System integration complexity


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System integration complexity

  1. 1. Complexity of the Systems Integration Sergey Tozik, Gordon Center for Systems Engineering, Technion Integration is one of the important stages of the life cycle of any man-made system.During thisstage, realized instances of the systems components are combined to create a complete system. Despitewidespread recognition that during the Integration the discovery of the problems is mostfrequent, this phase in the lifecycle has not received much attention in comparison with otherstages such as Requirement Elicitation or System Architecture. The research that does deal with theIntegration focuses primarily on the planning processes and optimization, or on case studies that describethe development of the integration facilities.This paper uses the information gathered during the meetings of Systems Integration Working Grouporganized by the Israeli chapter of INCOSE (INCOSE_IL) as well as several papers that are published onthe subject to gain an insight into the peculiarities of the Systems Integration.As may be expected, companies and organizations use a variety of engineering and managerial techniquesand approaches to perform integration during the projects and other activities. The mere existence of suchvariety points that there cannot be found "the winning method" of Systems Integration but rather thatthere is a "toolbox" of methods and techniques. The effectiveness and efficiency of application of thesetechniques are highly dependent on their suitability to both the nature of the products and projects of eachorganization and the culture prevailing in these organizations.Systems Integration is a complex process. This complexity emerges from the interdependencies betweenthe components inside the system, between the components and their developers, and most of all betweenthe multitude of people involved in the development and integration of the system, everyone with her ownexperience, training, engineering disciplines and the technologies. More than that, there is never-endingmutual adaptation of the evolving system, the supporting organization, the users and their organizationalprocesses.The Integration happens on multiple levels of hierarchy. Essentially, three types of integration may bediscerned - the Product Integration that focuses on the integration of the artificial elements of the systemand of the system with other artificial systems, the Human Integration that is focused on the mutualadaptation of the system and its ultimate users and the Operational Integration that is focused on theincorporation of the system (and its users) into the fabric of the operational processes in the acquiringorganization and beyond it.Research community offers many solutions for dealing with the complexity of the systems,and theprocesses of the development and integration. But this community focuses elsewhere and doesnt look toodeep into the human side of the "integration business" and doing so leaves much room for new interestingresearch. Adaptability of people may certainly be the "missing ingredient" in the coping with the 1
  2. 2. complexities of the development projects especially during the integration, in the attempts to reduce thecomplexity of the project in its last stages and thus reduce costs, shorten development time and increasethe likelihood that the system will succeed in the complex operational environment.IntroductionDespite widespread recognition that during the Integration the discovery of the problems is most frequent,this phase in the lifecycle has not received much attention in comparison with other stages such asRequirement Elicitation or System Architecture. The research that does deal with the Integration focusesprimarily on the planning processes and optimization, or on case studies that describe the development ofthe integration facilities.Deep interest in Systems Integration in the community of the practitioners led to the establishment ofSystems Integration Working group by the Israeli chapter of INCOSE (INCOSE_IL) with therepresentation of various companies and organization in both commercial and government sector. As partof the Work Group activities the representatives of several organizations presented their SystemsIntegration processes and techniques, among them Rafael, the Israel Electric Company, ECI, Motorola,Phillips Healthcare, Biosense Webster, Orbotech, Israeli Air Force, HP and others. The presentations anddiscussions revealed a lot of information about how the Systems Integration process is actually performedin these organizations.This paper uses the information gathered during the meetings of Systems Integration Working Grouporganized by the Israeli chapter of INCOSE (INCOSE_IL) as well as relevant publications to gain aninsight into the peculiarities of the Systems Integration and point out promising research topics.Characteristics of the integration processIn one of the meetings, the Work Group endeavored to list activities that are relevant to the SystemsIntegration. As expected, in the center of the Integration stand engineering activities of preparing andperforming the integration testing events - writing integration plans, establishing integration facilities,development of the tools including the tools for modeling and simulation, conducting the tests and writingthe reports. In addition it became clear that the implementation of the integration process requires otheractivities as well that are as important to the success of the whole process.Organization of integration events requires considerable logistical support including acquisition,transportation and installation of the systems components and supporting equipment, configurationmanagement of both integration laboratories and the interim configurations of the system, establishing an 2
  3. 3. infrastructure of communication between the participants and transportation of people between thedifferent integration sites.Management of the integration process includes planning, measurement of the progress, preparation fordesign and managements reviews, organization of integration and test readiness reviews, establishing ofthe integration teams, management of these teams including encouragement and appreciation of the teammembers.The integration process is a resource-intensive process but not always perceived as such during projectplanning stages. Part of the responsibilities of the integration leader is to secure and manage theresources, including the preparation of budgets, justification of need for resources, fighting forpreservation of the allocation of resources and also reporting on resource utilization.During the integration process there exist quite a few activities identified with the systems engineeringincluding analysis of the changes in the needs and demands of stakeholders that take place during theproject, systems analysis, and problems investigation, design of remedial actions and systemsimprovements and the management of their implementation.The integration process is characterized by the flow of information and knowledge among the projectparticipants, sometimes the increased information flow during integration compensates for the inadequateinformation exchange and documentation at the earlier stages of the project. Accordingly, the integratorsmust manage the flow of knowledge and information within and without the project and to manageinformation flow to the various stakeholders, including the use of techniques borrowed from the publicrelations.Variety of processes and approachesAs more members of the Work Group presented their integration processes in their companies, it becameapparent that there is a very wide variety of integration processes used by different companies and thereare even differences between the different divisions of the same company. In some companies (especiallyin the defense sector) there are highly structured processes and procedures to perform the integration thateven serve as a "skeleton" for planning the entire project not just the integration stages. In othercompanies the integration processes were tailored separately for each project and in other companies theintegration "just happened" in pure ad-hoc fashion. The variety of the integration processes was as largeas the variety of systems engineering processes in particular and organizational cultures in general. 3
  4. 4. Overall consensus was reached that the process of integration starts early in the project (when there are atleast two components to integrate) and finishes very late in the project (when the product are transferredto the customers and even far beyond the project end, during production and support).As the participants presented their technical approaches to design and execution of the integration, thewide variety emerged as well. The systems were integrated functionally, hierarchically, by user-visiblefeatures, by the leading engineering disciplines (software, physical, mechanical, electrical, electronic etc)or by user types.Although in most companies, the concept of internal and external is the element that defines the approachto integration (and expressed in formal interface specifications) some of the companies didnt emphasizeinterfaces but rather used terms like "fitting components to each other", without documenting specific pairwise interfaces but rather documenting the overall design that shows how the components "fit together".Diversity of approaches to integration also includes a variety of approaches to organizing the teamsinvolved in the integration. Although the topic of organizing integration teams was not the focus of the ofcompanies presentations, but during the discussions it became clear that there is a range of options forteams structure starting with the organic integration teams, through task teams led by systems engineers,to the ad-hoc integration team consisting of representatives of various development teams without anofficial manager (integration was led by the representative from the team which has more responsibilityfor the success of the integration event).In the companies that emphasized the need for the professionalism in the integration by organizaingdedicated integration departments, these departments may be assigned additional responsibility for thecustomer support, field engineering or detailed design of the interfaces. On the one hand the aboveresponsibilities are not usually identified with the systems integration and on the other hand this is a signthat there is a strong association between these areas and the systems integration.From the aforementioned findings one can assume that the quality, the effectiveness and the efficiency ofthe integration process do not depend on the choice of the universal best practices on the amalgam of theapproaches and adapted to the type of products and organizational culture in the company. There maywell be a "toolbox" of methods and approaches to choose from but not the "best-of-breed" comprehensivemethodology.Systems Integration as part of Risk Management 4
  5. 5. There is an inherent difference between the activities of System Integration and those of Systems Design.During the integration the physical artifacts are interconnected to form larger assemblies, whether indesign one works primarily with information artifacts and abstractions. The interaction between real-world artifacts is always richer than what are predicted using abstract descriptions or models. During theintegration the unexpected assembly-level properties and behaviors gradually emerge. These behaviorsmay still appear exhibited in the final configuration of the system or many disappear or change. The latter"false attributes" may further complicate the integration process but cant be avoided due toincompleteness of the integration configurations and the low fidelity of the representation of the operatingenvironment.Gerrit Muller states in his (Muller 2007) that "The goal of integration is to reduce the project risk of beinglate or the risk of creating an ill performing system". He argues that the integration plays a major role inrisk reduction because the integrators are focused on finding unforeseen problems and solve them as earlyas possible.There is no way to avoid integration challenges - in course of building any sufficiently complicatedsystem there is always aomebody that has to assume responsibility for the proper functioning of thesystems and for solving the problems during the assembly, installation, transition to use and the actualoperation. Couper, Emes and Smith (Couper et al 2005) point out that when no one consciously acceptsthe responsibility for integration, the responsibility will by default be assigned to the end users or on theengineers that represent the users making them "by-default Systems Integrators". These "by-defaultSystems Integrators" will bear the risk that the system will be inadequate for the operational use eitherdue to exhibition of unacceptable emergent properties, or due to change in users needs, or due to lowreliability.Most projects reach the stage of integration both with depleted resources and with a host of unsolvedproplems .Since during the integration the actual physical configurations are assembled and activated forthe first time, its impossible to deny those problems and the need to solve them becomes more tangiblefor the development team, and what is more important, to the management and for the customers.According to the article (Sheard 2000) by Sarah A. Sheard the Systems Engineer has to perform the roleshe called "the Glue" - the role of active problem seeker and solver. She didnt use the term "SystemsIntegrator" in order to prevent the confusion with the "Lead Systems Integrator" definition used in thecontracts. 5
  6. 6. She emphasized that the Systems Engineer in her "Glue" role has to be "proactive troubleshooter, lookingfor the problems and arranging to prevent them". She emphasizes that the designers of the subsystems arefocused on making "their subsystems do what they are supposed to do, while the systems integrator has tofocus on the interfaces and the interrelationships between the subsystems, looking for the mutualinterference.Three levels of system integration complexitySystems Integration is a complex process. It is not apparent when one considers only the integrationbetween artificial components of the system, so I would like to distinguish between three levels ofSystems Integration - Artifact or Product Integration, System Integration and Operational Integration.In the course of the Artifact Integration the artificial components of the system is brought together to formpartial configurations, the interfaces are mated and the configurations are stimulated to elecitateresponses. The actual responses are judged against the expected ones documented as systemsrequirements. Artifact Integration is probably what most engineers imagine when they think aboutsystems integration. For most purposes the Systems Integration and the Artefact Integration areconsidered synonymous.Most systems cannot function by themselves without the interaction with humans. In most cases, theoperators or users are considered a part of the systems environment integration with the machinesthrough human-machine interfaces that are treated as external. On the other hand in order to put themachines to use, the users and the machines has to adapt to each other. This mutual adaptation is thesecond level of the Systems Integration - the Human-Machine Integration. Humans are not componentsthat may be produced according to specifications (even when one talks about training) and therefore freeto change their behavior depending on personal preferences, accumulated experience in operating similarsystems and a gradual adaptation to the new system they work with. People are complex creatures andtheir integration with the artificial components of the system raises the level of the complexity that are notconsidered during the Artifact Integration.Still another level of integration increases the complexity even more - the Operational Integration. Duringthe Operational Integration the artificial systems and its users are integrated into the their organizationsbusiness or operational processes and into the "enterprise ecosystem". Operational Integration is seldomidentified as Systems Integration but those that are involved in putting the systems into operational usemay testify that this process has many characteristics of integration. In the light of the above one couldconsider the Operational Integration as the third and the most complex level of Systems Integration. 6
  7. 7. When looking at the integration process in the various organizations it can be seen that the organizationsthat represent the ultimate users focus more on Operational Integration and the companies that aresuppliers of systems focus more on Artifacts Integration. The Human-Machine Integration is frequentlyunder-emphasized and is allocated to be a part of the training. There are also companies that create apartnership with clients and take responsibility for all three levels of integration, bridging the gapsbetween them. Its interesting thet the companies involved in all three levels of integration have moreinfluence on customers requirements specification and thus have more control of the costs and profits.The human side of the systemic integrationMuch of the complexity in the integration process is due to interactions between people that participate inthis process. According to the opinion of the Working Group participants the Systems Integration ischaracterized by intense social dynamics, that emerges from the encounters (sometimes for the first time)between the representatives of the different development teams thas has worked fairly independently onthe system components right until the start of the integration. Despite the importance of human aspect tothe success of the integration process it is not getting much attention in the publications or discoursebetween the practitioners who rather prefer to focus on the engineering and managerial side of their work.One can find references to the human aspect of the integration edge in the papers that deal with otheraspects of the integration, such as the article by Scott A. Hyer (Hyer, 1997) that writes:"When defining integration, the human side must also be considered. The development of anycomplex system involves many specialists and at least a few coordinators (managers and systemsengineers) ... The activitys principle drivers are communication among the development teammembers and advance planning ... The only way to achieve this is through effectivecommunication which comes from strong leadership and coordination ...Thus, at a very basic level, integration can be viewed from at least two perspectives: (1) as atechnical challenge to system designers and (2) as a team coordination activity to managers. Itmust be a distributed effort which influences every project team member but, at the same time,remains centrally monitored and controlled. Simply stated, this is the challenge "Not only communication and cooperation between the people is important to the success of integration,but also the ways of each person that participates in the process. In his article (Ring 2007) on the subjectof "intelligent enterprises" Jack Ring states that the need for "interpersonal integration derives from theinherent limitations of the human mind: 7
  8. 8. "... People are the key ingredient, A minimum of two are required because the single braincannot discriminate illusion from reality.Each person in or associated with the enterprise has a mental model of a) purpose and intendedoutcomes, b) what behaviors are and are not acceptable and c) ways their enterprise can pursuepurpose. In the intelligent enterprise, these mental models are coherent. In the intelligententerprise with a high mode of intelligence, the mental models reinforce and amplify oneanother. Likewise, each person has a sufficient level of enthusiasm to help one another overcomefear, ideally transforming that energy into more enthusiasm thus innovation. "SummarySystems Integration is a complex process. Complexity of the integration process is greater than that of theSystems Design of the development of system components and that for a number of reasons: whenimplemented, the components and their interactions are more complex than any description orspecification, the systems are used by people that adapt to the systems they operate, the changes in theoperational processes that the use of the new systems triggers. The complexity of the integration processmakes it a major source of risks in projects, with significant impact on the schedule, costs andperformance of the systems.Research community offers many solutions for dealing with the complexity of the systems, thedevelopment and integration processes. On the other hand this community does not focus on the impact ofthe human side of the integration on its success and thus leaves much room for new research on this topic.Adaptability of people may certainly be the "missing ingredient" in the coping with the complexities ofthe development projects especially during the integration, in the attempts to reduce the complexity of theproject in its last stages and thus reduce costs, shorten time and increase the likelihood that the systemwill succeed in the complex operational environment.Control of complexity may be based on regulation of diversity by implementation of standards andprocedures or by giving "free rein" to the creative integration teams, by regulation of adaptation bytraining of the users and the preparation of the business environment to the absorption of new systems andby regulation of interdependence by controlling the flow of information and knowledge between theparticipants by means of facilitating or even prevention or disruption of communication.Sources: 8
  9. 9. Cowper, D., Emes, M. and Smith, A, "... is en in Heaven or in hell is en That Illusive SystemsIntegrator - Whos Looking After Your Systems Integration", INCOSE Publication Database (Https:// ), 2005Hyer, Scott, A, "An Effective Approach To System Integration: A Comprehensive Checklist",INCOSE Publication Database, 1997Muller, Gerrit, "Coping with System Integration Challenges in Large Complex Environment",INCOSE Publication Database), 2007Ring, Jack, "About Intelligent Enterprises: A Collection of Knowledge Claims", INCOSETechnical Document, INCOSE-TD-2007-001-01, 2007Sheard, Sarah A., "Twelve Systems Engineering Roles", INCOSE Publication Database, 1996 9