Socio-Technical Features of Systems of Systems

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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).

Human and Organizational Considerations in SoS

Within a SoS, these socio-technical systems are often referred to as enterprise systems (Chen et al. 2008). Examples of emerging ‘soft’ issues that are critical to the design and operation of systems of systems can be identified as follows (Hubbard et al. 2010):

  • decision making in SoS, which includes addressing issues involving autonomy, authority, responsibility and ethics,
  • measures of enterprise SoS performance,
  • impact of culture and cultural attributes on multinational and multicultural team performance,
  • system of systems ethics, governance, and regulation,
  • system of systems experimentation,
  • shared/distributed situational awareness,
  • alternative approaches to training, e.g., virtual reality and gaming,
  • SoS lead and lag ‘soft’ metrics, e.g., improved mental and physical workload measurement techniques,
  • enterprise system agility and resilience, e.g., dynamic allocation and reallocation of function and the human in the loop, and
  • enterprise SoS leadership and motivational issues.

The will still be some time before we have the ability to look into the future by modeling or simulating socio-technical systems or ‘soft’ elements of a system of systems in order to evaluate the effectiveness, impact or added value of alternative system configurations, prior to deployment. Such a capability would greatly enhance our ability to dynamically (re)configure appropriate socio-technical systems (people, process, and technology), to achieve the performance required to produce designated capability in different contexts, and to avoid SoS structures that are susceptible to undesirable emergent behavior (also see emergence).

There are three particular areas that are key to the development of these socio-technical / enterprise systems:

  • An enterprise architecture (EA) is the architecture of an organization that supports the strategy, analysis, and planning by stakeholders and is used to determine how the organization can most effectively achieve its current and future objectives,
  • An enterprise architecture framework (EAF) provides an enabling methodology to is used to describe how an EA must be organized, structured, and operated in terms of people, processes, product, information technology (IT) and resources in order to achieve its goal (Vernadat 1996; Bernus, Nemes et al. 2003; Chen, Doumeingts et al. 2008), and
  • enterprise system models not only provide the means to visualize, represent, and analyze the inner workings of an enterprise SoS, but may also constitute the building blocks of an enterprise SoS architecture (EA).

Existing models and enterprise system architectures and frameworks (e.g. Zachman, Computer Integrated Manufacturing Open System Architecture (CIMOSA), Generalized Enterprise Reference Architecture and Methodology (GERAM), Virtual Enterprise Reference Architecture and Methodology (VERAM), TOronto Virtual Enterprise (TOVE), Purdue Enterprise Reference Architecture (PERA), Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DoDAF), and Ministry of Defence Architecture Framework (MODAF)) tend to deal with enterprise elements such as resources, information flows, and functions, quite well; however, they do not show a sufficient capability to include soft enterprise characteristics such as policies, culture, competencies, decision making structures, etc. within dynamic models. Hence, changes in one or more of these characteristics are not shown in overall organizational system performance. The following points can be made with reference to EAs:

  • Architecture is foundational for managing modern enterprises and planning enterprise integration,
  • An EA framework is an organized collection of ingredients (tools, methodologies, modeling languages, models, etc.) that are necessary to architect or re-architect a part of or an entire enterprise, and
  • For a given enterprise, the enterprise architecture describes the work the enterprise does, the information the enterprise uses, and the physical means, human labor, and IT that the enterprise requires.

The prime advantage of an EA is to provide a common view (in the form of models) of what is taking place in the enterprise to relevant actors or stakeholders of the enterprise. The second decisive advantage of an EA is that it provides a sound basis for the management of change that occurs throughout the life cycle of the enterprise. Vernadat (1996) combines the two methodologies of enterprise modeling and enterprise integration and advocates a systematic engineering approach, referred to as enterprise engineering, for modeling, analyzing, designing and implementing integrated enterprise systems.

Enterprise modeling (EM) is concerned with the representation and specification of the various aspects of enterprise operations; namely, functional aspects to describe what are the things to be done and in which order, informational aspects to describe which objects are used or processed, resource aspects to describe who performs what and according to which policy, and organizational aspects to describe the organizational structure and the timeframe within which things are being done. These enterprise system models constitute the building blocks of an enterprise SoS architecture and can be combined within an EA framework to provide a dynamic overview of the enterprise system.

Although there are several models available to assess the structure and performance of organizations (e.g. Castka 2001; Curtis et al. 2001; Tannenbaum et al. 1996), few if any of these models provide quantitative and qualitative measures of performance and none are truly able to provide a direct, multi-point, measurable cause and effect link between the various soft attributes of an enterprise system and its performance. It is clear, though, that success factors from a human perspective do center upon the structure of communication (stakeholder management) and decision making processes and systems within the overall system of systems.

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.


Works Cited

Bernus, P., L. Nemes, and G. Schmidt. 2003. Handbook on Enterprise Architecture. Heidelberg, Springer Verlag.

Castka, P.B. 2001. "Factors Affecting the Successful Implementation of High Performance Teams." Team Performance Management. 7(7/8), 123-134.

Chena, D., G. Doumeingtsb, F. Vernadatc. 2008. "Architectures for enterprise integration and interoperability: Past, present and future." Computers in Industry. 59(7): 647-659.

Curtis, B., W.E. Hefley, and S.A. Miller. 2009. People Capability Maturity Model (P-CMM. Version 2.0, 2nd Ed. Software Engineering Institute. Carnegie Mellon University. Available at

Conklin, J. 2005. Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, 1st ed. Chichester, West Sussex, England, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Hubbard, E-M., C.E. Siemieniuch, M.A. Sinclair, and A. Hodgson. 2010. "Working towards a Holistic organisational Systems Model." Presented at 5th Int. Conf. Systems of Systems Engineering (SoSE), Loughborough, UK. 22-24 June.

Rittel, H.W.J. and M.M. Webber. 1973. "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning." Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc.: 155–169. In Cross, N. (ed.). 1984. Developments in Design Methodology. Chichester, West Sussex, England, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. pp. 135–144.

Tannenbaum, S.I., E. Salas, and J.A. Cannon-Bowers. 1996. "Promoting Team Effectiveness." In West, M. A. Handbook of Work Group Psychology. Chichester, West Sussex, England, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Vernadat, F.B. 1996. Enterprise Modeling and Integration: Principles and Applications. London, England, UK: Chapman and Hall Publishers.

Primary References

Checkland, P.B. 1981. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Chichester, West Sussex, England, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Hubbard, E-M., C.E. Siemieniuch, M.A. Sinclair, and A.Hodgson. 2010. "Working towards a Holistic Organisational Systems Model." Presented at 5th Int. Conf. Systems of Systems Engineering (SoSE), Loughborough, UK. 22-24 June.

Rittel, H.W.J., and Webber, M.M. 1973. "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning." Policy Sciences 4 Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc.: 155–169. In Cross, N. 1984. Ed. "Developments in Design Methodology." Chichester, West Sussex, England, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. pp. 135–144

Additional References

Bruesburg, A. and G. Fletcher. 2009. The Human View Handbook for MODAF Draft Version 2. Second Issue. Bristol, England, UK: Systems Engineering & Assessment Ltd.

IFIP-IFAC Task Force. 1999. "The Generalised Enterprise Reference Architecture and Methodology." V1.6.3.

ISO 14258:1998. Industrial automation systems — Concepts and rules for enterprise models. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization;

ISO 19439:2006. Enterprise integration — Framework for enterprise modelling. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization.

ISO 19440:2007. Enterprise integration — Constructs for enterprise modelling. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization.

Miller, F. P., A. F. Vandome, and J. McBrewster. 2009. Enterprise Modelling. Mauritius: Alphascript Publishing, VDM Verlag Dr. Müller GmbH & Co. KG.

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