The global application of systems engineering

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26 for short, is in full swing this week. It has brought together political leaders, financial experts, and scientific experts together to focus global efforts in tackling this global problem. Just like with any other team, diversity of ideas promotes better solutions for all parties – it’s the case for school projects, governmental initiatives, and for businesses. This is not much different than the complex development programs that implement model-based systems engineering (MBSE), where business experts work with expert engineering teams to solve problems of customers and governmental regulations. Collective knowledge is a great tie between industry’s use of MBSE and global cooperative efforts, but how deep does this comparison go? Let’s take a look by examining the major points of MBSE.

The first step in a new development process under model-based systems engineering is to define the scope and requirements of the project. For a vehicle, that means determining how far a vehicle needs to travel per fill up, what kind of environment it needs to withstand, what technologies will be integrated to solve feature requirements and much more. For a global conference like COP26, many of the requirements of the event have already been defined by previous events – or iterations – with more requirements added based on the ongoing developments of individual regions, industries, and economies. These requirements guide the conversations among all of the different groups. The scientific and engineering community may come to the table with technological solutions, but those are only possible based on funding from financial institutions, in turn being guided by the pressures of the regulatory systems.

With an understanding of the problem at hand or a plan for development, the next phase is communicating ideas between all of the different groups. The plan created might be theoretically perfect, but without refining the different dimensions of the plan, it can be near meaningless. For product development this means bringing together the different knowledge basses of engineering departments – mechanical, electrical, software – to understand the interconnections between all of the different systems in something like a car. For global conferences, cooperation breeds understanding of different ways of reducing our collective impact on the planet. Carbon capture for instance is a great technological solution, but without increased investment to reduce costs adoption will be slow in a market economy. The other option could be regulatory requirements incentivizing its use through tax credits or increased tax costs based on carbon output.

The last major phase is verification and validation. Products need to meet the requirements set in the beginning of development. Simplistically it is a very cut and dry check, this electric vehicle can drive so far on a single charge, it can continue to work optimally in a wide variety of environmental conditions. That verification is still important in COP26, it’s why it’s a yearly event to make sure countries stay on track for their goals. But it can also follow a more scientific evaluation process around the actual impact of certain solutions. Switching to new technological solutions can be very flashy, but it should meet the requirement of increasing global sustainability and not just for a few requirements.

Reviewing each of the major phases of MBSE against COP26 has shown many similarities, but is it the global application of this methodology? Truthfully, not really. True implementations of MBSE require consolidated models and a single source of truth. It would be great to have this at the UN conference, but it is far from reality – each party comes to the table with their own needs and may often hide their actual intentions. It is also dissimilar in the timescale, system integrations only happen on a yearly basis instead of having constant contact between all of the parties at play. That does not take away the similarities of the two, especially in the case of cooperative work and a variety of viewpoints in solving highly complex problems.

More important to a technology company like Siemens, I’ll be taking a look at some of the more specific discussions from this year’s conference. What kinds of technology can be implemented to help solve this global problem and we’ll take a look at how thinking like an engineer can help guide the discussion of climate in concert with every other viewpoint.

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