Podcast 005 – CONSEQUENCES of COVID-19 on SYSTEMS ENGINEERING. Asking the Experts.

Show notes:

In this episode we are going to be exploring the CONSEQUENCES of COVID-19 on SYSTEMS ENGINEERING with SE experts from around the world.


00:00 Intro – Mini
00:20 Intro – Full
02:11 Dov Dori – Technion & MIT
06:29 Bruce Cameron – MIT & Technology Strategy Partners
09:30 Mo Mansouri – Stevens Institute of Technology
11:38 Jon Holt – Scarecrow Consultants & Cranfield University
15:25 Alan Harding – BAE Systems & INCOSE Past President
17:56 Mike Johnson – SE-Training GmbH
21:59 Mohammad Chami – Chami Consulting
24:47 Joshua Sutherland
31:34 Outro

Guest details:

Prof. Dov Dori

Professor at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology & Visiting Professor at MIT
Inventor of Object Process Methodology (OPM): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Object_Process_Methodology
OPM Book: http://bit.ly/MBSE-with-OPM OPM
Software: https://www.opcloud.tech/
OPM Online Training: https://www.edx.org/professional-certificate/israelx-model-based-systems-engineering

Bruce Cameron

Bruce Cameron is the Director of the System Architecture Group at MIT, and a co-founder of Technology Strategy Partners.

Prof. Mo Mansouri, PhD

Mo is a faculty member at School of Systems and Enterprises and the Program Director for Systems Engineering Programs at Stevens Institute of Technology. He is also a visiting professor at University of South-Eastern Norway. He teaches Research Methodology at doctorate, Systems Thinking and Governing Development at master and Operations Management at bachelor levels. His research on Systems Governance, Policy Designs and Resilience in Societal Systems. https://web.stevens.edu/facultyprofile/?id=1301


Jon is current director of Scarecrow Consultants., the Technical Director of INCOSE UK and a Professor of Systems Engineering at Cranfield University. He is the author of 15 books on model-based Systems Engineering, and in 2015 was identified as one of the 25th most-influential Systems Engineers by INCOSE.
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jon-holt-a4a5bb1/ https://www.scarecrowconsultants.co.uk/

Alan Harding CEng FIET MINCOSE

Alan Harding is the lead for information systems engineering within the BAE Systems – Air business in the UK. He has over 30 years experience in systems engineering. Alan is a past president of INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering).
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alan_shropshire

Mike Johnson CSEP

Mike is a Systems Engineering expert based in Switzerland, with a strong passion for complex problem solving and holistic thinking.
SE-Training GmbH https://www.se-training.net/en/

Mohammad Chami

Founder of Chami Consulting | MBSE Services, and a full-time, tool-independent, Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) consultant.
Website: https://chamiconsulting.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohachami
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MohammadChami


Joshua Sutherland: Consequences of COVID-19 on systems engineering and asking the experts from around the world.

Joshua Sutherland: Hi guys and welcome back to the channel if you’re new here my name is Joshua Sutherland and I’m a systems engineering consultant based in the UK in this episode we’re going to be exploring the consequences of COVID-19 on systems engineering and asking the experts from around the world.

Joshua Sutherland: For a bit of context this movie was filmed around the first half of a 20/20 and given the fast nature of the crisis it is likely some of the responses would change given a bit of time but we thought it was a good idea to get the ideas flowing now even if the dust hasn’t fully settled over the crisis.

Joshua Sutherland: Roughly the first half of the video is from experts in academia and then the second half is in industry however given the nature of systems engineering most people have a foot in in both of those camps and you’ll find details and timestamps of each of the experts in the description below so you can go back and easily rewatch each section just by looking at the timestamp and also look up more details about a particular expert visit that website etc

Joshua Sutherland: So just the last thing for me is to thank the various experts who made some fantastic contributions: Dov Dory, Bruce Cameron, Mo Mansouri, Jon Holt, Alan Harding, Mike Johnson and Mohammed Chami.

Joshua Sutherland: So starting us off is Dov Dori and we’ll then run through all the experts and I’ll see you at the end or I’ll give you my answer to the question of the consequences of COVID-19 on Systems Engineering.

Dov Dori: Hello I’m Dov Dori, professor of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and visiting professor at MIT.

Dov Dori: Social technical systems create a highly interdependent system of systems the abrupt appearance of COVID-19 several months ago is underscored these interdependencies and produced many dilemmas for example what is the right level of closure that governments should impose on their populations.

Dov Dori: Medical experts initially pushed for the most immediate and drastic measures to curb the exponential spread of the virus from a pure medical viewpoint this policy made perfect sense but it’s impact on domestic and international economies is so profound that it is backfiring on people’s well-being because they are afraid or unable to afford medical treatment.

Dov Dori: At the longer term what are the potential unintended consequences of COVID-19 that might be beneficial to humanity shutting down the air traffic diluting public transportation and people not commuting to work or leisure is already drastically reduced CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. If this decline lasts long enough it may reduce these emissions significantly so we should expect to see a positive effect of slowing down the global climate change a huge and accelerating problem that humanity has been grappling with for decades no good solution for this problem was in sight and despite best efforts of scientists to alarm politicians and citizens about this bleak future international agreements have failed to meet the climate change reversing challenge yet now all of a sudden we are witnessing an unplanned abrupt and drastic greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Dov Dori: Ironically and paradoxically this virus might turn out to be humanity’s long-term lifesaver a related unintended consequence is teleworking and remote study for the last couple of decades these trends have grown steadily but slowly yet now is almost everybody was instructed to stay at home within less than a week schools universities and workplaces turned to using this information and communication technologies when this COVID-19 outbreak is mitigated there will be a significant ramp up of using ICT for teleworking and studying because people will have gotten used to it and like the savings that come with it hence the CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are expected to bounce back not to the previous levels but stabilize at a significantly lower level hand-in-hand with direct and immediate efforts to fight COVID-19 we must employ conceptual and computational modeling and citizen science to educate the public analyze mitigate and possibly take advantage of positive global effects.

Dov Dori: This is exactly where Model-Based Systems Engineering MBC fits in, as it focuses on creating and simulating models of complex systems as a major contribution to MBC over the last 25 years my team and I have been developing OPM Object Process Methodology which in 2015 became ISO 19450.

Dov Dori: OPM is a modeling and simulation language and a MBSE systems design and development methodology that is up to this task.

Dov Dori: During the last couple of years we have been working to extend OPM to include computations and simulations using OPM we are helping the Chilean health services to cope with COVID-19 and in the coming months we expect to be able to simulate complex systems and provide forecasts based on different scenarios.

Bruce Cameron: Hi I’m Bruce Cameron director of the System Architecture Group at MIT and a co-founder of Technology Strategy Partners here in Cambridge Massachusetts.

Bruce Cameron: I have three thoughts on how this global pandemic is going to influence systems engineering and they are:

Bruce Cameron: It’s going to change our ways of working.

Bruce Cameron: It’s gonna change our business.

Bruce Cameron: and hopefully it’s going to give us an opportunity to use our tools for good.

Bruce Cameron: So you know we are all living our most distributed teams ever right now and I imagine that some organizations are excelling because of this and others are way down.

Bruce Cameron: There was a great saying in mentality and applied materials so that was “we perform well in a downturn and we position ourselves to accelerate out of the downturn” I think that’s a great mentality.

Bruce Cameron: My hope is that relatively soon we’re sort of out of crisis decision-making mode and we’re back in strategic decision-making around this.

Bruce Cameron: But specifically for systems engineering this is going to change ways of working so systems engineering creates focus through meetings and documentation and just as this crisis is going to accelerate broader transformation towards the digital economy my hope is that it’s going to give a much-needed boost to working online in systems engineering so you know one anecdote around that it’s you know it’s one thing to track a spreadsheet or a representation that shows which products are going to be mapped in which modules but to have that be done as a sort of sideshow or side activity and it’s another thing entirely to trust that as a source of truth and to derive the performance specs for a given module based on here’s the list of products that it’s mapped to.

Bruce Cameron: Second I think systems engineering is going to change our business obviously and frankly I think this is a great opportunity to prune products we you know we’ve been in a really dominant bull market for many years we’ve created a lot of products now is a time dose of an employ some much-needed focus from my perspective and we’re going to need to focus our energy from a systems engineering from a product development standpoint going forward if we’re to make the best use of our time now I hope from a business perspective it’s also going to serve as a catalyst for accelerating some critical technology work among others autonomy comes to mind but that’s not really clear to me yet whether that’s gonna have that effect or not.

Bruce Cameron: And last I think that this crisis is gonna give us an opportunity to use our tools for good so contact tracing as an example is a classic systems engineering activity we are aiming to be exhaustive and we are recognizing “that good enough is not good enough” so I hope that this also stimulates us to think about how else we can use this or mentality of mindset to bring the pandemic to an end.

Mo Mansouri: Hi there my name is Mo Mansouri and as a faculty member of the school of systems that enterprises and the director for systems engineering programs at Stevens Institute of Technology I would like to share my thoughts on how this recent pandemic is going to impact the trends of research in systems community.

Mo Mansouri: Concentrating on the concept and principles of resilience in systems design processes is going to be one of these changes in my opinion this will be to assure the capability of societal systems to absorb similar shocks of the future while keeping certain level of services and bounce back to a desired level of capacity in a shorter period of time.

Mo Mansouri: Another change is likely to be on governing frameworks and policymaking approaches both in global and local levels.

Mo Mansouri: Societal systems will most probably strive for implementation of distributed governing systems in which neighbourhoods become more prominent and the regional independence at least for providing certain basic services is going to be more valued.

Mo Mansouri: Policies therefore will be made based on data-driven and real-time computations and be less politically charged

Mo Mansouri: Finally a reliable principle based governance structures to be demanded in global level in which concepts of transparency and data sharing along with mechanisms for effective global collaboration in face of critical adversities is going to be adopted.

Mo Mansouri: In summary I think this holistic philosophical approach has been imposed on society will hopefully take us to a new paradigm in which systems: productivity, resilience and sustainability are valued equally.

Jon Holt: Hi my name’s John Holt so I’ve been asked to comment on a global current pandemic and its impact on the world of systems engineering.

Jon Holt: The impacts of COVID-19 will be long-term and far-reaching but let’s for a moment treat it as a systems problem and examine the approach that we as a nation have adopted firstly we’ve been warmed that a project like this was inevitable but then actually put little if any effort into planning for it when the project does come up because we haven’t considered properly we have an incomplete set of poorly understood needs and no idea that there’s a massive pile of constraints that go along with these needs waiting for is just around the corner. The solving of these constraints which may be more complex than the needs themselves.

Jon Holt: We also then focus on what we perceive to be the easy needs that we think we can apply quick fix solution to even though we don’t understand the nature of the problem in the first place we then find out that the needs are far more complex than we originally thought and change our intent to reflect this not realizing that making what may be perceived as a simple change in one place may have a massive impact elsewhere in our system.

Jon Holt: It’s almost like we should be considering not just individual statements concerning the system but also the independent interdependencies between them. Does that sound familiar…

Jon Holt: Rather than try to understand the nature of the problem based on scientific reasoning facts and real-world constraints we rush off and start to build partial solutions to a problem that we have no real concepts of because of this we can’t possibly judge if we have solved the right problem as we don’t know what this is as we never understood the needs property in the first place these non solutions therefore are underutilized because they serve no need and turn out to be largely a waste of time and effort with these non solutions in place we then define performance tests that we pledged to meet to keep the stakeholders happy rather than describing something that’s actually achievable. In order to achieve the unachievable we fudge the figures which is easy to do as it’s the people measuring and the people who define the measures in the first place by counting things twice including things that were never in the original scope and then shouting loudly about the success of the whole system.

Jon Holt: The operational advice that we prefer we provide for when the system is in place is inconsistent with key authority figures contradicting not only others but themselves we pick and choose the science to fit our own ends and then we actually don’t throw it ourselves anyway as we’re above it with these non solutions incomplete inaccurate and conflicting advice and unfeasible performance measures in place based on a lack of understanding of what turned out to be a more complex problem than we originally thought and with no adequate way to communicate this to the stakeholders we plunge on and decide it’s time to retire the system as quickly as possible as we decide that the economy of the system is more important than its safety or its security.

Jon Holt: In terms of management we can’t resource the system if we spent the last 10 years eroding a number of competent staff, essential kit and infrastructure and then act surprised when we don’t have the necessary resources rather than funding the resources properly we encourage people out of retirement promote not yet qualified students to professional roles and rely on 100 year old war veterans to raise money to cover up for our own lack of investment and essential products and services and then we tell everyone how great this is as long as we all chip in and work together.

Jon Holt: If COVID-19 was a systems problem we should have applied the system’s approach and had a fighting chance of meeting the essential needs including the constraints in a way that’s manageable demonstrable and achievable we would have done this by applying a systemic approach to developing the complete solution and the systemic approach to delivering it successfully.

Jon Holt: As things stand we’ve seen a level of incompetence that would make Wiley coyote blush and produce a solution that if a first-year student that submitted as part of the systems engineering appraisal would have seen them thrown out with their virtual university.

Jon Holt: Thanks for listening

Alan Harding: Hello my name is Alan Harding and I’m a systems engineer working for BAE Systems in the UK. I’m also fortunate enough to be a past president of INCOSE the International Council on Systems Engineering.

Alan Harding: So the question puts is what I think about the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on systems engineering. I’ve been thinking about that a lot while isolated in Shropshire here in England for the last seven weeks.

Alan Harding: I wanted to talk about three aspects:

Alan Harding: The first of those is actually the practice of systems engineering. I think it’s clear that we are going to continue to do so much more work virtually and that really is going to highlight two aspects:

Alan Harding: Firstly the need for good soft skills when collaborating with people over technical means making sure everyone’s included that we respond to people and pick up on those cues that we would usually get in person.

Alan Harding: Secondly I think is going to stress the use of collaboration tools so the move towards model-based systems engineering the ability to have everything configured and available will be even more important.

Alan Harding: The second aspect I want to talk about is the context for systems engineering. I think this pandemic will mean that people take in broader criteria there are lots of other factors that we will need to consider social aspects as well as technical and things like the United Nations sustainability goals I think will continue to be even more important for us as engineers and for companies looking to realize successful systems whether they’re technological or socio technical.

Alan Harding: The third area I guess is the actual systems we engineer and I could see this going two ways I hope that the shock of the pandemic and the concerns about global supply chains and national capability will mean that we look to seek resilient solutions in everything. My concern is that they could be a push to isolationism and sovereign solutions that build walls rather than build resilience and I’m confident this would in general be the wrong approach.

Alan Harding: That all said that I think the the mindset of systems engineer is looking at the problem in context is a great way forward and hopefully with systems thinking systems engineering and working together in a professional ethical way we can continue to help deal with the challenges right now and what goes forwards thank you very much.

Mike Johnson: So firstly thank you to Joshua for giving me the opportunity to give a few points on systems engineering perspective of the response to COVID-19.

Mike Johnson: One of my first thoughts was regarding the data that we’ve seen around a lot we’ve seen it reported a lot we’ve seen it very visually analyzed and of course many many decisions have been made upon the data that’s been presented or modeled or analyzed thereafter with of course very significant consequences.

Mike Johnson: And my first thought it was as a learning it’s the objectivity that’s been applied to that data set and also the critical thinking that’s being applied thereafter and in particular I could see even quite simply neighboring countries reporting mortality rates varying by an order of magnitude for the same illness that sounded strange and surely while there were good reasons that in respect to these two countries individually that they’re reporting it consistently they’re not doing it together so an alignment or standardization of such an approach to reporting recording illnesses deaths etc which seem to come into prominence here if you were going to then base our decisions thereafter on these on this data and don’t believe an ISO standard exists yet this could be a consequence it comes from it I hope its a positive one.

Mike Johnson: As well I was thinking about our countries in their generation of policies responding to the epidemic and we’re often quite isolated in the way that they made a policy looking for words I think firstly you’d look at who you’re very strong dependencies are in your country and we live in an incredibly global economy network I mean huge number of dependencies upon each other why don’t first look at your strongest dependencies are and then come together with those countries and lie on policies which respect the minimum impact to infrastructure and to the performance that you will require etc and then make your policy non-aligned basis. By then you would actually be designing in resilience as risk mitigation as a consequence of this I think actually that is not occurring that countries will now go forwards and start looking to design resilience into their economies which could be in a very inefficient way I think the optimal way would be that they would do it by policies they may well do it by simply putting that resilience into their economies they may we’ll do some hybrid they may doing nothing I don’t know but I’d hope that the optimal solution which would be a policy perspective would be taken up.

Mike Johnson: So I’ll just a final thought on this given that about half to a third of the world is in lockdown it’s very interesting to think how this this lockdown has affected other infectious diseases which of course it would be a an emergence that we would presumably see probably in good data in about a year’s time could be so interesting because that could then driver and that whole other science in the in the future to how to deal with pandemics.

Mike Johnson: Otherwise though great work everybody who’s keeping the world running and God bless you all.

Mohammad Chami: Hello my name is Mohamed Chami and I’m an expert in model-based systems engineering. Thank You Joshua for your question and let me use the four parts of the SWOT analysis diagram to answer it.

Mohammad Chami: First I start with the strengths perspective to underline how some companies have been able to deal with the COVID-19. For sure there are several factors but the establishment of an integrated model based tool chain enables employees to collaborate and work on their artifacts without the need to be in person at a particular place with someone else this doesn’t mean that they just bought and install a set of tools but indeed developed in parallel the right processes methods and guidelines for sure their strong position cannot be applied to the whole product lifecycle stages and requires additional specific applications such as the risk management models with there mitigation solutions for example one of my customers split their production lines into several teams to guarantee a continuous production within the 14 days quarantine period if a COVID-19 infection occurs. Others install so many cameras on the production lines of their customers to be able to act virtually without a local presence.

Mohammad Chami: Second with respect to weakness there are enormous weak scenarios where companies were simply not ready for something like stopped production lines or even extreme reduction in products delivery as in the aerospace or the automotive sector was not expected at all this is a very tragic and serious situation and system engineering might not help with everything.

Mohammad Chami: The third part concerned the threats especially focusing on the part related to the budget reduction I know a lot of companies that had to stop already reserve budget for the long term topics like something like product line engineering and use the budget instead to risk with something else and the result of the threats the situation has shown the importance of the digitalization this indeed has boosted the need for digital transformation especially in countries like here in Germany and since MBSE is one of the major foundation for a proper digital transformation.

Mohammad Chami: This brings me to my fourth part regarding the opportunities. The actual situation is a great opportunity for us as systems engineers to prove the value of systems engineering and how it could deal with such a pandemic here I believe the system engineering community still has some hallmark to do to simplify MBSE so even non system engineers can understand its value and why it’s needed I’m not speaking about using UF to model the whole goal bit as an enterprise or dive into SysML for the interfaces but I’m speaking about something much simpler like concepts with various system thinking and holistic thinking concepts.

Mohammad Chami: Finally this hallmark might not be a result of a one-man-band but needs an orchestra team of system engineers with the right conductor stay healthy and take care

Joshua Sutherland: ok welcome back hopefully you’ve gained new insight into the consequences of COVID-19 on systems engineering.

Joshua Sutherland When I myself think about those consequences I’m thinking about how the environment in which our systems exist has now likely fundamentally changed potentially and also the environment in which we develop our systems has also changed and but to think more concretely about the consequences I was thinking about it in two different ways.

Joshua Sutherland: One was of the activities the systems engineering activities we do across the lifecycle o a system and also on the specific application domains from which we often use systems engineering extensively ie automotive, aerospace consumer & electronics.

Joshua Sutherland: Thinking about the generic lifecycle first so generally when we make a new system from start to finish we think about the: concept life cycle stage, the development lifecycle stage, production life cycle stage, utilisation, support and retirement and at each of these stages there are consequences that COVID-19 has caused.

Joshua Sutherland: So thinking about the concept life cycle stage the first key first thing that comes to mind is that the business case for a lot of systems has changed drastically and some systems might not have a valid business case anymore while systems that were potentially didn’t have a business case might now have one that’s a great opportunity so I think any system regardless of life cycle stage does need to have its business case re-evaluated.

Joshua Sutherland: Further at that when we’re developing a concept ideas like robustness and resilience now have a new priority and some stakeholders who in the past were resistant to the additional cost associated with building in those quality attributes now might be more likely to get on board with those ideas given they’ve seen a clear example in the in the news where if you had those concepts built into your system potentially we’re doing better right now.

Joshua Sutherland: Then at development right now we are making great use so distributed teams collaborating using web technologies I mean imagine this pandemic without the internet. Maybe we wouldn’t have an economy anymore but we do at the moment and a lot of that is because we have such great IT infrastructure around the world which is pretty cheap and the great opportunity now we have is that we can make a use of talent no matter where what they are physical location is and that is a great opportunity.

Joshua Sutherland: Then on production we clearly when we have dense factories with lots of people in them we do need to be socially distant within that Factory and maybe that means expanding out the facility so that we can get more space around the equipment which isn’t so hard you know we can do this quickly we can build new warehouses and we can expand out quite quickly but a big challenge we do have is that as demand is fluctuating up and down and we need to ramp up and down or manufacturing capability that is difficult to manage and if we have staff who need to be off long periods of time due to their not being work for them retaining their skills is another challenge.

Joshua Sutherland: But there is an opportunity where there is a need or a desire to move production close to the consumer in for systems engineers to help support that action.

Joshua Sutherland: Then at the utilization lifecycle stage essentially our systems engineers we can observe where users are using systems in new usage patterns that we might not have previously envisaged and then build them into new systems and new concepts for the future I think you can think of various web tools where people are using them for potential education or other things they weren’t really built to do that but handing it quite well and maybe you know building a fully-fledged product around that new use case is a good opportunity.

Joshua Sutherland: Then at the Support Lifecycle stage potentially if certain systems have lower financing budgets than they had in the past or their replacement is no longer affordable there is an opportunity to help support systems beyond their original lifespan and making that affordable for our customers is important

Joshua Sutherland: And then at the retirement life cycle stage potentially the opposite can occur where certain systems are needed to be taken out of service earlier than was expected due to an insufficient budget potentially to run them and so we then have a opportunity to responsibly dispose of or perhaps more ideally to reuse into a different environment or potentially simply store so that in the future if finance does recover they can be put to use again

Joshua Sutherland: Then thinking at the individual application domains essentially we could make a video on every single application domain and we probably need economists and marketers within those particular domains to explain the specifics but I think you can explore when on your own the consequences to any one of those application domains if you could explore for example potentially it shift away from public transport whether it be buses trains and planes towards personal transport and you know cars bicycles motorcycles or even to internet communication video calls collaboration tools.

Joshua Sutherland: Anyway that’s my thoughts and you’ve heard the thoughts of the to the various experts that we’ve had in this video but what do you think? What are the consequences of COVID-19 on systems engineering? Let us know in the comments below.

Joshua Sutherland: Also if you haven’t already subscribed on YouTube or your favourite podcast app please do there’s details of all that also below and like I said there are timestamps for each of our experts so you can quickly go back to any one of them if you want to hear them and look forward to seeing you next time and stay safe out there.

Joshua Sutherland: Bye.