By Julian Richards, September 2006
Large-scale IT projects in the public and private sectors are growing in number, size and complexity and importance, with growing numbers of enterprises and people relying on their smooth and effective operation. These multi-million dollar systems bring together a wide range of technologies, disciplines, people and processes, often from multiple companies and usually over several years, from concept to delivery.
Yet these complex and expensive systems are incredibly difficult to build, control, monitor and model.
It is a problem which IT industry is keen to solve. One response has been the formation of the multi-disciplinary Centre for Systems and Services Sciences (CS3), whose membership includes practitioners, scientists and technologists from across the industry, academic and public sector groups.
This week members of CS3 are holding a scientific conference at HP's Grenoble site, in France (27th/28th September) with an opening keynote from Bernard Meric, HP's senior vice-president External Affairs for Europe, the Middle East and Africa . The aims of the two-day meeting are to stimulate the interaction between systems modelers and socio-economic analysts of systems and services and to address topics such as innovation and quality in services delivery.
Dr Michael Lyons, Chief Researcher, Strategic Analysis and Business Research at the BT group, explained: “As ICT-enabled services become more widespread, it is clear that effective delivery and customer satisfaction depend on a mixture of social and technical factors. CS3 aims to study the socio-technical systems required to deliver advanced services and meet customer expectations. A multi-disciplinary approach is essential if companies – and countries – are to remain competitive in the 21st century.”
Keynote speakers in Grenoble include Mark Davies, UK National Audit Office; Linda Macaulay, Informatics Department, Manchester University , UK ; Miroslav Malek, Humboldt University , Berlin , Germany . There will also be presentations from BT Labs, HP Labs, IBM Research Almaden, and the Said Business School , Oxford (for a full list of presentations visit www.services-sciences.org/research-meeting1/meeting.htm )
Professor David Pym, of HP Labs' Model-based Analysis research group, which is organising the event, said: "Large-scale information systems are based on complex combinations of technological and socio-economic constructs, such as hardware and software infrastructure, business processes, and contracts, and must support appropriate levels of performance, security and trust.
"We are looking at the basic science and mathematics involved in modeling these complex systems so that we can advance towards a rigorous design and analysis regime able to highlight faults and problems before they become critical," he added.
CS3's inaugural meeting was held at HP Labs, Bristol in December 2005. As well as HP, industry participants included Accenture, BT, IBM, Qinetiq and Vodafone. Academic institutions involved included the universities of Bath , Cambridge , Warwick and Oxford , EPFL ( Switzerland ) INSEAD (France), the London School of Economics and Humboldt University , Berlin .
The meeting was initiated by HP Labs' Model-based Analysis group, which offers an approach called Open Analytics that treats IT services provision as a complex systems engineering task. The researchers' analytical methods enable them to define the appropriate IT system for HP customers in large outsourcing deals.
CS3's objectives include increasing and improving the basic understanding of large, complex IT systems; supporting innovative new research in a range of services-related disciplines; organising research meetings; and influencing the content of future academic systems and services sciences courses.
Members of CS3 have also helped to form a working group in Services Sciences to contribute to the Networked European Software and Services Initiative ( NESSI ), of which HP is also a member. See www.nessi-europe.com for more details. The first meeting of the working group was held in Brussels , in July.
Julian Richards is media relations manager for HP Labs in Bristol, UK.