About the SERC
The Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC), a University-Affiliated Research Center of the US Department of Defense, leverages the research and expertise of senior lead researchers from 20 collaborator universities and not-for-profit research organizations throughout the United States. SERC is unprecedented in the depth and breadth of its reach, leadership, and citizenship in Systems Engineering. Led by Stevens Institute of Technology, and principal collaborator, the University of Southern California (USC), the SERC provides a critical mass of systems engineering researchers – a community of broad experience, deep knowledge, and diverse interests. SERC researchers have worked with a wide variety of domains and industries, and so are able to bring views and ideas from beyond the traditional defense industrial base. Establishing such a community of focused SE researchers, while difficult, promises results well beyond what any one university could accomplish.
The Need for Systems Engineering
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, our ability to successfully build the complex defense systems we depend on for force multiplication, C4ISR, intelligence gathering and analysis, transportation, business information, safety and security is increasingly challenged. Our conceptual reach seems on the verge of exceeding our technological grasp.
The multidiscipline scope of evolving, complex systems of systems and the rapid capability delivery required to adapt to accelerating change are central characteristics of 21st century systems. One result of the speed of technological change is a narrowing of focus and a growing separation of concerns in the development environment. Engineering is increasingly practiced in highly technical specialty areas that interact in subtle and often unpredicted ways.
The responsibility for integrating disciplines, balancing conflicting attributes, and delivering capabilities when needed has been traditionally allocated to systems engineering. However, developers and management are raising concerns that systems engineering as currently practiced is less capable of handling the complexity, collaboration and pace required; it is increasingly considered a barrier to success rather than an enabler. As the critical need for a broad systems viewpoint grows, the traditional means of assuring that viewpoint is losing practitioner confidence.
The discipline of system engineering, then, is both a critical success factor for system development and evolution and a perceived impediment. To fulfill its mission, systems engineering must expand its capabilities and reinforce its relevancy; the methods, processes and tools applied must evolve to meet the needs of current and future systems.
A Systems Engineering Research Center
The SERC was created to solve this problem. Viable, long-term solutions are not going to be found by tweaking the current systems engineering process. Solutions require a fundamental rethinking of systems engineering—building on its fundamental principles, concentrating on the necessary flows of information, and stripping away nonessential activities. We must re-examine the core definition of system, the role of the system engineer, the approach to systems specifications, the management of risk during the development phases, and integration of both systems and system of systems. Security, pace, complexity—all the trends described above—will drive a new systems engineering paradigm.
Successful technical and cultural change requires recognition, reach and relevance. Because no one university has the depth and breadth for this complex task, the SERC provides a critical mass of researchers drawn from its 20 highly respected collaborators.
The SERC comprises a significant part of systems engineering research and educational programs in the United States. Such pervasive access to the next generation of systems engineers provides enormous leverage for change. Each collaborator has significant experience with military, intelligence, and executive agencies and understands their unique cultures, languages and missions. The SERC also maintains close ties with INCOSE, IEEE and ACM—professional organizations that cross domain and national boundaries. These existing relationships secure the ability to translate new ideas into relevant actions for practitioners.
The SERC—its leadership, researchers and transition resources—is uniquely qualified to renew systems engineering at this 21st century crossroad. Although focused on the future, the SERC will also respond to the current needs of our defense and intelligence community sponsors. SERC research will always be guided by the challenges our sponsors have identified and is coordinated with them through both the research strategy and the tasking infrastructure. Systems engineering research has a new nexus, the work has begun, and the potential benefit to the systems engineering community is immense.