Emerging Topics

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Lead Author: Robert Cloutier


The Emerging Topics section is intended to introduce and inform the reader on significant and rapidly emerging needs and trends in practicing systems engineering within the community. It is not intended to be all-inclusive. Instead, those topics that have a high probability of significantly impacting the practice of systems engineering, as determined by the SEBoK editorial board, are covered. If the reader has recommendations of emerging topics that should be covered, please send an email to SEBoK@incose.org, or leave a comment in the comment feature at the bottom of this page.

Introduction to Systems Engineering Transformation

The knowledge covered in this KA reflects the transformation and continued evolution of SE, which are formed by the current and future challenges (see Systems Engineering: Historic and Future Challenges). This notion of SE transformation and the other areas of knowledge which it includes are discussed briefly below.

The INCOSE Systems Engineering Vision 2025 (INCOSE 2014) describes the global context for SE, the current state of SE practice and the possible future state of SE. It describes a number of ways in which SE continues to evolve to meet modern system challenges. These are summarized briefly below.

Systems engineering has evolved from a combination of practices used in a number of related industries (particularly aerospace and defense). These have been used as the basis for a standardized approach to the life cycle of any complex system (see Systems Engineering and Management). Hence, SE practices are still largely based on heuristics. Efforts are under-way to evolve a theoretical foundation for systems engineering (see Foundations of Systems Engineering) considering foundational knowledge from a variety of sources.

Systems engineering continues to evolve in response to a long history of increasing system complexity. Much of this evolution is in the models and tools focused on specific aspects of SE, such as understanding stakeholder needs, representing system architectures or modeling specific system properties. The integration across disciplines, phases of development, and projects, as well as between technologies and humans, continues to represent a key systems engineering challenge. More recently, the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) introduces unprecedented challenges in verification and validation of AI-infused systems, but also opens up new opportunities to implement AI methodologies in the design of systems.

Systems engineering is gaining recognition across industries, academia and governments. However, SE practice varies across industries, organizations, and system types. Cross fertilization of systems engineering practices across industries has begun slowly but surely; however, the global need for systems capabilities has outpaced the progress in systems engineering.

INCOSE Vision 2025 concludes that SE is poised to play a major role in some of the global challenges of the 21st century, that it has already begun to change to meet these challenges and that it needs to undergo a more significant transformation to fully meet these challenges. The following bullet points are taken from the summary section of Vision 2025 and define the attributes of a transformed SE discipline in the future:

  • Relevant to a broad range of application domains, well beyond its traditional roots in aerospace and defense, to meeting society’s growing quest for sustainable system solutions to providing fundamental needs, in the globally competitive environment.
  • Applied more widely to assessments of socio-physical systems in support of policy decisions and other forms of remediation.
  • Comprehensively integrating multiple market, social and environmental stakeholder demands against “end-to-end” life-cycle considerations and long-term risks.
  • A key integrating role to support collaboration that spans diverse organizational and regional boundaries, and a broad range of disciplines.
  • Supported by a more encompassing foundation of theory and sophisticated model-based methods and tools allowing a better understanding of increasingly complex systems and decisions in the face of uncertainty.
  • Enhanced by an educational infrastructure that stresses systems thinking and systems analysis at all learning phases.
  • Practiced by a growing cadre of professionals who possess not only technical acumen in their domain of application, but who also have mastery of the next generation of tools and methods necessary for the systems and integration challenges of the times.

Some of these future directions of SE are covered in the SEBoK. Others need to be introduced and fully integrated into the SE knowledge areas as they evolve. This KA will be used to provide an overview of these transforming aspects of SE as they emerge. This transformational knowledge will be integrated into all aspects of the SEBoK as it matures.

Topics in Part 8

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