• Date: 29/10/2012

    Considerations When Deploying Model Based Systems Engineering

    Since the release of the Object Management Group's (OMG) Systems Modelling Language (SysML) interest in Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) is growing on a seemingly daily basis however, many organisations are unsure how to make the transition from a traditional, text-based approach to systems engineering to a model based one.

    While several authors have written extensively on the benefits of MBSE and how the SysML language can be used to elaborate and communicate information about system design, there is little guidance on how to adopt MBSE within an organisation. The key to successfully deploying an MBSE capability is in the planning, education, risk mitigation and selecting the right tools).

    Issues which are frequently overlooked include:

    Process and Methodology

    Careful consideration must be given on how existing systems engineering processes must be adapted to successfully adopt MBSE. Often organisations do not appreciate that an MBSE approach is not simply a case of replace textual descriptions with diagrams but requires a fundamental change to existing systems engineering practices.

    Management Buy In

    Adopting MBSE, across an organisation, is not something that can be achieved by a project working in isolation but requires support from management to ensure that the benefits of MBSE are correctly sold to the engineering community. Resistance to change is an obstacle for the implementation of any new capability and how this is managed will directly impact how successful the delivery of MBSE will be.

    Long Term Financial Investment

    Adopting any new technology or technique requires a financial investment on the part of the organisation and MBSE is no different. There is a significant up front cost to deploying MBSE and it must be realised that this cost is unlikely to be recouped on the first project, regardless of how successful that project may be. It is often said that it costs money to make money; with MBSE it must be understood that it also costs money to save money. It must be realised, from the outset, that adopting MBSE is not a "quick win". The true benefits of model based systems engineering may not be realised for several years.

    Know the Destination

    No-one can see the future and the outcome of adopting any new engineering practice cannot be predicted with absolute certainty. It is, however, important that, before adopting MBSE, an organisation must have a firm understanding of what it is they seek to achieve. Adopting MBSE because "everyone is doing it" is not enough, clear goals must be established to understand how modelling will benefit the organisation in terms of issues such as; cost saving, reduced time to market and improved product quality.

    Integration Across Disciplines

    Adopting Model Based Systems Engineering will impact more than just the organisation's systems engineers. How other disciplines will collaborate with and use the output of the systems engineering activities must also be considered. One of the key benefits of MBSE is improved communication. How this is best leveraged in terms of reviews and handovers will help to determine who the target audience for MBSE is.

    Education

    One cannot simply expect to purchase a few text books and have modelling practices magically transfer themselves from the page to the project. While books and off the shelf training packages may help with an initial understanding of modelling languages and practices it is important to realise that the most effective way to educate engineers in the use of MBSE is to develop a programme that teaches how modelling will be applied to real projects.

    Tool Usage

    In order to successfully adopt MBSE a modelling tool must be selected. Often the primary consideration in tool selection is cost but this is usually a short sighted view. Other issues must also be considered including:

    • Does the tool adequately support the required features of the modelling language?
    • Does the tool integrate with existing tools for things such as requirements management and configuration control?
    • Does the tool support distributed projects?
    • How can the tool be used to help produce the required documentation?

    MBSE is not a "one size fits all" solution and while lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of others it is imperative that an organisation conduct its own investigation in to the benefits of and successful deployment of model based systems engineering.

    Changing the way in which we engineer our products brings with it a new set of risks; in order to mitigate those risks we must ensure that we have carefully considered all of the issues, not just the technical ones.
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