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systems engineering (SE)

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Systems engineering (SE) is an interdisciplinary area of endeavor whose focus is the development of complex techonolgical systems with reference to their extended environment. Software engineering encompasses the design, development and maintenance of complex systems with consideration to their software and hardware, their interconnections and the environments in which they operate over the course of their life cycle and ultimate decommissioning.

Systems involve multiple elements that are organized for a given purpose; complex systems are, by definition, multifaceted, intricately connected, which makes them challenging to plan for and maintain. Most technological systems can be more effectively be thought of as systems of systems (SoS) to direct the focus to how constituent parts interoperate, work over time and function within the context of a larger, evolving system.

Systems thinking, in general, is a holistic approach that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. Current and developing trends of increasing automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) are necessitating a more holistic view of the increasingly complex and interconnected systems operating throughout business and industry (See: IIoT).

SE integrates knowledge and methods from multiple fields of science and technology to spark innovation in the development and implementation of new technologies. Disciplines informing SE include control engineering, cybernetics, electrical engineering, engineering management, industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering, organizational studies, project management and software engineering.

Watch a brief introduction to systems engineering:

This was last updated in January 2017

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