Computers are now an essential part of business. This technological advancement gives rise to new roles and job descriptions, such as those of the systems engineer, the hardware engineer, and the software engineer. Managing computer systems require specialized knowledge and skills in computing technology. Systems engineers and other systems professionals are now typical positions in organizations with dedicated IT staff. A fully functional IT staff or IT department has well-defined positions and roles for these personnel. While there may be some overlaps between roles, each position has a unique purpose in the management of systems in organizations.
This article defines what a system is, and discusses and compares the functions and roles of systems personnel, such as systems engineers, hardware engineers, software engineers, computer programmers, systems operators, and systems managers.
The System: A Definition
A system is a group of components related to each other in terms of function and purpose. Each component is needed for the system to function. At the micro-level, a computing system may consist of the computer, its peripherals, and the users. In business organizations, especially large ones, a computing system has multiple computers and peripherals, users, network equipment, and other devices.
The components of the system also vary, depending on its functions and purpose. For example, if the system’s purpose is to print processed data, the printer is the system. If the system’s scope and purpose include the processing and printing of data, the system would be composed of the printer and the computer. A system with an organizational, regional, national or global scope may have for its components the computers, peripherals, networks, and users.
Systems Personnel and Roles
There are various professionals involved in developing, using, and maintaining systems:
- Systems manager
- Systems engineer
- Software engineer
- Hardware engineer
- Systems operator
The Systems Manager. The systems manager is the primary point of contact. He is responsible for managing the computing system. The systems manager has the duty of overseeing personnel databases, conducting budget transaction analyses, and salary projection and distribution. He is also responsible for directing systems installation and maintenance. He recommends quality standards and planning for organizational policy. The systems manager is at the topmost level of the systems personnel organizational structure. A systems engineer can be designated as a systems manager, but he must have a management or business administration background.
The Systems Engineer. The systems engineer is concerned with the performance and integration of the computer system. Using formal engineering concepts and methods, the systems engineer analyzes, models and solves interdisciplinary problems in the system. The systems engineer contributes to organizational decision-making. He is concerned with business and technical aspects of the firm and the system. The systems engineer aims to satisfy the organization’s business needs through the system.
The Software Engineer. The software engineer designs, tests, implements, and maintains software systems. Software engineers share many responsibilities with computer programmers. Software engineers are also often referred to as programmers. However, computer programmers have in-depth specific knowledge and expertise in certain types of software. Software engineers have broader knowledge and expertise in software and its relation with hardware. The software engineer focuses on the overall performance and integration of systems software. The systems engineer may function as a software engineer.
The Hardware Engineer. The hardware engineer designs, develops and maintains hardware components. His role involves design and testing of computer components like CPU parts and peripherals. The hardware engineer is responsible for planning the system’s hardware requirements. He also plans and specifies procedures for integrating the system’s hardware and software components. The systems engineer may function as a hardware engineer if he has adequate background in hardware design.
The Computer Programmer. The computer programmer writes, tests and debugs, and maintains computer programs used in the computing system. He converts problems statements, procedures and project specifications into flowcharts and codes in the desired computing language. When functioning as a lead person, the computer programmer collaborates with systems managers and engineers to identify and define problems and make recommendations. The senior computer programmer may also train junior computer programmers. A systems engineer with adequate background in certain computer languages may function as a computer programmer.
The Systems Operator. The systems operator controls and monitors the operations of the system based on instructions and specifications from the systems manager, the systems engineer, the hardware and software engineers, and the programmer. The systems operator executes programs in the system. He monitors how programs work. The systems operator also checks for errors while running the system. The systems operator assists programmers in testing and debugging programs.
12 Basic Systems Engineering Roles
The systems engineer has 12 basic roles. Other systems personnel may share some of these roles, but the systems engineer has the capacity to perform all of these roles. The 12 basic systems engineering roles:
- Requirements Owner
- System Designer
- System Analyst
- Validation/Verification Engineer
- Logistics/Operations Engineer
- Glue among Subsystems
- Customer Interface
- Technical Manager
- Information Engineer
- Process Engineer
- Classified Ads Systems Engineer
The systems engineer is involved in the design and integration of systems. He functions as a manager of the development team. He also functions as an interface between the team and other parties, such as managers and suppliers.
Future Roles of the Systems Engineer
The systems engineer does not always assume all of the 12 basic roles at once. However, the roles in systems engineering are expected to increase. As businesses develop and use more information technology, systems engineering roles and responsibilities will broaden. In the future, the systems engineer will have new specialized roles in subfields of systems engineering. New needs and functions in using systems in organizations will create new roles for the systems engineer.
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