Socio-Technical Features of Systems of Systems

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Human and organizational nature of SoS

SoS contain many types of systems among which are, what are often termed, Enterprise Systems (Chen et. al. 2008). There are many different definitions of enterprise: within a SoS environment an enterprise system could be described as a complex, socio-technical system that comprises interdependent resources of people, information, and technology that must interact with each other and their environment in support of a common mission. Emerging ‘soft’ issues critical to the design and operation of Systems of Systems can be identified as follows (see Hubbard et. al. 2010),

  • Decision making in SoS, including issues in autonomy, authority, responsibility and ethics
  • Measures of Enterprise SoS performance
  • Impact of culture and cultural attributes on multinational and multicultural team performance
  • Systems of Systems Ethics, Governance, and Regulation
  • Systems of Systems experimentation
  • Shared/distributed situational awareness
  • Alternative approaches to training e.g. virtual reality, gaming
  • SoS lead and lag ‘soft’ metrics e.g. improved mental and physical workload measurement techniques
  • Enterprise System Agility and resilience e.g. dynamic allocation and reallocation of function, the human in the loop
  • Enterprise SoS Leadership and motivational issues

The holy grail of being able to look into the future by evaluating the effectiveness, impact or added value of alternative enterprise system configurations, prior to deployment, is still a long way off. Such a capability would greatly enhance an enterprise’s ability to dynamically (re-)configure appropriate systems (people, process, and technology) to achieve the performance required to produce designated capability in different contexts and to avoid enterprise structures that are susceptible to undesirable emergent behaviour including adverse circumstances such as accidents, disasters. Enterprise System models not only provide the means to visualize, represent, and analyse the inner workings of an Enterprise SoS, but can also constitute the building blocks of an Enterprise SoS Architecture (EA).

An Enterprise Architecture is an architecture of an organization that supports strategy, analysis, and planning by stakeholders to determine how the organization can most effectively achieve its current and future objectives. (1) An Enterprise Architecture Framework provides a methodology to describe how an Enterprise Architecture is organized, structured, and operates in terms of people, processes, product, IT and resources in order to achieve its goal.(1A) 1 + 1A = tiger team document (replace with appropriate description)

Existing models and enterprise system architectures and Frameworks (e.g. Zachman, CIMOSA, GERAM, VERAM, ToVE , PERA Dodaf, MODAF) tend to deal with enterprise elements such as Resources, Information Flows and Functions well, but a) within a process framework and b) they do not show a sufficient capability to include soft enterprise characteristics such as policies, culture, competencies, decision making structures etc. within dynamic models. Hence, changes in one or more of these characteristics are not shown in overall organisational system performance. The following points can be made with reference to EAs:

  • Architecture is foundational for managing modern enterprises and planning enterprise integration.
  • An EA framework is an organized collection of ingredients (tools, methodologies, modeling languages, models, etc.) necessary to architect or re-architect whole or part of an enterprise.
  • For a given enterprise, the enterprise architecture describes the relationships among the mission assigned to the enterprise, the work the enterprise does, the information the enterprise uses, and the physical means, human labor, and information technology that the enterprise needs.

The prime advantage of an EA is to provide a common view (in the form of models) of what is going on in the enterprise to relevant actors or stakeholders of the enterprise. The second decisive advantage of an EA is that it provides a sound basis for the management of change that occurs throughout the life cycle of the enterprise. Vernadat (1996) combines the two methodologies of enterprise modeling and enterprise integration and advocates a systematic engineering approach called Enterprise Engineering, for modeling, analysing, designing and implementing integrated enterprise systems.

Enterprise modelling (EM) is concerned with the representation and specification of the various aspects of enterprise operations; namely, functional aspects to describe what are the things to be done and in which order; informational aspects to describe which objects are used or processed; resource aspects to describe what or who performs things and according to which policy; and organisational aspects to describe the organisational structure and the responsibility frame within which things are being done. These Enterprise System models can be combined within an EA framework to provide a dynamic overview of the enterprise system.

Although there are several models available to assess the structure and performance of organisations (e.g. Castka 2001; Curtis et. al. 2001; Tannenbaum et. al. 1996), few if any of these models provide quantitative and qualitative measures of performance and none are truly able to provide a direct multi-point, measurable cause and effect link between the various soft attributes of an enterprise system and its performance. It is clear, though, that success factors from a human perspective do centre upon the structure of communication (stakeholder management) and decision making processes and systems within the overall System of Systems

Governance in SoS

The SoS mindset

SoS problems often exhibit many of the characteristics of so-called wicked problem (Rittel and Webber 1973): problems are extremely complex and not bounded or stable; they do not have unique, right solutions, but rather solutions that are either better or worse than others, and they do not have a definitive formulation; SoS requirements are often volatile with changing constraints and moving targets; stakeholders have different views; and understanding the whole context is difficult and critical. SoS problems relate to both hard (mechanical, electronic, software) and soft (people, organizations, regulatory) systems considerations and research must nowadays include mixed methods and approaches (Conklin 2005) that include both quantitative and qualitative techniques, making this a very challenging area intellectually.


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Primary References

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Checkland P B. 1981. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Wiley.

  • Introduced the Soft Systems Methodology which challenged conventional ideas to address messy problems of socio-technical systems.

Hubbard E-M, Siemieniuch C E, Sinclair M A, Hodgson A. 2010. Working towards a holisticorganisational systems model. 5th Int. Conf. Systems of Systems Engineering (SoSE), Loughborough, UK. 22-24 June.

  • This paper presents an integration effort combining a number of soft factors modelling tools and considers the potential impact of such an overall tool in a system of systems environment. The paper introduces the tools developed and how it is envisaged they will work together to provide a comprehensive, coherent output. It is suggested that a suite of interoperable tools of this form could aid the design and operation of organisational systems and ensure they are fit for purpose.

Additional References

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