History, Motivation, and Value
The Body of Knowledge and Curriculum to Advance Systems Engineering Project (BKCASE) began to create a community-based Guide to the Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBoK) and a Graduate Reference Curriculum for Systems Engineering (GRCSE) in fall of 2009 (Pyster and Olwell et al. 2012) (Please see http://www.bkcase.org for more information). The SEBoK came into being out of a recognition that the systems engineering (SE) discipline could benefit greatly by having a living authoritative guide that discusses what is included in the discipline, how the discipline should be structured to facilitate understanding, and what documents are the most important to the discipline. A key principle of the BKCASE project is that the SEBoK and GRCSE will always be available free worldwide – including the revisions to those products.
Through the end of 2012, BKCASE was led by Stevens Institute of Technology and the Naval Postgraduate School in coordination with several professional societies and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), which provided generous funding. Volunteers from dozens of companies, universities, and professional societies across 10 countries contributed many thousands of hours writing the SEBoK articles; their organizations provided significant other contributions in-kind. For additional information on the BKCASE authors, please see the Acknowledgements article.
The scale and complexity of BKCASE emerged over the first few months of the project. Systems engineering is large and relatively immature when compared to more classic engineering disciplines, such as electrical and mechanical engineering. We are extremely pleased with how the community rose to the challenge. New authors continually stepped up when gaps in the writing team were identified and we routinely assembled 25 to 30 authors every three months in a multi-day workshop to iron out issues and make key decisions.
One of the most critical decisions occurred in January 2011, when the team confirmed a switch to a wiki-based presentation for the body of knowledge. This added much complexity to the effort, but offered great advantages in terms of the modularity for update, access to interim material by the authors, easy review and suggestions for improvements, and flexible navigation. In hindsight, the impact of choosing a wiki was much greater than we understood, but we are very happy we went down that path. We believe this format to present the body of knowledge will serve the SE community much better than if we had produced a traditional PDF or Word document.
To help ensure both the quality of the SEBoK and its acceptance by the community, it was vital that the SEBoK be created with an open collaborative process. Specifically, each version had public review and each review comment was adjudicated. The adjudication results can be found at SEBoK Review and Adjudication.
The earliest value of the SEBoK has simply been the greater sense of community that has developed among the authors, which include many fellows of professional societies and other leaders in the field. For example, the relationship between Systems Science and Systems Engineering is now more clearly understood than in the past. This relationship is captured in Parts 2 and 3 of the SEBoK.
The greater value of the SEBoK, of course, comes from use by the community. As of the end of March 2013, SEBoK articles have been accessed more than 100,000 times and early usage reports are encouraging. We hope the SEBoK will regularly be used by thousands of systems engineers around the world as they undertake such activities as creating systems architectures, developing career paths for systems engineers, and deciding new curricula for systems engineering university programs.
The SEBoK is intended to evolve and morph with use and with changes in the field. The wiki structure is particularly well-suited for promoting that purpose. Users are asked to comment about what they like and dislike, what is missing and what should be removed. New articles will be added and existing articles updated regularly.
At the beginning of 2013, with version 1.0 of both SEBoK and GRCSE released, BKCASE transitioned to a new governance model with shared stewardship between the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) (see http://www.sercuarc.org), the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) (see http://www.incose.org), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (IEEE-CS) (see www.computer.org). This new governance structure is being formalized in an agreement between the three stewards that will be finalized in spring of 2013. The stewards have reconfirmed their commitment to the key principle that SEBoK and GRCSE will be available at no cost to the users.
This version, released 30 April 2013, is a minor release which updates many topic articles and glossary articles.
Changes that have been made include:
- Fourteen topic articles were updated in Parts 1, 2, 3, and 6, for the purpose of expanding or improving the explanation of the topic, or in some cases to add new references.
- Sixteen glossary terms were updated and two new glossary terms were added.
- The Acknowledgements page was updated to reflect the significantly revised governance structure for the SEBoK, which added many new contributors in varying roles.
- The Main Page and other Quicklinks pages have been modified to reflect the new version.
- The SEBoK Evolution article formerly in SEBoK v. 1.1 Introduction was deleted, being replaced by an updated version, being this Editor's Note article.
There were no changes to improve wiki navigation and operation. Comments from version 1.0.1 that were adjudicated were deleted from DISQUS, while comments still to be adjudicated remain in the wiki.
We will regularly update the SEBoK to correct errors, improve existing articles, add new articles, and respond to specific comments from the user community. The current plan is to issue occasional micro updates and two minor updates a year for the first two years, and then decide whether a larger more major revision is needed in the third year or whether additional micro and minor revisions are adequate. Micro updates correct spelling errors and sentence grammar and make other very modest changes and occur as needed. They are identified by three digits - Version 1.x.y. Version 1.0.1 was the first micro release. Minor updates will correct errors, continue to add content to existing articles, including any new references published recently, and perhaps add articles to existing knowledge areas. Minor updates will not change the basic organization of the SEBoK. The editors may not respond to all comments posted in DISQUS for the minor updates. This release, Version 1.1, is the first minor update. Major updates will be unconstrained. All accumulated comments and suggestions will be adjudicated for the major updates, and the adjudication results will be posted for the community.
New releases are under the control of a Governing Board appointed by the stewards, who oversee the SEBoK Editor-in-Chief, Co-Editor-in-Chief, and an Editorial Board. The stewards contribute resources to manage the SEBoK wiki, support new releases, and encourage SEBoK adoption. Volunteer authors from the world-wide SE community continue to propose and create new content and other volunteers review that new content.
The next minor release will be Version 1.2, currently scheduled for release in October 2013. At least one new article on Systems Engineering Education will be included in Part 5, but we suspect several more new articles will be included as well. The editors also plan to have implemented the process for updating references systematically, and intend to include references published since version 1.0, as appropriate to each article.
The SEBoK is sometimes compared to Wikipedia. The SEBoK is like Wikipedia in its most fundamental structure, as it is a collection of wiki articles built on mediawiki technology. However, SEBoK is unlike Wikipedia in that the SEBoK's content is carefully controlled. Anyone in the community can suggest changes be made to SEBoK articles, but no one except the SEBoK Editors can actually implement those changes. Wikipedia is a much more open wiki, allowing virtually anyone to change any article, while reserving the right to undo changes that are offensive or otherwise violate Wikipedia's rules.
Tight control over SEBoK content is a tradeoff. Such control ensures a stable baseline whose quality and integrity are assured by its editors. On the other hand, such control discourages some members of the community from contributing improvements to the SEBoK. To satisfy both the need for a stable baseline and the desire for broader community involvement, we will be implementing a new feature sometime in the next several months. The Sandbox will be copy of the SEBoK, separate from the baseline version, where anyone in the community can edit articles. The exact rules for how this will be done are being decided now and will be announced in a micro release of the SEBoK as well as through other venues.
Please provide your comments and feedback on the SEBoK below. You will need to log in to DISQUS using an existing account (e.g. Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) or create a DISQUS account. Simply type your comment in the text field below and DISQUS will guide you through the login or registration steps. Feedback will be archived and used for future updates to the SEBoK. If you provided a comment that is no longer listed, that comment has been adjudicated. You can view adjudication for comments submitted prior to SEBoK v. 1.0 at SEBoK Review and Adjudication. Later comments are addressed and changes are summarized in the Letter from the Editor and Acknowledgements and Release History.
If you would like to provide edits on this article, recommend new content, or make comments on the SEBoK as a whole, please see the SEBoK Sandbox.