Systems Integration

Systems integration is a most interesting term, since many of the largest companies call themselves ''systems integrators.'' If they are asked to describe the business they're in using just a couple of words, they are similarly likely to respond with ''the systems integration business.'' All this, of course, suggests that these special words should be very well defined and that there perhaps should be more books on systems integration than there are on systems engineering. It appears that the opposite is true. With some exceptions [e.g., 12.37], discussions of systems integration tend to be few and far between. However, most companies seem to agree that systems engineering is, in fact, a core competency that they need in order to carry out their primary mission as systems integrators. In addition, these companies appear to document what they mean by systems integration, but for competitive reasons are not anxious to share this information with the rest of the world. They prefer to use their unique approach to systems integration as a means of differentiating themselves in the marketplace. Given this situation, this author would like to suggest his own short-form definition of systems integration:

Systems Integration. The process of bringing together a variety of (possibly disparate) functional elements, subsystems, and components into a larger (meta)system, or system of systems, to provide a highly interoperable and cost-effective solution that satisfies the customer's needs and requirements, while at the same time managing the overall process and delivery of products in a highly effective and efficient manner.

We can make several observations about this definition and what it might imply. First, systems integration looks a lot like the optimal synthesis of systems engineering and program/project management. In that sense, this book, by addressing both project management and systems engineering, might also be called a text about at least a major part of systems integration. Second, in dealing with ''systems of systems,'' systems integration deals also with the topics discussed earlier in this chapter regarding systems of systems. Third, from a technical perspective, systems integration is about searching for ways to find an integrated solution, that is, one that deals as necessary with (1) legacy stovepipe systems, (2) upgrades to legacy stovepipe systems, (3) commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) and nondevelopment items (NDI) that need to be part of the solution, (4) reused components, as appropriate, (5) new sys tems and subsystems that need to be built for the first time. Systems integration also emphasizes the architecting of a system with the appropriate balance of the above five elements.

In addition, interoperability and compatibility become critical elements in the systems integration process. They also constitute a most difficult part of the problem since (1) it is a nontrivial matter to integrate disparate subsystems so that they interoperate in a harmonious manner, and (2) systems tend to be more failure prone at the interfaces, which is a critical aspect of achieving interoperability and compatibility. Further, the sequence in which parts of systems are integrated is not necessarily obvious, and becomes an important consideration in the systems integration process. Finally, the systems integrator needs to be able to question requirements in order to do his or her job, possibly contrary to some views regarding the subject.

As the last element of commentary here regarding the topic of systems integration, it is necessary to point out two misconceptions about systems integration. The first misconception is that the best solution is one that maximizes the degree of integration of all stovepipe systems, with the goal being 100%. The second misconception is that, if we integrate a set of ''best of breed'' subsystems, we will necessarily achieve an overall ''best'' solution. The reader is urged to consider these two propositions, think them through, and use them as necessary in addressing the next systems integration problem that crosses your desk.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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