Systems Analysis: Its Proper Utilization in Systems Engineering Education and Professional Practice – ASEE 2015

From its modest beginnings more than a half-century ago, Systems Engineering (SE) is now gaining international recognition as an effective technologically based interdisciplinary process for bringing human-made systems into being, and for improving systems already in being. However, the main focus of this paper is Systems Analysis (SA) as a necessary part of SE, specifically its proper utilization within systems engineering education and practice.

Systems engineering concentrates on the engineering of human-made systems and on systems analysis. In the first case, emphasis is on the process of bringing systems into being, beginning with the identification of a need or a deficiency and extending through requirements determination, functional analysis and allocation, design synthesis and evaluation, design validation, deployment, operation and support, sustainment, and phase-out and disposal. In the second case, focus is on the improvement of systems already in being. By adopting and utilizing the iterative process of analysis, evaluation, modification, and feedback, most systems now in existence can be improved in to their operational effectiveness, product quality, affordability, sustainability, and stakeholder satisfaction. Extensive coverage of both of these cases is found in Systems Engineering and Analysis, 5/e, 2011.

Systems engineering may be defined and/or described herein as the technologically based interdisciplinary process for bringing human-made systems and their products (desired entities) into being. While the main focus is nominally on the entities themselves, systems engineering offers private and public enterprises an improved strategy. Systems engineering is inherently oriented to considering “the end before the beginning” and concentrates on what the entities are intended to do before determining what the entities are, with form following function. Systems analysis is necessary but not sufficient in the process of bringing systems into being.

Instead of offering systems or system elements and products per se, systems engineering focuses on designing, delivering, and sustaining functionality, a capability, or a solution. This strategic thinking is now being considered by forward-looking organizations in both the private and public sectors. It is applicable to most types of technical systems, encompassing the human activity domains of communication, defense, education, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and others. The advancement and promulgation of this emerging strategy through systems engineering education is a primary aim of this paper.

The focus is on subject matter commonly available within most schools and colleges of engineering. Related areas of Systems Analysis; Engineering Economics (EE), Operations Research (OR), and Management Science (MS) are addressed and synthesized. Educational benefit
from integrating known academic areas, overlaid with a Design Dependent Parameter (DDP) paradigm, should be of value to graduates destined for professional engineering practice.

Although sometimes incorrectly called systems engineering, SA is demonstrated to be necessary but not sufficient for teaching and practicing SE. The system design (or synthesis) process leads
and sets the pace. Stumbling through the system design space with an evaluation ‘compass’ helps converge system design in the face of multiple criteria. Making value for society relies on converging the design to achieve the desired outcome of “Quicker, Better, and Cheaper”. The SE
process, with SA properly embedded, has implications for teaching, research, and professional practice, with guidance for guiding engineering capstone design projects.

Advancing the ASEE 2015 theme “Making Value for Society” requires systems thinking more than ever before. Instead of offering systems or system elements per se, SA properly utilized within SE in this new century should facilitate the discovery of emergent system properties that provide desired functionality, capability, and improved operations.

As a more complete introduction, the reader is encouraged to consider the 2010 ASEE paper entitled Systems Engineering: Its Emerging Academic and Professional Attributes.

Resources:     Systems Analysis: Its Proper Utilization in Systems Engineering Education and Professional Practice – ASEE 2015