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What is Systems Engineering

Definition according to INCOSE

Systems Engineering is a transdisciplinary and integrative approach that supports the successful realization, utilization, and decommissioning of developed systems through the application of system principles and concepts, as well as scientific, technological, and management methods. Systems Engineering integrates all disciplines and forms a structured development process from concept through manufacturing and usage phases to decommissioning. Both technical and economic aspects are considered to develop a system that meets stakeholder needs.

Systems Engineering has been an independent discipline for over 70 years. While it was previously relevant only for very large projects, Systems Engineering now plays a crucial role in almost all projects. The increasing interconnection and embedding of systems require a holistic approach to gain a common understanding among all stakeholders.

1 + 1 = 3! Wrong? No!

A system is always more than the sum of its elements. Due to the increasing complexity of systems, the development of modern systems is only successful when well-trained Systems Engineers are assigned this task.

History of Systems Engineering

Humanity has been developing systems for over 5000 years. Back then, the Egyptians built their impressive pyramids, although no one spoke of Systems Engineering at that time. Let's fast forward to the early 20th century. The industrial revolution produced many systems more associated with the concept of Systems Engineering: cars, airplanes, machines. However, engineers were still unfamiliar with this discipline. A chief engineer could oversee the largely mechanical entire system, and system elements could be developed largely autonomously, as the interactions at the interfaces were easy to understand.

Systems Engineering emerged in the late fifties. During this time, humanity tackled systems whose complexity and project execution surpassed everything that had come before. The space race, unfortunately also in nuclear armament, initiated projects that had to develop complex systems on the one hand and were forced to be fast and successful on the other.

This immense pressure and the emergence of new disciplines (e.g., software development) led to the development of holistic methods. In the commercial sector, too, systems became more complex, and the need for holistic methods grew. An early publication on Systems Engineering comes from the telecommunications sector: Arthur Hall's "Methodology for Systems Engineering" from 1962.

The United States was the main driver of Systems Engineering. In 1990, the National Council on Systems Engineering (NCOSE) was founded there with the aim of advancing and promoting the discipline. Five years later, the national association became an international consortium, the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). Today, over 20,000 members are represented in INCOSE.