a feature of the methodology's application. Learning is achieved in both approaches by the use of models, although soft systems has subsequently been enhanced to include a specific analysis of the culture and politics of the problem situation, as shown in Author(s): The Open University

Stage 6: Debate on feasible and desirable changes

The comparison undertaken in the previous stage can have two results.

  • It can cause opinions to change on the problem situation and the issues arising from it.

  • It can provide an agenda for change.

In either case (though both may result), the objective of this stage is to debate, with all concerned, the changes proposed to ensure that they are both desirable and feasible. The aim is to arrive at consensus about the prop
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Stage 5: Comparison of Stages 2 and 4

The objective of the comparison stage is to relate the conceptual model to the problem situation as depicted in the rich picture. The idea is to highlight differences between the two so that potential improvements to the problem situation can be identified.


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Stage 4: Conceptual model

The conceptual (or activity) model contains all the activities that the relevant system would have to perform. The model is usually drawn as a block diagram.


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Stage 3: Relevant systems and root definitions

The issues and key tasks extracted from the rich picture become the basis for defining what are called the ‘relevant systems’. For example, suppose the problem situation is a deteriorating performance in a call centre. One of the issues might be the (high) turnover of call centre operators. This might lead (depending on the point of view taken) to an idea of the call centre as an ‘employment-providing system’ or an ‘entertainment system’. There is no reason to restrict relevant sy
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Stage 2: The situation analysed

The first step is to develop a picture (called in soft systems terminology a rich picture) that encapsulates all the elements that people think are involved in the problem. Once the rich picture has been drawn, the analyst will attempt to extract ‘issues’ and key tasks.

Issues are areas of contention within the problem situation. Key tasks are the essential jobs that must be undertaken within the problem situation.

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Stage 1: The problem situation unstructured

The approach begins with a situation in which one or more people perceive that there is a problem. It will not be possible to define the problem or its setting with any precision and, in any event, the different people involved will have different ideas.


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3.1 Introduction

As you would expect, since this course deals with systems engineering, it embodies the principles and methods associated with a systems perspective. So it is important that you understand systems and the systems perspective at the beginning of the course.

To have engineered a system successfully, all its features – the technology, control systems, people and related aspects of the physical environment – have to contribute to the achievement of its objectives. In other words,
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2.3 Summary and conclusions

This topic has addressed the question ‘What is modern engineering?’ The conclusion must be drawn that, until recently, engineers were content with fairly simplistic definitions of their profession, thinking that it consisted of little other than craft skills or practical experience grafted on to a knowledge of mathematics and appropriate natural sciences. It has been methodologically naive, and definitions of the processes of engineering either lack detail (
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1.1 Early influences

In the early summer of 1771, the clergyman and writer John Newton (1725–1807) was visited at Olney by two of his admirers, William and Hannah Wilberforce, a wealthy childless couple, and their 11-year-old nephew and heir, also named William. Newton made a profound impression on the boy. In 1785 it was to Newton that the younger William Wilberforce (1759–1833), now Member of Parliament for Yorkshire and a close friend of Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger), turned for counsel in the
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3.2 Who is the customer?

Customers are people who buy our products and services, and may or may not use them. The key to defining these people as ‘customers’ is that each engages in an exchange relationship that adds value to the organisation providing the product or service. Consumers do not give any value to organisations – there is no exchange relationship. They use products and services, but do not buy them.

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