From efficiently coordinating technical development of missile defence programmes in the 1950s to the customer-led delivery of today’s major programmes, SI is a fundamentally pragmatic approach to managing complexity.
An idea for a new product, system or service is often proposed in terms of the final desired outcome, whether that’s meeting consumer needs, transporting people, saving time, or transforming a place. The SI approach begins with this end in mind, demanding that the operational outcome, the end user benefits and even how a system of people, processes and technology can achieve those outcomes, be determined from the outset.
Breaking down the grand idea into pieces that are understandable and deliverable, while maintaining the desired outcome for the end user, is the domain of the systems integrator.
SI structures the delivery of complex rail infrastructure programmes by enabling a holistic approach that can be practically applied throughout the programme or system lifecycle. This focus on delivering the desired outcome, be it increased railway capacity or another whole-system measure, is a step beyond the traditional ‘divide and conquer’ approach favoured by programme management, where delivery is broken down into discrete parts. SI gives a more holistic view, supporting decision making that priortises effort, and providing a ‘line of sight’ through the fog of complexity.
In the UK, WSP has been applying systems approaches to programme delivery since the mid-2000s, beginning with the Victoria line upgrade (where the author worked as a systems engineer and WSP, through a previous acquisition, had provided project and programme management services) and the East London line. These projects were the genesis of a tool that is still used today – SI:D3 (System Integration: Develop the strategy, Define the system, Deliver integration). It can be adjusted according to complexity and risk, and as a result, continues to be applied to a wide range of programmes in the UK and internationally.