Research & Innovation

Stevens, SERC Lead Major Effort to Formalize Systems Engineering Knowledge

From spacecraft design to software integration, many engineering projects today have unprecedented levels of complexity due to increases in size and scope, amount of data, and number of disciplines involved. There is a great need in industry for systems engineers who have a breadth of engineering expertise and can oversee multifaceted, interdisciplinary projects.

In the past year, Stevens has completed an award-winning project, Body of Knowledge and Curriculum to Advance Systems Engineering (BKCASE), to formalize systems engineering practices, education and curriculum. Led by Stevens School of Systems & Enterprises (SSE) Distinguished Research Professor Art Pyster in partnership with Dr. Dave Olwell, professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, the BKCASE project identifies the newest and most effective systems engineering methods, helps universities to better prepare students to enter the field of systems engineering, and supports the growth of this critical field.

The BKCASE project, which launched in 2009, involved two separate initiatives – the creation of a Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBoK) and an Advanced Graduate Reference Curriculum for Systems Engineering (GRCSE).

The SEBoK, which was published in September 2012 is the recognized and authoritative source of information on the systems engineering discipline, consisting of hundreds of articles, glossary terms and links to resources.

“With the SEBoK, we organized the knowledge for systems engineering so it is understandable and has a clear taxonomy and structure,” Pyster said. “There are articles about each major topic in the discipline, more articles on how they relate to each other, and information on the primary references for systems engineering.”

GRCSE, which was published in December 2012, provides a standardized set of curriculum and content recommendations to align academia with current systems engineering research and to guide the development and improvement of graduate degree programs in systems engineering.

“GRCSE is for people who are starting systems engineering master’s programs or who want to refresh a program to make it as good as it can be,” Pyster said.

Both the SEBoK and GRCSE were published online, with the SEBoK in Wiki format, enabling them to be easily updated, constantly kept fresh, and reflective of the latest knowledge and best practices from the systems engineering community.

“The BKCASE project is a revolutionary advancement in the continuing maturation of the field of systems engineering,” said Stevens School of Systems & Enterprises Dean Dinesh Verma. “By creating a master reference database of the most up-to-date systems engineering knowledge available, and an associated reference curriculum, the BKCASE team, led by Stevens own Dr. Art Pyster, is helping to improve systems engineering practice and pedagogy of systems engineering worldwide. We are incredibly proud to have been involved with this project.”

The BKCASE project was conducted through the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC), a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) led by Stevens (Pyster is the deputy executive director) which works to improve the application of systems engineering within government and industry. The project required the collaborative effort of numerous companies and universities. Both the SEBoK and GRCSE were authored and reviewed by a leading group of 70 systems engineers from across the world, working in a collaborative, voluntary process over the three-year period. Contributors from Stevens include Nicole Hutchison, Dr. Alice Squires, and Devanandham (Deva) Henry.

“This was really a labor of love for a lot of the contributors,” Pyster said.

The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), a nonprofit organization which develops and disseminates the interdisciplinary principles and practices that enable the realization of successful systems, is also a partner on the project. Other partners include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Systems Engineering Division and the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE).

The DoD sponsored the project, with direct involvement from Steve Welby, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering; Kristen Baldwin,  Principal Deputy to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering; and Nicholas Torelli, Director of Mission Assurance  in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering.

The next phase of the BKCASE project is the transition to use. A governing board made up of representatives from INCOSE, the IEEE Computer Society and the SERC will work to evolve the SEBoK and GRCSE and disseminate them widely within the systems engineering community.

“The SEBoK and GRCSE team have done an outstanding job in the development of this SE repository of information and training guidance,” said INCOSE President John Thomas. “The world’s systems thinkers and engineers are already benefiting from these efforts. INCOSE is proud to have provided many experts to assist in the success of this endeavor.”

The SEBoK – which will now function much like an academic journal with Pyster and Olwell serving as co-editors, responsible for soliciting new articles and refreshing or excising old material – is already being adopted. INCOSE is using it as a main source of material for the official handbook of the professional society, which is used as the basis for knowledge and testing for the certification of professional systems engineers. The IEEE Computer Society is also using the SEBoK as a guide as it develops a competency model for software systems engineers. Meanwhile, a number of universities, nationally and internationally, are currently considering adopting recommendations from GRCSE as they launch new systems engineering graduate programs.

“This project will have a wide-ranging and deep impact on the practice of systems engineering,” said Dr. Dave Olwell of the Naval Postgraduate School, co-lead for BKCASE. “It was completed on-time, on-budget, and exceeded expectations. The success is due to the leadership and vision of Art Pyster, and the tremendous support we received from our partners, sponsors, and most especially, volunteer authors.”

Given its impact thus far and potential to further advance the discipline of systems engineering, the joint BKCASE-SEBoK-GRCSE initiative was recently selected for the 2012 Product of the Year Award by INCOSE. The Product of the Year Award is given annually to the INCOSE product that provides the most significant value to INCOSE’s stakeholders.

The INCOSE 2012 Product of the Year award was formally presented to Pyster and Olwell at the annual INCOSE International Workshop from Jan. 26-29, 2013 in Jacksonville, Fla.