Is Your System Complex?

Michel Morvan
Co-founder and Executive Chairman, Cosmo Tech
CEO, Cosmo Tech USA


Your business isn’t simple, but is it really complex?

‘Complex’ is not a synonym for ‘complicated’. Instead, complex systems have certain properties that make them harder to manage and very hard to predict. There are no shortcuts to comprehending a complex system and all the historical data in the world won’t help you know for sure what is coming up around the corner. There’s only one way for businesses to make optimal decisions in a complex system: first you construct a model of the system, and then you simulate that system.

At Cosmo Tech we offer the world’s only platform capable of modeling and simulating any complex system. The Augmented Intelligence that our software offers is unique and industry validated, and it’s already helping decision makers navigate their complex systems and make optimal decisions every single day.

So how do you know if your system is complex?

Answer YES to three or more of the following questions and you can be sure that your system if complex, and that you can benefit from Cosmo Tech’s Augmented Intelligence.

Is your system composed of very different sub-systems?

Complex systems are composed of multiple sub-systems that are different to each other.

Your human resources system, for example, has different stresses, constraints, and dynamics than your logistics, investment, and purchasing systems. Not only are the components of these systems different, the way the components relate to each other, interact with each other, and connect to other systems are different, too. Knowing how one sub-system works doesn’t help you understand exactly how another sub-system works. What’s more, even knowing how all of the sub-systems work isn’t enough to understand the system as a whole and even optimising all of the sub-systems individually won’t deliver a globally optimised system.

When it comes to complex systems, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Does your system contain hierarchies?

In a simple system there is often no hierarchy between different parts of the system. In complex systems, however, hierarchies are common.

Consider the human body, a complex system that is composed of a number of sub-systems. There are systems devoted to breathing, pumping blood, walking, talking, and remembering your anniversary. All of these systems working in concert combine to produce, maintain, and develop an individual human, and while all are important, some are more important than others. There are plenty of systems within the body that we can easily and fully live without, if the system that pumps blood fails to fire then the entire complex physiological system collapses within seconds.

Complex systems in business have similar hierarchies with high-level strategic decisions combining with on-the-ground operational decisions to further the interests of the company as a whole. Decision makers need to know which sub-systems are truly important to the health (and wealth) of their business and how decisions at different levels of the company affect their end game.

Are different parts of the system dynamically coupled?

Complex systems have dynamic coupling between the different parts of the system.

By definition, all systems are composed of connected and interconnected parts. In complex systems, these interconnections are dynamic, that is, they are interdependent and in constant states of change. A development in one part of the system can have effects on another part of the system. Distant elements that might seem, at first glance, to be unrelated could instead be coupled via interconnecting chains two, three, four or more steps long. A month-long rail maintenance program, for example, can have short, medium, and long-term impacts on rail schedules where trips are planned to the minute.

Dynamism like this makes interconnected systems difficult to predict accurately in the long term and represents a significant challenge for decision makers.

Do different parts of the system evolve on different time and space scales?

Complex systems are composed of different sub-systems that evolve at different scales.

Consider an electric utility. There are the human resources that will move in and out of the business while major equipment pieces – pylons, wires, transformers – are designed for effective lives measured in decades. Or consider a rail network where ticketing systems evolve far faster than physical infrastructure like rails, stations, and engines. In a complex system the different parts of that system live, change, and die on different time scales and in different space scales, too.

Complex systems need to be understood as systems that change concurrently at different time and space scales, and the implications of this change considered when setting out to manage a complex system.