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Systems that Require Engineering

Earlier we listed examples of various types of systems. Some of these systems are workflow-based systems that produce systems, products, or services such as schools, hospitals, banking systems, and manufacturers. As such, they require insightful, efficient, and effective organizational structures, supporting assets, and collaborative interactions.

Some systems require the analysis, design, and development of specialized structures, complex interactions, and performance monitoring that may have an impact on the safety, health, and wellbeing of the public as well as the environment, engineering of systems may be required. As you investigate WHAT is required to analyze, design, and develop both types of systems, you will find that they both share a common set concepts, principles, and practices. Business systems, for example, may require application of various analytical and mathematical principles to develop business models and performance models to determine profitability and return on investment (ROI) and statistical theory for optimal waiting line or weather conditions, for example. In the case of highly complex systems, analytical, mathematical, and scientific principles may have to be applied. We refer to this as the engineering of systems, which may require a mixture of engineering disciplines such as system engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and software engineering. These disciplines may only be required at various stages during the analysis, design, and development of a system, product, or service.

This text provides the concepts, principles, and practices that apply to the analysis, design, and development of both types of systems. On the surface these two categories imply a clear distinction between those that require engineering and those that do not. So, how do you know when the engineering of systems is required?

Actually these two categories represent a continuum of systems, products, or services that range from making a piece of paper, which can be complex, to developing a system as complex as an aircraft carrier or NASA ’s International Space Station (ISS). Perhaps the best way to address the question: What is system engineering?

What Is System Engineering?

Explicitly System Engineering (SE) is the multidisciplinary engineering of systems. However, as with any definition, the response should eliminate the need for additional clarifying questions. Instead, the engineering of a system response evokes two additional questions: What is engineering? What is a system? Pursuing this line of thought, let’s explore these questions further.

Defining Key Terms

Engineering students often graduate without being introduced to the root term that provides the basis for their formal education. The term, engineering originates from the Latin word ingenerare, which means “to create.” Today, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which accredits engineering schools in the United States, defines the term as follows:

  • Engineering “[T]he profession in which knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize economically the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.” (Source: Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology [ABET])

There are a number of ways to define System Engineering (SE), each dependent on an individual’s or organization’s perspectives, experiences, and the like. System engineering means different things to different people.

You will discover that even your own views of System Engineering (SE) will evolve over time. So, if you have a diver-sity of perspectives and definitions, what should you do? What is important is that you, program teams, or your organization:

  1. Establish a consensus definition.

  2. Document the definition in organizational or program command media to serve as a guide for all.

For those who prefer a brief, high-level definition that encompasses the key aspects of System Engineering (SE), consider the following definition:

  • System Engineering (SE) The multidisciplinary application of analytical, mathematical, and scientific principles to formulating, selecting, and developing a solution that has acceptable risk, satisfies user operational need(s), and minimizes development and life cycle costs while balancing stakeholder interests.

This definition can be summarized in a key System Engineering (SE) principle:

System engineering BEGINS and ENDS with the User.

System Engineering (SE), as we will see, is one of those terms that requires more than simply defining WHAT System Engineering (SE) does; the definition must also identify WHO/WHAT benefits from System Engineering (SE). The ABET definition of engineering, for example, includes the central objective “to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.”

Applying this same context to the definition of System Engineering (SE), the User of systems, products, and services symbolizes humankind. However, mankind’s survival is very dependent on a living environment that supports sustainment of the species. Therefore, System Engineering (SE) must have a broader perspective than simply “for the benefit of mankind.” System Engineering (SE) must also ensure a balance between humankind and the living environment without sacrificing either.

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