Ben Pronk

System Architecture in high-tech systems – is there any time left for system engineering?


System architecture of high-tech systems has evolved considerably over the decades. Along with the advance of large-scale connected systems, system architecting has developed new so-called ‘branches’ within the field. In this presentation, we will look at the challenges that have accompanied the introduction of these systems, like the rapid evolution of technologies, the diversity of connected devices, as well as the unpredictable context and limited control that is inherent to them. We’ll also look at the ways our approach to system architecting has changed and how it has stayed the same throughout this evolution.

While looking at this topic, we will also address that age-old and controversial question: is system architecture just another name for systems engineering or vice versa? Are these two the same or of a completely different breed? Is there actually any time left in a fast-paced digital environment for system engineering?

Ben Pronk (1959) studied physics at the Technical University of Delft. After graduation in 1984, Pronk worked for three years at the University of Leiden researching in the field of solid-state physics. In 1987, he joined Philips Medical Systems in the Magnetic Resonance department. At Medical Systems, was the lead architect in the development of the system and software architectures for several new generations of medical diagnostic products, including conventional X-ray and Magnetic Resonance Imaging.  He moved to Philips Semiconductors, now NXP-semiconductors, in 2002, where he was appointed lead architect for the new generation of digital television system products. Subsequently, he served as a system architect for the business line television systems, a position he also maintained for Trident Microsystems, a Silicon Valley-based semiconductor vendor. In 2011, Ben moved back to Philips Innovation Services where he was involved in several projects, including a project with Rijkswaterstaat on the control and safety system for road tunnels. In 2015, he moved to Philips Lighting, now Signify, in the research department, where he was involved in research and development of large-scale connected (lighting) systems. In October 2019, he joined Eindhoven Medical Robotics to work on the system architecture and development of autonomous surgical robots.

His earlier work focused on the creation of architectures for families of products and the application of object-oriented and component technologies in product line architectures. In this area, he participated in several European ITEA projects on product line architectures as well as several international workshops on this theme. Later, his focus shifted to the system integration of large-scale embedded systems in the consumer space, as well as the integration of third-party and COTS software. He is a contributor to international conferences on software (architecture) such as WICSA, SPLC, HOTCHIPS and OOPSLA and has published several articles in this field. In his various positions in system architecture, he also acquired extensive experience with large-scale, distributed and multinational development projects.