Highlights from the 2019 INCOSE Symposium
“As a systems engineer, it is truly an exciting time to be alive. Every day is more interesting than the last.”
Last week, the 2019 INCOSE Symposium in Orlando brought together over 800 attendees from across engineering disciplines. They represented nearly every industry and 28 countries. It was a broader-than-ever global presence, a record-breaking attendance, and robust representation by 65 INCOSE chapters. The week was packed full of sessions for learning, networking and hands-on participation across a variety of working groups.
The week coincided with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo mission. We were honored to have several speakers and participants from NASA and others who were involved in various space missions. Their experiences helped us reflect on systems engineering, then and now.
Notable experts provided quotable keynotes
One particularly exciting keynote speaker was Captain Winston Scott, who was a crew member aboard the Columbia shuttle. He shared several memorable stories, painting a picture of what it’s like to be an engineer in aerospace. In planning for a future mission to Mars, Capt. Scott pondered, “Is there a systems engineering approach we can take toward the human system, the crew, mission control, engineers on the ground, and the interaction among them all? By systems engineering, we’re not just talking about the architecture of the technology. Rather, the complete system, looking at the community of a system, including people, and taking a systems engineering approach to it.”
Another inspiring keynote was delivered by Dr. Wanda Austin, former president and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation who shared valuable insights to balance the quest for innovation with the need to mitigate risk in engineering. Dr. Austin emphasized the need for systems engineering thinking to tackle complexity. “As systems engineers, we accomplish impossible tasks to solve the most complex global problems. Excellent systems engineers have an insatiable curiosity about how the world works. They see possibilities where others only see problems.”
Where in the world is AI in engineering?
Plenty of experts and thought leaders took the stage to weigh in on AI, including IBM’s Stella Liu who presented to a standing-room-only audience to showcase the latest AI capability from IBM Engineering, Requirements Quality Assistant (RQA). She shared a quote from a client about the functionality of RQA, “We teach Watson to think like an engineer. Watson teaches us to think like a thousand engineers.”
It was clear that infusing AI into requirements management was top of mind for many attendee who were looking for ways to translate these innovations into practice among their own teams. And former IBMer and current Engineering Fellow at Raytheon, Barclay Brown shared in his presentation, “For us to be able to apply AI to systems engineering, we have to get it into a form where a computer can deal with it. MBSE can give us a way to do that.”
Of course, the IBM booth was buzzing about the AI functionality in RQA, and several attendees even scored a perfect score on our simulation game.
In her keynote, Dr. Wanda Austin presented the world economic forum’s summary of AI as the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “We stand on the brink of tech revolution that will fundamentally change the way we live, work and relate to one another.” She went on to say, “AI will have a greater influence on the world than the internet revolution. AI will have a greater impact on humanity than fire or electricity. In automotive and aerospace and defense, AI is helping identify mechanical problems before they occur, transforming the way we maintain vehicles and aircraft.”
Technology leadership and vocational certainty
Another common theme from the week was around leadership in technology. Systems engineers can play a vital role in the evolving field of leadership. Dr. Austin urged that in today’s world of relentless change, “Leadership doesn’t just happen. You have to make it a priority and make the space for it to happen. Leaders can’t be rigid; they must be open to hearing about new innovation. Leaders keep watching for the next door to open. Leaders anticipate change and harness it.”
Dr. Larry Kennedy, formerly of the Apollo mission and founder and CEO of the Quality Management Institute, addressed the issue head on. He referred to it as vocational certainty – the notion that we need to feel empowered as experts in our fields. Dr. Kennedy emphasized the importance of building trust among teams and creating leaders to uphold the ethical values that serve as the framework for systems engineering. “Quality of systems engineering is about the people and processes supported by the tools.”
On a similar note, Captain Winston Scott ended his address with a strong message. “One of the most important things we can do is develop the leadership of the people in orbit and on the ground. As our missions grow in complexity, the leadership skills will become more and more important.”
Achieving digital transformation in engineering
Lockheed Chief Systems Engineer for Digital Transformation, Tim Walden shared an inspirational view into what it takes to motivate new workforces to work in harmony with new technology. “As a systems engineer, it is truly an exciting time to be alive. Every day is more interesting than the last.” And when it comes to embracing digital transformation in your day-to-day operations, Walden shared some valuable advice for getting human systems to embrace the change, “The era of independent systems is over. Everything is connected, everything is part of another ecosystem, including human systems, which brings a new level of challenges. Digital transformation is going to change every job, every industry.”