Systems Engineers: we really need you!


So I ‘m travelling to the Cape for three days.
It’s the annual Systems engineering INCOSE conference, this year to be held in Somerset West. Formally the EMEASEC 2014, Europe, Middle East, Africa Systems Engineering Conference. Now that’s a great start and sets the scene.


So am I excited? Absolutely not!!


This is Systems Engineering for goodness sake. This is not exciting stuff. (Look it up on Wikipedia for a definition so I won’t bore you now) People associated to this sub-culture (or post-culture they would tell you) of engineering have certain traits and habits that set them apart from everyone else. Some examples: yes, I’ve seen people wearing full lace up hiking boots with red socks and chinos. A very impressive albeit grey twirled-ended Mo (Moustache for those uninformed) was also spotted.


Picture it: generally older men with grey beards. There are a few ladies and even fewer young people. So back to the old guys; these individuals hark in their youth straight out of the old embargo days where clandestine military product development happened against the backdrop of Wimpy bombings and stockpiling of bully beef and crowd-controlling chemical weapons.


These guys congregate together whenever they can as a bit of respite away from their general places of work where nobody understands them and thinks they’re just plain weird anyway.


I’m serious when I say that these types of people, who make good systems engineers genuinely get recharged and motivated by being around similar like minded people talking about the detail of ISO15288 and MILSTDXYZ or something and typically appreciate the latest Systems Engineering handbook as bedtime reading. Thank goodness for that because we need them. We need them desperately!


I’m so grateful for people who do things for a living with an unfathomable passion that would bore most other popular to tears.


This may be boring to you and me but make no mistake, the concepts and implementing of sound systems engineering principles pervade our very lives in ways we don’t even think about.
We are surrounded by complex products from the smart phones in our pockets, the cars we drive and the appliances we use, to the electricity and water we access. (Ok, in South Africa we have a big problem in these and many other areas and maybe there is a case to be made for some ‘Systems’ thinking up into our leadership, well, any thinking would be appreciated!) You get the point. In South Africa, it is even more important to get this right.


The principle is that we have to see everything in the context of interrelated systems where one element affects everything else all the way back and forward.


Transnet for example is aiming at becoming an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) of rolling stock (that would be locomotives and wagons etc) instead of buying these in from others. From a Systems perspective, they need to headhunt (scour the OEM world) for a world class Technical head and a bunch of inspiring systems engineers to pull it off. The technical ability at a multi-disciplined engineering level can be made up of internal people or outsourced specialist knowledge to do the detailed work. Without good systems engineering and technical leadership, they don’t stand a chance.


Going even further and maybe this would be utopia, but imagine an exceptional leader who’s also a brilliant Systems Engineer. People who can inspire and lead those isolated engineering disciplines all vital in complex product development to success. Oh, they must understand PLM as well, now that is a tall order.


So I hope that over the next few days, I can at least connect with, learn from and subtly encourage our Systems Engineers. Those familiar faces that I know I will see there who will be there again and the next time again, a little older and a bit more grey, but still I will see that twinkle in the eyes from something that they really understand the value of and totally believe in.