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System of Systems (SOS) is An Arrangement Not a Type


A System of Systems is defined by a system boundary that includes several systems and which conforms to the properties and behaviour of the type 'system'

There are a lot of references to 'system of systems' or 'SoS' and a lot of merchants riding on the back of inappropriate use of this term (so in this sense SoS ought to be Snake Oil Supplier!). Why does this matter and what are the impacts of sloppy use of the term?

What Type of Thing is a System of Systems?

As far as anyone has been able to establish a System of Systems is itself a 'System'. In other words it is of type 'System'. It is not of type 'System of Systems'. This is important because it means that general statements, properties and behaviours of a system are true for System of Systems. It also means that you shouldn't force or represent a binary choice between system and system of systems because you're still talking about 'system'. There are extra considerations for a system of systems but these are simply repetitions of the general approach for 'system' for the boundary of the system-of-interest which in this case includes several systems.

Even if the system so formed is accidental what we mean is that it had no designed man-made purpose (it is not a 'man-made system'). This doesn't mean it isn't a system. The characteristics of any system are that it has emergent behaviour and is stable (at least in human timescales) all of which need no predefined purpose or designation of control authority.

If a System of Systems isn't a System we'd have many problems. We'd need to identify how it differs from a system and we couldn't use methods that represent systems, such as architecture frameworks, to represent a system of systems as it is likely that the necessary constructs wouldn't exist.

System of Systems is an Arrangement

A System of Systems is an arrangement of systems to form a system. It is defined by the system boundary that encompasses these systems to describe this system-of-interest. All too often it is the fact that we didn't identify this boundary or have any body being responsible for this system that causes the problems - we probably have lower level authority but no one has the responsibility for the emergent behaviour and integration of this arrangement of systems. That's when the trouble begins.

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