Introducing Complex Systems Architecture

By Paul Preiss, Founder and CEO of IASA Global

Complex systems architecture (CSA) is not a new concept. It is the skillset and design and delivery of business technology strategy through physical, electrical, mechanical, and technical systems most commonly within intense resource or environmental forces. A synonymous phrase would be physical systems architecture.

The complex systems architect deals with deeply complex and often unique combinations of physical, electrical and technical systems. These are most often found in the embedded, defense, aeronautics, marine, energy, and national infrastructure environments. However, the digital product spaces, such as smart-buildings, smart cities, and even fashion accessories and home products are showing signs of the same basic patterns of design and delivery.

The CS architect is an exciting field emerging as an integrated part of architecture practices. Traditionally these engineers and architects have been segregated from the other forms of architecture. However, in the modern world, it has become essential that the work product of these architects is integrated across all forms of architecture as business technology strategy now spans the entire enterprise, from a single product to the sales, manufacturing and/or financial processes in place in the organization.

Specializations vs Job Descriptions

As a professional body of knowledge, the BTABoK should not define or control all job descriptions. However, a shared competency model is essential to being able to ensure individual ability in a specialization is validated externally.  So, an embedded systems architect has roughly analagous competencies to a mechatronic architect though their particular product or domain knowledge may be different. This is similar to other professions. The CS Architect certification and career path would then provide a generic certification that supports all of these jobs, drastically improving hiring quality, education systems, available talent, massive reduction in the employee hiring process, improved vendor integration and support, horizontal mobility as well as knowledge sharing.

Why Is Complex Systems Architecture a Specialization?

Complex systems architecture is often described as a set of deliverables much like traditional software architecture or infrastructure architecture. However, when looked at from the systems engineering field and the industry it is in fact a radically different and specialized environment due to a number of factors:

– There are extreme forces at play. Software to control a nuclear reactor, a spacecraft, or a self-driving car is radically more specialized. The forces on the technology are drastically different than the average website or hardware controller in a data center.

– There are unique skills that are essential to the healthy functioning of society and the safety and value of technology strategy. The CS architect contributes major elements to the world and needs to be certified to establish skills and levels to be able to fulfill their role.

– There is a robust field of systems engineering. The world is full of mechanical, electrical, and structural engineers who build products at large scales. These products are merging with the business ecosystem at a fast rate. Many of these engineers are already using the title architect to identify a different skill set and mindset.

– The field includes enough depth to qualify as a long-term career from associate to distinguished in the BTABoK [career path](../competency_model/

– The field needs to be fully distinguished between engineer and architect. Similarly, to other specialization areas, it has become necessary to identify the career path of a complex systems architect vs. that of a complex systems engineer, designer, maintenance, or other role.

Proposed Complex Systems Architecture Competencies

The following competencies have been identified by an expert community from a cross-cutting body of employers and from a broad search of titled jobs and their associated tasks, deliverables and abilities. These have been cross-referenced with the current BTABoK competency model.

Complex Systems Specialization Pillar/Description

Open Systems Standards Expertise/Use and understanding of specialized standards (FACE, SOSA, CMOSS, ARINC, SAE, etc.)

Systems Engineering/Integration of complex systems across engineering disciplines. This may include multiple engineering disciplines or a depth in a single one.

Complex system design and documentation methods/Use of modeling to elaborate and document system architectures, including frameworks, viewpoint libraries, and modeling tools (SYSML, DODAF, UAF, FEAF, etc)

Complex System Interoperability, Testing and Assessment/Complex systems testing requires multi-organization tech labs and specialized equipment.

Complex Acquisition Programs/Acquisition Program Structures (multi-organization interoperability)

Complex Product Design and Testing/Physical, Mechanical, Electrical, Embedded product design and connection including custom manufacturing processes.

System Safety/Embedded Systems Safety (medical, automotive, robotics, avionics, etc.)                                                                                      |

Interesting Job Descriptions

The following job descriptions are for systems architects from different areas which are derived from the complex systems architect specialization. In effect, the CS architect would be a shared career path for each of these types of jobs (and potentially many others). The expectation would be that either experience in a particular field or specialized product training would account for primary differences. This is true of all specializations.


  1. (Physical) Systems Architect
  2. Mechatronic Architect
  3. Smart City Architect
  4. Smart Building Architect (this will require deep collaboration with building architecture)
  5. Operational Technology Architect
  6. Digital Manufacturing Architect

**Embedded Systems Related** – [embedded systems architect jobs – Search (](

  1. Embedded Systems Architect
  2. System Configuration Architect

**Defense/Aerospace Related**- [1,000+ Defense Systems Architect jobs in United States (80 new) (](

  1. Aerospace Architect
  2. Weapons Systems Architect
  3. Satellite Ground Systems Architect

Working Within the Architecture Practice

If the industry is able to assimilate the CSA into modern architecture practices it will drastically change the landscape of the practice objectives. Almost universally CSAs are deeply embedded in the product, business or outcome delivery teams of the organizations that employ them, while traditional architects are deeply embedded in the corporate strategy to execution. For too long these groups have been disconnected to the detriment of the overall organization and its ability to generate value. By working with Business, Information, Infrastructure, Software, Solution, and Chief Architects the CSAs can maximize the overall profile of products and systemic support for customers. For example, complex products require major funding, roadmapping and implementation elements, but those have to integrate smoothly with finance, HR, billing, customer service, and other traditional enablement platforms for the enterprise ecosystem to function in a truly digital world. By integrating this specialization into the architecture practice there is a much greater opportunity to understand and deliver outcomes in these areas in addition to the product itself. A great example of this is the power stations, software updates and customer service requirements of self-driving electric cars like Tesla. Without ecosystem-based thinking and architecture these would be drastically less efficient and effective.