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Systems and Analysis Column


What is Systems Analysis?

The title of this article is significant since it heads the list of article topics in the left column of this website: “Systems & Analysis.”. The term systems refers to topics that may include specific systems or system types as well as discussions of systems in general. The definition of the term system though is discussed at length in the LAWS OF ALL™ Book 1, more specifically in Part I, Chapter 3. So the term analysis used in the title of this article will be the focus below.

According to American Heritage, one connotation of analysis is systems analysis. So while it would be too limiting in this case to be fully accurate, from one perspective, the title of the column could be viewed as “Systems & Systems Analysis.” But then analysis can also mean psychoanalysis—which one may need before the end of this article. More generally though, the word analysis means to break apart to allow deeper study of components. From this vantage point, one might conclude that systems analysis refers to a component-level analysis. But this would not be an accurate depiction.

While analysis of a system may often include an analysis of one or more components in the system, this would only be the starting point. The overall goal of the analysis is to learn more about the system as a whole. A study of the individual parts alone does not include that. Systems analysis requires understanding enough about the components though in order to piece together how they interact and function to make up the larger system. In many cases, an understanding of the components may already largely exist. So the study of the lone pieces may be largely complete at the outset of the systems analysis.

So the distinctive aspect of systems analysis is learning how these lone pieces work together to accomplish the larger function of the system as a whole. This is, of course, the flipside of the definition of analysis. From this perspective, component-level analysis could be viewed as a bottom-up study. And systems analysis might be thought of as a bottom-up study if needed, followed by a top-down study. So component analysis could be viewed as somewhat of a subset of systems analysis.

Are You Ready for an Analyst Yet?

Are you ready for an analyst yet? While the term analyst is often synonymous with psychoanalyst, as alluded above, the term is also synonymous with systems analyst. And in today’s modern economy, the term systems analyst is routinely synonymous with computer systems analyst. Computer systems analysts are systems analysts that specifically study computer-system implementations, both hardware and software, for the purposes of improving on them. It is a hands-on function of real systems in real applications as opposed to researching computer-systems theories or computer systems in general.

The subconnotation of the word analyst to mean computer systems analyst leads to a confusing sidebar. This is because systems analysis typically involves employment of mathematics to study processes. And often this math analysis involves heavy use of computers, possibly even programming skills. But it doesn’t always involve computers.

More specifically, the connotation of systems analysis includes study for the purpose of producing optimal outcomes with the least costs possible. Professionally, this is perhaps most notably a job function in business where costs and profits are of extreme interest due to competition in the marketplace. It need not involve business though. But to add another layer of confusion, when it does involve business it often does include a business’s computer systems in some way.

Another distinction of systems analysis is that the study is of behavior or procedures as opposed to structures. This is because the structures in these types of systems are typically “soft” or virtual in nature. When we speak of the economic system, there is not a building somewhere that we can enter to inspect the economic system. We cannot put a stethoscope up to its heart to see how it is working. Instead, it is amorphous and requires more-abstract methods of scrutiny.

All that said, the term systems analysis does not preclude analysis related to hard material systems. Technically, it should include this as well. After all, analysis by itself already carries a connotation involving study of the mind, which everyone ought to know is housed within a hard material system. However, there are other terms already in use that tend to apply to these other cases. One term is engineering, which very much includes analysis of hard material systems. Another term is brain surgeon. What brain surgeon doesn’t spend time analyzing brain structure before making a repair?

Analyzing the Confusion

Unfortunately, the above analysis doesn’t end the confusion. While it is standard for engineers to be schooled in the physics of hard systems, engineering is actually a more general term that need not involve anything physical. Engineering can be thought of more broadly as employing science and math to understand and improve systems. And this would seem to strongly overlap systems analysis. However, the difference is that systems analysis tends to involve systems that may not be so easily analyzed—if you can believe it. That is, it tends to involve studying systems that are nonphysical and therefore less concrete.

Because of this, the systems studied by systems analysts may often include aspects that do not lend themselves to rigorous scientific experimentation and engineering analysis. So scientific analysis and engineering need not enter into the world of systems analysis. While engineers may sometimes work on projects that don’t involve science aspects, technically, their work has at that point jumped tectonic plates into systems analysis with many none the wiser.

As an example, studying economics even at the micro level, such as business economics, involves so many sprawling connections out into the vast marketplace of the world that they can never be fully tabulated. Just consider the unpredictable psychological aspects of consumers. While analysts can and do make do with whatever means are possible for study, the results may not always be as conclusive or steadfast as when studying the law of gravity, or the mechanics of a physical system. This may lead to intuitive aspects of systems analysis. However, this is not to say that engineering and probably even brain surgery never include intuitive aspects. But for systems that are less deterministic, they are likely to be more common.

Semantically speaking, the term systems analysis ought to include a connotation that just means analysis of a system fully apart from any goal of improving system operation and/or efficiency. Strangely, such a connotation is not found in the English dictionary. And one cannot conclude that this simpler meaning is included implicitly as a subset of the larger definition. This is because the larger definition of systems analysis only includes the study of real processes, not the study of systems in general.

If one were to analyze a theoretically inert system that has no inherent processes associated with it, this could not possibly fall under the colloquial definition of systems analysis. But even if study of the structures of real systems were included, technically, it would still be beyond the scope of the standard definition. One might consider though that analysis of system structures is a first step in arrival at an understanding of processes in a system—part of the prerequisite bottom-up study. From this perspective, this endeavor could be viewed as a subset of systems analysis, even if the behavioral aspect is left for another day or another team.

Despite these semantical challenges, none of this should stop one from analyzing systems and processes and calling it whatever they wish. It appears to be the lack of this key activity that creates problems for humanity from the microscale up to the level of civilization as a whole. Read about the prospect of a dark age of civilization in the LAWS OF ALL™: System Laws Reveal Hidden Secrets of the Universe and Approaching Dark Age of Civilization, Part I, Vol. 1/1.2. (Check under Free Access for availability.)

Systems and Analysis: The Column

The topics in the articles under the web-page column titled, “Systems & Analysis” may cover the gamut of the meanings described above and then some. While this website has articles on systems analysis and articles on general systems, the topics outside of systems themselves are diverse, and may be covered in broad ways. For example, the “Health” heading may not only refer to human health, it may refer to the health of systems in general, including health management. But often the health of other systems affects the lives of people as well, sometimes in a direct manner.

As diverse as the topics are though, often the articles overlap more than one topic. Some minor topics are also indexed. Additional topics may be added as time progresses.

The systems under scrutiny in these articles may also not just be the hard physical structures that most engineers are involved with. They may be of the amorphous, virtual type that come up in socio-politico-economics or psychology, for example. As you are reading these articles, try to identify what systems or system processes are under analysis.

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Explore Further

Access the full version of the Preface [pdf] for LAWS OF ALL™ Book 1 for free.

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