Saturday, June 2, 2007

SEA RI research advances systems engineering - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

By Donna H. Rhodes, PhD, director of SEARI
Donna H. Rhodes

MIT ESD’s Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEARI) researches advanced systems engineering topics to address the needs of individual sponsors and to serve the global systems community. The recently launched SEARI consortium serves as a neutral forum to bring experts from academia, industry and government together for collaborative learning and joint research.

According to SEARI Director Donna H. Rhodes, “Our research program seeks to advance the theories, methods and effective practice of systems engineering and to apply this work to complex socio-technical systems through collaborative research.”

The SEARI research portfolio has four focus areas:

> socio-technical decision making
> designing for value robustness
> systems engineering economics
> systems engineering in the enterprise

Socio-technical decision making investigates how to make effective decisions under highly complex and uncertain conditions. SEARI’s research, which involves studying the effectiveness of current decision processes, is leading to a better understanding of how decisions are made today. Current projects explore strategies for evolving collaborative systems; visualizing complex tradespaces and the saliency of information; and understanding and mitigating cognitive biases in decision processes. This research involves developing new constructs, methods and tools to represent socio-technical systems in a manner that allows impact analysis and complex decision analysis.

Designing for value robustness seeks to develop methods for concept exploration, architecting and design using a dynamic perspective for the purpose of realizing systems, products and services that deliver sustained value to stakeholders in a changing world. Current projects center on developing methods for dynamic multiattribute tradespace exploration; principles and strategies for designing survivable systems; and techniques for the consideration of unarticulated and latent stakeholder value. Recently, SEARI research has produced a method and associated metrics for quantifying the changeability of a system design as well as a change taxonomy for enabling more effective stakeholder dialogue on such qualities as flexibility, adaptability and modifiability.

Systems engineering economics aims to develop an economics-centric view of systems engineering to achieve measurable and predictable outcomes while delivering value to stakeholders. Research topics include
measuring productivity and quantifying the return on investment of systems engineering; advancing methods for reuse, cost modeling and risk modeling; applying real options in systems and enterprises; and developing systems engineering leading indicators.

Systems engineering in the enterprise uses empirical studies to understand how to achieve more effective practice in respect to the system being developed, its operational context and the characteristics of the associated enterprise. A project on collaborative, distributed systems engineering practice is examining how organizations perform an engineering program with geographically distributed teams. Research on the development of engineering systems thinking in the workforce is examining the development of senior systems engineers, the factors involved in the development of systems thinking in individuals and in teams, and the relationship of enterprise culture and engineering processes. A project studying the social contexts of enterprise systems engineering is expected to lead to published socio-technical systems studies and models, including teaching cases for systems engineering education courses.

The SEARI research program involves engagement with sponsors and includes collaborative projects with other research groups, other universities and professional societies such as the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). SEARI will hold its 2007 research summit on Oct. 16, in conjunction with the SDM partners meeting on Oct. 17 and the annual SDM Conference on Oct.18-19, to showcase selected research projects.

For further information on the research program and consortium membership, visit seari.mit.edu or contact the leadership team at seari@mit.edu.

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