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Systems Engineering supporting uncertain environment


Systems Engineering supporting uncertain environment

This theme of the Academy-Industry meetings has emerged from all the changes we have undergone in recent years: whether it be the Covid 19 health crisis, or the recent political events of the war in Ukraine, which have underlined the criticism of our external dependence, and the importance of our energy, technical and industrial sovereignty.

All these unforeseen events in our environment have had major consequences on our daily life, but also on our organisations and more generally on the politics and economy of our country.

Uncertain environment context

Some of these consequences have changed the way organisations function, with a spectacular increase in teleworking, the development of digital solutions and a new form of collaboration, without counting the study of energy management in companies and factories, which, because most of them have not made a significant effort upstream to respond to the environmental and climatic challenges of sustainability, have found themselves obliged to adhere to the strategy of energy sobriety, for economic and political reasons.

Certain crises thus appear to be real drivers of technological and societal progress: Covid 19 demonstrated that it was possible to reduce the development time of a vaccine by a factor of 10. Similarly, the fossil fuel crisis has boosted the sale of hybrid and electric and electric vehicles, supporting the ecological transition of our transport.

From these crises have emerged real technological innovations, driven both by the massive exploitation of data, accessible everywhere and to everyone, and by the development of artificial intelligence, to analyse, control and react more quickly. And these new advances are constantly calling for others, for example the analysis of this massive data will require computing power to make real time possible, which will be possible thanks to the development of quantum computers…

All these unpredictable changes are having a major impact on our society, not only in terms of its functioning, but also in terms of its needs and aspirations, leading it towards a more united, more sustainable and more responsible society, where the human factor has its rightful place…

Help from Systems Engineering

In this context, it is legitimate to ask the following questions: how can systems engineering help to face these current and future challenges? What methods and tools can it propose to provide more reactive solutions and accelerate technological progress, without causing undesirable rebound effects?

As a result, these Academy-Industry meetings were an opportunity to reflect and discuss together on a number of questions emerging from this uncertain environment:

  • How to manage risk in the development of systems?
    Solutions have been proposed in the form of incorporating uncertainties and margins, but culturally it may also be necessary to accept uncertainty in the daily life of companies, as we have experienced the acceptance of change in the deployment of agile approaches.
  • How to make decisions?
    By improving collaboration between business teams and architects, between peers (between companies at the same level), with subcontractors in an extended enterprise context, and more generally with all stakeholders (including local authorities), not forgetting interactions between systems architects and decision-makers. These collaborations can certainly be facilitated by reference frameworks, such as the CRISEE project developed between GIFAS and AFIS, based on standards.
  • How can we guarantee the results of the design?
    By synthesising our “correct by construction” systems; by proposing and making better use of benchmarks to compare the various scientific and technical approaches and find the one best suited to each need, especially when addressing special requirements.
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  • How to reduce development time / reuse to be more reactive?
    By using hybrid methods integrating new bottom-up technologies and classic top-down systems engineering approaches, or agile methods. By relying even more on the MBSE: models, their interoperability (IRT Saint Exupéry’s Teepee approach) and the inherent traceability to manage the impact of changes on the system. However, the need to design evolving systems that adapt to the environment does not apply to all systems: it depends on their lifespan. Some systems, such as nuclear power plants, which are developed over decades, inherently incorporate uncertainties from the time of their specifications. Finally, circular economy approaches and taking into account the limitation of resources from the very first requirements could make it possible to limit resource shortages and limit our external dependence.
  • How can we innovate sustainably?
    Even if there will always be uncertainty about future needs, integrating the human factor and its sense of responsibility will undoubtedly help to change the way we operate.
    By building on the crises and taking into account a critical requirement that has become incontrovertible: the requirement for limited resources and our carbon footprint in our design processes, we will bring about innovative sustainable solutions.
  • Finally, how can we teach to think in systems and uncertainties?
    Our society has changed, the knowledge that used to be our expertise is now accessible to everyone everywhere, we live in an ocean of information and discerning the “right reliable, useful information with the right level of detail” is not an easy task. Thinking about systems requires rigour, structuring, stepping back and collaboration, so how do we do this when knowledge becomes uncertain? How can we teach students to think in systems while keeping in mind the complexity of an uncertain environment? It is certainly necessary to systematically integrate this culture of risk and uncertainty management into their training curriculum.

Finally, these 10th meetings have thus allowed us to finally meet again around 9 conferences, 8 workshops and a round table, led by no less than 31 speakers.

They were an opportunity to reflect and exchange ideas on the many questions and solutions that Systems Engineering can provide.
They led to the emergence of new themes and subjects of study which will be proposed within the AFIS working groups, or other event formats, other ways of working together will be created in 2023 in order to pursue our ambitions and make AFIS our preferred meeting place for Systems Engineering: a Think-Tank, a Do-Tank, Agora, Debates, etc., all of which will be great new features for 2023 !