2020 in Review

2020 in Review


Now that 2020 is finally nearing its end, it appears as if most of us (my unscientific guess) can’t wait for it to just go away. This is because it was so exhaustingly unpredictable and demanding. But discussing that is likely not very productive, so instead let’s focus on the influence that 2020 may have on 2021 and beyond. These of course are my own random thoughts and I will welcome having you show me what I wrote a year from now and we will see who will laugh more Blush.

A few random observations on the serious side:

Knowledge Management – These days I’m focused on the role that Systems Thinking, requirements management, Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), simulation and digital thread all have in managing the exploding complexities of the things we design and how that all impacts Digital Transformation and Digital Thread strategies. Our sudden exodus from our offices and the apparent trend to keep it that way long-term, brought the issues of knowledge management to the surface with vengeance. For example, if simulation continues to be done in a silo (physical organization, expert know-how, specialty tools) how is one going to find the right person to get information out of that silo? Same with an MBSE silo. How is the enterprise going to efficiently change from an in-office “sneaker net” to an on-line collaboration with the appropriate information channels? I don’t think that environments like Microsoft Teams can handle this, but I do have a lot of expectations for cloud-based PLM platforms. 2020 made it very clear that this thinking needs to be part of any Digital Transformation strategy.

Systems Engineering – While MBSE is embraced more and more, MBSE tools themselves have evolved as stand-alone solutions. I blogged about that before, here, pointing out that a systems model, captured in a SysML language, does not benefit the broader enterprise simply because nobody understands how to take advantage of it. After all, a printed system diagram (however beautifully edited) is certainly not the way to do it. 2020 made it very clear that MBSE should (and will) become an integral part of other engineering tools in a way that electronic schematic tools over time became “fused” with the PCB layout tools.

People we lost – It is hard not to think about all the lives lost as of today due to the pandemic. There have been quite a few posts on LinkedIn about individuals from the engineering community and these have made a lasting impression on me. But one person that stands out in my mind as somebody that was larger than life in the very best sense is Chuck Yeager. I did not know anything about him until I saw the movie The Right Stuff which then prompted me to read Yeager’s biography back in the early 1980s. What a man, what a life, what an adventure, what chutzpah. If you don’t know about him, please look it up—you will be amazed. He enthusiastically put his life into the hands of engineers and science pretty much every day of his adult life.

A few random observations on a lighter side:

Cars - Why exactly do my wife and I need two cars when only one car is somewhat used while the other one is just sitting there due to our stay at home situation? True, I did get a surprise refund from GEICO due to low use, but that car-as-a-service idea is starting to make more and more sense. Or is it that I’m just looking for an excuse to get rid of it since it’s getting harder and harder to get myself out of that 2” road clearance two-seater?

Masks – I don’t know about you, but I find that I truly miss seeing the smiling faces hidden behind all these masks whenever I manage to venture outside. On the other hand, I noticed that a smiling face can be detected by looking directly into a person’s eyes—although that can be sometimes awkward if done too intensely, so I must watch that one once the masks come down—or should I?

Relationships – While I do understand (or rather I’m really trying to!) the basic idea of making friends via the internet, I’m totally puzzled as to how people will develop true relationships (professional or personal) without in-the-moment interactions. Apparently, we are heading toward less office and more home on a permanent basis. That means less and less chatting at conferences, eating lunches together, hanging over a co-worker’s cubical wall, discussing things face-to-face with dynamism and passion, etc. It really saddens me when most Zoom call participants choose not to have the camera on when virtual backgrounds abound. Why are these cameras off? Or is it that I have my camera on because public opinion no longer worries me?

A final and a very emotional observation:

Let’s give credit to where credit is due. When looking back at 2020 two things are clear to me personally: science has won (the vaccines) and the first responders and the medical staffs became the true heroes world-wide. That is how I will remember 2020.

Harald Klein