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Abstract

While the phrase “system-of-systems” is commonly seen, there is less agreement on what they are, how they may be distinguished from “conventional” systems, or how their development differs from other systems. This paper proposes a definition, a limited taxonomy, and a basic set of architecting principles to assist in their design. As it turns out, the term system-of-systems is infelicitous for the taxonomic grouping. The grouping might be better termed “collaborative systems.” The paper also discusses the value of recognizing the classification in system design, and some of the problems induced by misclassification. One consequence of the classification is the identification of principal structuring heuristics for system-of-systems. Another is an understanding that, in most cases, the architecture of a system-of-systems is communications. The architecture is nonphysical, it is the set of standards that allow meaningful communication among the components. This is illustrated through existing and proposed systems. © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Syst Eng 1: 267–284, 1998