EMEA Systems Engineering Conference 2014

Garden Route CoastlineThe vibrant INCOSE Chapter of South Africa had invited the systems engineering community to Cape Town for the regional INCOSE conference that takes place biennially. Former known as the European Systems Engineering Conference (EuSEC), the first event outside of Europe provided good reasons for renaming the conference as the EMEA Systems Engineering Conference 2014 (EMEASEC 2014). From 27 to 30 October, the official conference programme offered daily keynotes, more than fifty papers and six tutorials in four parallel tracks. Technical tours on the last day of the conference, various social events and a bunch of business meetings during the days before and after the conference complemented all the presentations, as usual for international INCOSE events. This dense programme left limited time to enjoy the beautiful landscape of South Africa's Cape Province.

Quinton Coetzee, Ronnie McKenzie and Felix Mehler left lasting expressions as keynote speakers. Quinton Coetzee talked about the San (or bushmen) living a nomadic life in the Kalahari. In their struggle for survival the San rely on social cooperation and specialisation. This was all interesting. However, I came to the conclusion that the solutions found by the San are less a blueprint for multi-disciplinary engineering, but more an example of what is lost in systems engineering and what may be a special challenge in systems engineering. As I understood Quinton Coetzee, young San are trained in all the disciplines needed for survival. Specialisation is then the result of individual talent and skills. Some are better in certain activities than others. Consequently, they specialise more and more in the particular disciplines they are good at. Nevertheless, all San have a basic understanding of all the different disciplines. This is not naturally the case in systems engineering.

In systems engineering, the representatives of individual disciplines may have a rather limited understanding of other disciplines as they never have been exposed to the theory and practice of those disciplines. There is a significant likelihood that individuals follow a theme: What they don't understand, they regard as trivial. Ivan Krylow, the Russian author of fables, used this sentence in order to characterise fools. I would not go so far in my judgement due to the following cognitive and linguistic reasoning. In unknown knowledge areas, each individual has a lack of terminology and semantics. Missing words for making distinctions lead to an inability to identify the differences. It is like an Amazonas native who is exposed to road traffic for the first time of his life. This guy will be unable to identify the differences between trucks, busses, passenger cars and so forth, let alone, for example, the ability to stop a taxi. For him, all the vehicles look the same. In conclusion, it is a constant challenge in multi-disciplinary engineering to not disregard the issues and challenges of other disciplines.

Ronnie McKenzie talked about water management in South Africa. With a good sense of humour he provided quite comprehensive insights into how South Africa is managing their water resources and reacts in the event of upcoming droughts. I have never listened to a better explanation of dynamic programming. Ronnie McKenzie illustrated dynamic programming by the rules applied to limit the use of water for particular purposes depending on the remaining water resources. Most texts about this optimisation technique emphasise a lot of mathematics without bringing the practical advantages closer to the learner.

Felix Mehler, my former colleague at EADS, impressed the audience when talking about the systems engineering activities at Airbus. With some distance, I was pleased noticing the advances of systems engineering within the Airbus Group reminding my contributions to these achievements.

Regarding the papers, the local focus on applying systems engineering for wildlife protection was new to me. To counteract the threat of poaching, systems engineering demonstrates its usefulness beyond traditional application domains. However, some similarities to defence applications, especially those designated as systems-of-systems, are obvious.

My own contributions to the conference were a paper titled Systems Engineering Value Stream Modelling and a tutorial titled The Overall Systems Engineering Value Stream. The paper considers Work Product Generation Sequences as a development flow oriented way to control the evolution of consistent and high-quality configuration baselines continuously. Thus, work product generation sequences complement the overall systems engineering value stream, e.g. the flow of configuration baselines throughout the systems architecture in the V. In the final plenary session, my paper was mentioned as one of the ten top ranked papers. It was planned to share the tutorial with Kevin Forsberg. Unfortunately, Kevin could not make it to travel to South Africa due to personal reasons. I really regret to have missed the experience of teaching the stuff together.