Systems Engineering is a design approach to achieve an integrated system that is designed from the start to accommodate the logistic support requirements.
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A System is a collection of elements or equipment that when combined produce an outcome not obtainable by the elements alone.
A Systems Integrator or Systems Engineer is tasked with integrating the elements, which may themselves be completely self-contained items or sub systems, so that they can be connected together or communicate with each other and work as a single functioning entity.
The elements (or sub systems) can include hardware, software, facilities, personnel, procedures, and documentation; ie. all things required to produce system-level outcome.
The outcomes typically include system-level functions and performance but may also extend to system qualities, system properties, system characteristics and system behaviours.
The total value of the system, beyond the sum of the independent parts, is usually created by the interconnections between the parts; eg automating the data transfer from a data reader, directly into the collating software that is able to make use of the data and provide a real time (graphical) display of the data just read, such as a bar scanner on a supermarket checkout.
System Engineering is a way of looking at the “big picture” when making design or operating decisions.
It is a way of achieving the operational functional and performance requirements in the intended environment over the planned life of the system.
Another way to put it would be; Systems Engineering is a way of thinking logically.
Often the system will have opposing constraints, which generally means something is compromised. Systems engineering attempts to look at the system holistically to determine the priorities of the functions and operabilities and thus minimise critical compromises while at the same time maximising functionality or performance.
The art of optimising the overall design without favouring one system/subsystem at the expense of another is an iterative process and may have inputs from many disciplines: electrical and electronics engineers, mechanical engineers, human factors engineers etc.
The ultimate result sought is a safe and balanced design that optimises the opposing interests and multiple, sometimes conflicting constraints.