Engineering a System of Systems (SoS)

a System of Systems

“Everything affects everything else in one way or another. Whether you are aware of that or not does not change the fact that this is what is happening. That’s why I say a business is a system … any action will reverberate throughout the entire company.”
– John Woods (Work in Progress)

The evolution of an enterprise resembles the evolution of any other type of organism. Processes become more complex as the enterprise grows; job requirements become more compartmentalized. Over time, complex and varied systems are developed or implemented to help personnel perform their very specific sets of tasks. Many enterprises today are composed of many of these separate silos of activity that do not share information with each other – and when they do it is not in real time.

This organizational model has served us well, generally helping to improve operational efficiency, increasing productivity, and providing better tools for people to do their jobs. Now, as we enter the era of connected devices and the IoT (Internet of Things), it is becoming more apparent that these old models that were designed to make things more efficient are actually serving as obstacles to taking the next step.

Before now, these separate silos of activity allowed people to focus more specifically on the task at hand without worrying about any other tasks. Today’s reality is that an enterprise truly operates as more of a continuum. All of these separate systems must work in concert to ensure the health of the organism as a whole.

Imagine your own personal organism. How would your lungs work correctly without information from your circulatory system? And how could your circulatory system deal with injuries without information from your nervous system? Our brains, hearts, lungs, stomachs, kidneys and livers must be in constant communication with one another at all times. And any one of these systems can be impacted at any time by new information pulled in from outside through our senses. A healthy organism is not one where each individual system performs its specific tasks as efficiently as possible. A healthy organism is one in which every system is constantly striving to ensure the greater good of the entire organism.

Many enterprises are discovering today that they need to implement a system of systems.

Implementing a system that encompasses all of your existing systems can increase your capacity for management, analysis, and understanding of underlying business problems and opportunities. Gain real-time insight into how altering just one component of a process can impact all other processes. For instance, witness in real time how a change to a maintenance schedule effects productivity and asset performance. Discover opportunities to reduce energy consumption or create greater coordination between your production schedule and your supply chain.

A system of systems can promote greater high-level situational awareness, increase your capacity for interdepartmental collaboration, and allow for entirely new models of analysis and automation. Imagine the following scenario: a plant floor machine’s throughput drops below what’s expected; immediately, an alarm notification is sent and the machine is automatically shut down for maintenance. Another task is triggered to generate a work order; the work order is automatically assigned to the technician who is closest and best able to perform the work (the technician is notified in real time on his smart phone or tablet). While the maintenance is performed, all of the day’s numbers related to production, profit, warehousing, shipping, etc. are automatically adjusted to accommodate the downtime. Meanwhile, the technician is able to perform the maintenance, test the machine, and update the work order right there on the spot (on his phone, for instance). All other systems are automatically aware of the work order’s completion in real-time and everything is adjusted again accordingly.

Imagine creating custom interfaces for each role in your organization. Depending on an individual’s job responsibilities, he/she could have real-time access to all data necessary to do their jobs – regardless of where that data was generated or where it is stored.

With a little imagination, there is a seemingly endless number of possibilities revealed when all of your data systems and personnel are working in a network of continuous communication. And the best part is that implementing an SoS does not require removing or replacing any of your existing systems. The software application or suite can be installed as a sort of top layer that ties all of your systems together. Keep your SCADA/DCS system. Keep your CMMS, your ERP, and any of the other useful systems in which you have already invested enormous amounts of time and money. They will still provide value. Your SoS is not intended to replace these systems, but to weave them together into a single fabric of continual intelligence and agility.

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