Monday, March 2, 2009

SEAri summit highlights systems research - SDM Pulse, Spring 2009

Matthew Richards, Caroline Lamb, Tsoline Mikaelian
Senior systems professionals and executives from industry and government—including representatives from several SDM partner organizations—gathered at the MIT Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEAri) research summit, held at MIT on October 21, 2008.

The annual summit offers researchers a chance to share their progress with the wider systems community. “The SEAri research group interacts with its sponsors on a regular basis as research projects progress, and the summit is a significant event for us to gain feedback,” said SEAri Director Donna Rhodes.

This year, in addition to presentations by SEAri researchers, three advanced doctoral students discussed the progress of their research in detail, providing attendees with new insights and the students with valuable input. Twelve SEAri graduate students also discussed their work during a lively walk-around poster session.

SEAri doctoral research assistant Matthew Richards presented his work on architecting principles for survivable systems. According to Richards, “although survivability is an emergent system property that arises from interactions between systems and their environments, conventional approaches to survivability engineering are often reductionist in nature. As a result, current methods neither accommodate path dependencies nor facilitate stakehold- er communication for trading among system life-cycle cost, performance, and survivability.” Richards’ research has yielded a preliminary set of metrics for the evaluation of survivability in tradespace studies during conceptual design. These metrics are based on a characterization of survivability as the ability of a system to meet required levels of value delivery during nominal and perturbed environmental conditions.

Another SEAri-affiliated student, Caroline Lamb (who is sponsored by the Lean Advancement Initiative at MIT), presented early results of her case studies on how collaborative systems thinking emerges in teams performing aerospace design. Lamb noted “collaborative systems thinking may offer an opportunity to leverage and develop a skill in short supply by concentrating on the team in addition to the individual.” This research is designed to produce hard data that can be used to improve system design work by teams.

As it happens, one of the organizations attending the summit is performing studies similar to Lamb’s. And, thanks to the event, a one-day follow-on research workshop was held at which MIT and the interested sponsor were able to share research approaches and interim outcomes. “This is an example of what our summit is all about—collaboration between our researchers and industry practitioners,” said SEAri lead research scientist Adam Ross.

SEAri doctoral research assistant Tsoline Mikaelian also presented her interim research outcomes at the summit. Mikaelian is working on managing uncertainty in sociotechnical enterprises using real options. Traditionally, real options analysis has been applied to the valuation of capital investments decisions, but recently this approach has been applied to the valuation of flexibility in system design decisions. The problem, Mikaelian says, is that different applications of real options are often considered in isolation. In her research, she is working to develop an integrated real options framework for holistic decision-making under uncertainty for enterprises.

Her work introduces a new characterization of a real option as a tuple consisting of a mechanism and type, which disambiguates among 1) patterns of mechanisms that enable flexibility and 2) the types of flexibility in an enterprise. A new classification of mechanisms and types of options based on “where” they are embedded within the enterprise architecture is then devised with the goal of enabling a more comprehensive consideration of real options opportunities.

Presentations from the summit are available on the SEAri website,

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