COFES 2017: Complexity and Transformation

COFES is that place on the calendar that we set aside to lift our heads from the daily grind and consider our work in a broader context. This year at COFES 2017, we’ll take a deep dive into complexity and transformation.

The growth of complexity in everything we do is presenting us with new and difficult challenges, from our constantly changing business environment, to conflicting requirements of more simplicity (to the customer) in products that require more complexity to deliver. New phenomena result from complexity, often requiring consideration of things that were not previously an issue. The demands of IoT, the emergence of additive manufacturing. And it’s not just products:  emergent properties of complexity occur in processes, in IT, in business models, in politics, and in economies. 

Rather than focus on how to design complex systems from scratch, our attention will be on interventions that can transform existing systems to mitigate the effects of complexity.

Many firms have started transformations to address aspects of complexity in their IT systems. But few are addressing complexity in other areas.

One definition of a functional complex system is as a network adaptive agents.  Prior to IoT, our physical products didn’t have much in the way of a complete roundtrip of data, much less the ability to adapt. Now, as IoT becomes pervasive, we are adding the ability for products to be modified remotely. In other words, we are moving from a product’s value decreasing over time, to the domain of products that adapt to their environment, becoming more valuable over time. (This is particularly true with embedded AI and machine learning systems.) 

We rarely have the luxury of redesigning our software products from scratch. What is the path to transform our existing software to accommodate learning and adaptation?  

Complexity—in our products, our business systems, our customers’ needs, and more--demands our attention. It’s time to examine the tools we have to upgrade our systems in the context of growing complexity. We’ll do just that at COFES 2017. 


The domain of COFES is the realm of software for design and engineering.

Our customers are those that create the world around us. They design the roads and bridges, the buildings we live and work in, the things we use and see around us.

The place to impact all of this is at the planning, design, and engineering stage. It’s where the leverage is. Our customers have the leverage to change the world.

The COFES community provides the tools to these people who have that leverage.

We’ve been able to absorb much change in the past. But today, with increased population, increased infrastructure, and increased global interdependencies, we have lost much of our flexibility to absorb such change without hardship. The reasons for this are understandable and to be expected. With our larger population we have less room to maneuver and have significant investments in infrastructure – all a result of unconstrained growth without concern for long-term consequences.

What’s worse, we may be having an impact that is resulting in such change coming more quickly – within a lifetime rather than over generations.

Change will come. And it’s not just whether that we have to adjust to. Changes will be painful to many – deadly to some; others will reap unexpected windfalls. The balance will shift.

What can we do about it? We can choose not to ignore it. We can think about longer term implications of our decisions and have longer term horizons for our planning. 

We provide the tools to the people who have the leverage to implement change. We can help them  innovate better. 

At COFES, we ask “What can we do to make our customers more effective innovators?”

It’s not just about sharing best practices -- the bigger question is "How can we innovate in the development of better practices?”

Let's meet face-to-face and discuss these critical issues. We're all in this together.