Socio-Technical Features of Systems of Systems
Most systems of systems (SoS) are socio-technical systems that are composed of a number of interdependent resources, such as, people, processes, information, and technology that must interact with each other and their environment in support of a common mission (See also Enterprise Systems Engineering).
Socio-Technical Aspects of Systems of Systems Engineering
Engineering a systems of systems often entails more than simply integrating physical systems but also incorporates integration of the people and processes associated with the constituent systems. In most SoS cases, each constituent system has its own users and stakeholders with their own operating processes, objectives, motivations and constraints as well as its own technical development processes, funding mechanisms, and lifecycle approaches. This affects systems engineering for SoS in several ways.
First, this means that the SoS systems engineer needs to consider the operating processes of the constituent systems and how these will affect the systems of systems. This includes considering changes in the operations of systems to meet the needs of the SoS and how these will affect the constituent systems which often continue to support their original users concurrently with the SoS. In effect in many SoS, SoSE includes engineering operational and social processes as well as the technical systems. Examples of emerging ‘soft’ issues that are critical to the design and operation of systems of systems include issues involving autonomy, authority, responsibility and ethics, impact of culture and cultural attributes on multinational and multicultural team performance, system of systems ethics, governance, and regulation, and shared/distributed situational awareness (Hubbard et al. 2010).
Second, this means that the SoS systems engineering needs to consider the development processes of the systems including their current state of development (e.g. in development, fielded, evolving) and how this affects their ability to change to meet SoS needs. This can place constraints on the architecture for the SoS as is discussed in the next section. It also can introduce complexity into SoS development since it is often the case that different constituent systems may be on different development schedules making it difficult to synchronize changes across the systems in an SoS. This can lead to challenges in SoS verification, validation and testing (REF) as well as in maintaining operational capability in the face of asynchronous changes in systems where there are interdependencies among the systems. This can be further complicated when the life cycle approaches of the constituent systems differ (Boehm and Turner, 2004).
Finally, as noted above, many SoS are in effect socio-technical systems. Socio-technical systems are composed of a number of interdependent resources, such as, people, processes, information, and technology that must interact with each other and their environment in support of a common mission. Increasingly, (INCOSE 2014) systems engineering views this class of system as offering an opportunity for a broadened contribution of systems engineering approaches. Since a socio-technical systems are comprised of multiple, independent systems which together provide a new capability, they can be viewed from an SoS perspective. These socio-technical systems are sometimes referred to as enterprise systems (Rhodes et al. 2009). The relationship between SoS and Enterprise SE approaches to socio-technical systems is an active topic of discussion.
Dealing with Socio-Technical Issues in an SoS
Many of the issues associated with ‘soft’ or organizational aspects of an SoS often exhibit many of the characteristics of so-called wicked problem (Rittel and Webber 1973), including:
- problems are extremely complex and not bounded or stable,
- they do not have uniquely correct solutions, but rather solutions that are either better or worse than others, and they also do not have a definitive formulation,
- SoS requirements are often volatile with changing constraints and moving targets,
- stakeholders have different views, and
- understanding the whole context is challenging but critical.
These issues relate to both hard (mechanical, electronic, and software) and soft (people, organizations, and regulatory) systems considerations. Research must include mixed methods and approaches (Conklin 2005) that include both quantitative and qualitative techniques, which makes this a very challenging area intellectually.
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