MITRE's Systems Engineering Role

In performing enterprise systems engineering, MITRE helps our customers shape their organizations by aligning technology to support their goals.
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The federal government faces daunting new challenges as its systems and networks increasingly work together. Examples of complex new systems in the federal government include:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration's National Airspace System
  • The Department of Defense's military GPS modernization
  • The Internal Revenue Service's tax system
  • The Department of Homeland Security's anti-terrorism initiatives
  • The Department of Health and Human Services' goal of changing the national health sector into a health system

New Approaches to Systems Engineering

To help address these complex systems, different approaches have emerged with their own principles, processes, and practices. In addition to traditional systems engineering, with its disciplined methods and "big picture" perspective, enterprise systems engineering has recently evolved to address these new challenges. Most engineering solutions involve a mix of these approaches and requires systems thinking to knit the two together.

Here is a comparison of both approaches:

  • Traditional systems engineering takes an approach that resembles watchmaking. Its processes, techniques, and tools address difficult yet predictable problems. This approach requires skills in concept and architecture development, requirements definition, strategic planning, system integration, and risk analysis.
  • Enterprise systems engineering more resembles gardening. Drawing on the fundamental principles of evolution, ecology, and adaptation, enterprise systems engineering uses techniques to increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes in complex environments that may change in unpredictable ways. A primary concern focuses on how quickly systems adapt to change. It requires skills in designing for options and alternative solutions, strategies for early and continuous discovery, and strategies tailored to the volatility of changing needs and available technologies.

The Enterprise—and the Systems that Enable the Enterprise

The MITRE definition of "enterprise" includes any large entity, government agency, or information-based organization. It also includes any network of entities coming together to collectively accomplish explicit or implicit goals. It refers to the integration of previously separate units and emphasizes the interdependency of individual systems and even systems of systems. The enterprise displays new behaviors that emerge from the interaction of the parts.

At MITRE, we consider enterprise systems engineering a domain that focuses on complexity in the broader practice of systems engineering. It's not a replacement for classical methods. Depending on the need, we often apply a combination of classical systems engineering and enterprise systems engineering approaches.

Several basic tenets help define enterprise systems engineering:

  • Systems thinking: seeing wholes, interrelationships, and patterns of change
  • Context awareness: being mindful of the political, operational, economic, and technical influences and constraints
  • Accepting uncertainty: acknowledging that some problems cannot be solved by prescriptive or closed-form methods
  • Complex systems evolution: drawing from the fundamental principles in the sciences of evolution, ecology, and adaptation, such as variety, self-organization, and selection
  • Matching practice to the problem: knowing when and under what circumstances to apply prescriptive methods and when to apply complex systems principles and associated practices

In performing enterprise systems engineering, MITRE helps our customers shape their enterprises by aligning technology to support their goals. We support business planning, policy-making, and investment strategies.

For more in-depth information about how MITRE approaches systems engineering, we recommend reading The Evolution of Systems Engineering and The Essence of MITRE's Systems Engineering