The introduction of Systems Engineering in an organization is more than just the introduction of a new modeling tool. Florian Lux is Principal at Zielpuls and founder of the "Center of Competence Systems Thinking". We talked to him about the challenges he faces in customer projects, about his vision of the future and about why Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), if implemented correctly, can improve so much in development departments.
How are you doing in the present situation?
I am doing quite well, although I work from home and most of our customers are currently experiencing difficulties. Thanks to our modern and decentralized IT landscape, we have been able to continue to work remotely for our customers without interruption.
Where do you see the current challenges in your customer projects?
I see a huge dilemma in entire industries, especially in the automotive sector. The challenges posed by the new mobility megatrends are huge, and now that they have less revenue due to the current pandemic, they need to prioritize their spending. In addition, the complexity of their products has already reached a threshold that makes it almost impossible to offer more and more product innovations in ideally shorter periods of time.
As a technology consultant, how can you help here?
I wouldn't dare to promise a simple solution to the problems mentioned above, but the model-based approach is an appropriate way to address the growing product complexity as the cause of many of the current challenges. It has proven its effectiveness in the natural sciences over hundreds of years to the present day - in recent decades, for example, in pure software development and in the aerospace industry. Today, with the growing importance of software in other areas, it seems only natural to further adapt this approach. This is where Zielpuls comes in in its role as technology consultant: We help our customers to find the best and individually best solution for their specific needs.
There is already a multitude of existing MBSE concepts and frameworks. Why shouldn't companies simply implement them and start using MBSE immediately?
At Zielpuls we see two major difficulties in this respect. First, most of these existing concepts and frameworks are undoubtedly useful in practice. However, they are not suitable for easy implementation in large organizations because these frameworks are still too general to be followed by thousands of developers in a harmonized way. We have seen many such rapid implementation attempts in the past - almost all of them failed. And this leads us to the second point: The introduction of Systems Engineering in an organization is more than just the introduction of a new modeling tool. It really changes the way each individual developer works and even more so the way the entire development department works together. To emphasize this, we prefer the term "Systems Thinking" when we talk about the introduction of Systems Engineering.
What are the typical steps for such an implementation?
We use a nice metaphor for all the steps that are necessary to reach the "Systems Thinking Heaven". It's like climbing a huge mountain, where it is important to set up several base camps on the way to the summit. The first milestone is to ensure a general inner quality of the relevant development artifacts. For systems engineering, this typically starts with requirements management, since it is essential for traceability across all abstraction levels that come in step two: finding a common language for the artifacts and the layers. This leads to an individual MBSE metamodel that forms the backbone of the upcoming tool implementation. And in the final step to the summit we see the harmonization of relevant development processes and methods to ensure the scalability of the systems engineering concept.
More than two years ago you initiated the "Center of Competence Systems Thinking" at Zielpuls? What was the idea behind it?
The idea was to bring together all our best practices from previous MBSE-related projects and to offer a holistic approach for all our future customers. As already mentioned, this not only covers the technical aspects, but also focuses on the organizational developments necessary to implement systems engineering. All our team members are truly fascinated by MBSE and the possibilities it offers and are working with great passion to continuously improve our concepts.
What are your current tasks in the competence center?
In addition to the regular exchange of experience from our customer project, we are currently working on an automotive-specific MBSE process that specializes in the development of E/E architectures. We see this as a great benefit for future software-centered and agile vehicle development. By including this procedure, the MBSE approach leads to a stable functional architecture that can be assigned to several technical architecture variants, which is a highly relevant use case for all major automotive manufacturers. Our first feasibility studies are really promising in terms of capabilities and we look forward to the final results, which will be available towards the end of 2020.