Q&A with Mica Endsley
Mica Endsley is the
chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force, serving as the chief scientific adviser
to the chief of staff and secretary of the Air Force. She will be giving her keynote
presentation at the IIE Annual Conference Monday, June 2.
What is the
most exciting development or, conversely, the most pressing challenge in the
field of industrial and systems engineering today?
I think one of the
key challenges facing us today is the transition from what in our field has
historically been a lot of physical, manual-type operations into more
information-based operations. By that I mean so much of what we do now involves
information flowing across computer networks, whether you’re managing a company
or whether you’re a commander in charge of a military operation – it’s really
very information-centric. And that’s really a fundamental shift in the types of
systems that our profession is trying to address. So I think that what we
really need to be focusing on is transferring the types of processes that we’ve
traditionally used for getting better efficiency and effectiveness in physical
systems into these information-based operations. This is a transition that’s
been happening really over the last several decades, and we’ve seen some of
that occur, but I think there are a lot of opportunities for more of that to
Today’s systems are hampered by a lot of
stove-piped, disconnected applications where information doesn’t flow
effectively across the different types of software applications people may be
using. They have very different interfaces and overall there’s a lot of
inefficiency still built into those systems. And I do believe that this is an
area where industrial and systems engineering has a lot to offer in terms of
improving the effectiveness of our information operations.
also want to talk some about the fact that I think a lot of the new technologies
actually provide a lot of new opportunities for providing new capabilities for
our profession that haven’t necessarily been there in the past. And I’ll be
talking about some of those during my talk as well.
What do you
plan to discuss in your keynote presentation?
What I’m going to
talk about in the keynote is how industrial engineering is being applied in
United States Air Force operations in wide-ranging areas including
manufacturing, logistics, process improvement and human-system integration.
Is industrial engineering a specific department in the Air Force, or does it
fall under myriad areas?
I see it being
very highly distributed in a lot of different kinds of organizations who are
probably using them in very different ways. So everything from people in the
Air Force Research Labs who are working on improved manufacturing processes and
trying to solve future human-system integration problems to people who are
working current problems in process improvement throughout the organization or
logistics – they’re really embedded across a wide variety of organizations.
What would you
like attendees to take away from your presentation?
I think they’ll get
a basic understanding of how industrial engineers are used in the Air Force, but
also hopefully some perspectives on the many opportunities and needs that are
available for improving operations into the future. And the Air Force is
actually a very interesting example because it is such a large distributed
organization. It has to operate both daily ongoing types of operations from
flying and maintaining aircraft to being able to launch on a moment’s notice to
doing distributed operations in some other country where they have large
logistics challenges. So it’s a very multifaceted type of organization to look
at opportunities for how industrial engineering can benefit these kinds of
always found as well, having worked on the industry side on military programs
for much of my career, that one of the interesting things is you get a lot of
technological change and technological advances being brought into military
systems very early on, before later migrating out into commercial applications.
So often you really get to work on that cutting-edge of technology, and that’s
where you see a lot of the innovation occur. I’ve always found that to be an
exciting aspect of working on military programs. Plus you know that what you’re
working on could help save people’s lives, and that’s what is most important.
information about Mica Endsley and the other IIE Annual Conference keynote
speakers, go to the Keynote
Speakers page at www.iienet.org/annual.