Insights from the New Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Nicole Hutchison
As of July 1, 2023, SERC senior research scientist Dr. Nicole Hutchison has been appointed the new Editor in Chief of the Guide to the Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBoK, pronounced “see-bach”).
The SEBoK summarizes hundreds of key topics for systems engineering and provides links to critical knowledge sources and references. It is a living product, accepting community input continuously, with regular refreshes and updates. The SEBoK is overseen by a governing board consisting of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Systems Council, and the SERC.
Hutchison shared her thoughts on the importance of the SEBoK and where she hopes to lead it.
When did you first get engaged with the SEBoK?
The SERC led the creation of the SEBoK. In 2009, we began the three-year process of developing the SEBoK with a team of over 70 authors from around the world. I was lucky to be involved from the beginning. Dr. Art Pyster, the first Editor-in-Chief, included me in the initial team when I was a doctoral student, and I had the pleasure of continuing through the transition from funded research to a community-led resource.
Can you tell us a little bit about the SEBoK’s history?
Version 1.0 was published in 2012, and in the nearly 11 years since then, the SEBoK has evolved in many ways: new topics, the addition of videos, a major rearrangement of the discussion, and perhaps most importantly, the addition of an area dedicated to the emerging topics of systems engineering. For me, personally, the entire project was an incredible opportunity to not only learn more about the field I was studying, but to build a professional network that I still benefit from today. I got to meet systems engineering powerhouses like Dr. Barry Boehm and Dr. Kevin Forsberg, co-creator of the systems engineering “Vee”.
We also made an important contribution in terms of bodies of knowledge: the SEBoK was the first one to be delivered using a wiki. Up to that point, every body of knowledge we could find was simply a PDF or, in a few rare cases, a simple website. Using a wiki engine gave us the ability to really integrate all of the different topics, providing users the ability to link between different areas of interest. It also allows us to update much more frequently. Most bodies of knowledge are updating once every 3-5 years. The SEBoK is updated at least twice a year, helping us keep up more readily with an evolving field.
What do you see as the impact of the SEBoK?
Since its release, the SEBoK has become the most widely used resource in systems engineering. Professors use it in their classrooms, organizations include it in their training programs, and literally hundreds of thousands of individual practitioners have used it. Our most recent information is that we have now had over 7 million page views from over 2.5 million unique users. And we have a subset (several thousand) who visit the SEBoK regularly. What’s extraordinary to me has been the true global impact. Users have accessed the SEBoK in every country except for North Korea, and while the United States still has the top spot in terms of usage, India, China, the Philippines, and several African countries are now consistently in the top ten.
What is your vision for the SEBoK through your new role as Editor-in-Chief?
One of the biggest challenges we have faced as the SEBoK has evolved is how to incorporate model-based systems engineering/digital engineering. We now have articles that describe these areas, but the discipline continues to evolve, and the SEBoK must continue to evolve with it. One of the critical activities the Editorial Board is undertaking is the update of the SEBoK to reflect that the discipline is becoming increasingly model- and data-driven. The addition of articles on these topics is an important first step, but we are now starting the hard work of looking across the entire SEBoK and updating content to reflect how the work is done in a modeling environment. Because, eventually, we won’t call it “model-based systems engineering”, it will just be how we do systems engineering. This is a sign of a maturing discipline, and we look forward to maturing the SEBoK along with it.
That’s the content perspective. To meet the needs of our growing community, we also have to look at the way we’re implementing the SEBoK. For example, we would like to include more media in the SEBoK. Wherever there are great videos on a topic, we should be working with the authors to embed those, maybe even tackling creating new videos ourselves. We’ve heard from a lot of the academic community that there is a high demand for short, focused videos on many SEBoK topics. In order to do that, we have to continue to build the network of authors and other contributors to the SEBoK. Improving awareness of the SEBoK as a resource is an important part of that. While the SEBoK is well-used, I still meet people at community events and conferences who have never heard of it. If we are going to remain the number one systems engineering reference in the world, we have to work on that.
What does it mean to you professionally and personally to fill this role?
As I mentioned, I’ve had the pleasure of being engaged with the SEBoK from the early days. I have had the opportunity to grow with it, from a graduate researcher to a staff researcher to Managing Editor and now Editor-in-Chief. I’m incredibly honored to be entrusted with shepherding this important community resource. At the same time, I’ve been able to learn and grow with the previous Editors-in-Chief: Art Pyster, Dr. Dave Olwell (co-Editor-in-Chief), Rick Adcock, and Dr. Rob Cloutier. Each of them has brought unique skills and perspectives to the SEBoK. I am excited and a bit nervous to build the strategic vision with the Editorial and Governing Boards. I sincerely hope to honor our history while supporting the work to make the SEBoK an even more modern resource that is useful to an increasingly broad audience.
The SEBoK is available as a free resource to all at www.sebokwiki.org.
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