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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines system analysis as "the process of studying a procedure or business in order to identify its goals and purposes and create systems and procedures that will achieve them in an efficient way". Another view sees system analysis as a problem-solving technique that breaks down a system into its component pieces for the purpose of the studying how well those component parts work and interact to accomplish their purpose.
The field of system analysis relates closely to requirements analysis or to operations research. It is also "an explicit formal inquiry carried out to help a decision maker identify a better course of action and make a better decision than she might otherwise have made."
The terms analysis and synthesis stem from Greek, meaning "to take apart" and "to put together," respectively. These terms are used in many scientific disciplines, from mathematics and logic to economics and psychology, to denote similar investigative procedures. Analysis is defined as "the procedure by which we break down an intellectual or substantial whole into parts," while synthesis means "the procedure by which we combine separate elements or components in order to form a coherent whole."  System analysis researchers apply methodology to the systems involved, forming an overall picture.
System analysis is used in every field where something is developed. Analysis can also be a series of components that perform organic functions together, such as system engineering. System engineering is an interdisciplinary field of engineering that focuses on how complex engineering projects should be designed and managed.
The development of a computer-based information system includes a system analysis phase. This helps produce the data model, a precursor to creating or enhancing a database. There are a number of different approaches to system analysis. When a computer-based information system is developed, system analysis (according to the Waterfall model) would constitute the following steps:
- The development of a feasibility study: determining whether a project is economically, socially, technologically and organizationally feasible
- Fact-finding measures, designed to ascertain the requirements of the system's end-users (typically involving interviews, questionnaires, or visual observations of work on the existing system)
- Gauging how the end-users would operate the system (in terms of general experience in using computer hardware or software), what the system would be used for and so on
Another view outlines a phased approach to the process. This approach breaks system analysis into 5 phases:
- Scope Definition: denoting an instrument for observing, viewing, or examining
- Problem analysis: analyzing the problem that arises
- Requirements analysis: determining the conditions that need to be met
- Logical design: looking at the logical relationship among the objects
- Decision analysis: making a final decision
Use cases are widely used system analysis modeling tools for identifying and expressing the functional requirements of a system. Each use case is a business scenario or event for which the system must provide a defined response. Use cases evolved from object-oriented analysis.
The discipline of what is today known as policy analysis originated from the application of system analysis when it was first instituted by United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Practitioners of system analysis are often called up to dissect systems that have grown haphazardly to determine the current components of the system. This was shown during the year 2000 re-engineering effort as business and manufacturing processes were examined as part of the Y2K automation upgrades. Employment utilizing system analysis include system analyst, business analyst, manufacturing engineer, system architect, enterprise architect, software architect, etc.
While practitioners of system analysis can be called upon to create new systems, they often modify, expand or document existing systems (processes, procedures and methods). Researchers and practitioners rely on system analysis. Activity system analysis has been already applied to various research and practice studies including business management, educational reform, educational technology, etc.
- System Analysis and Design for the Global Enterprise by Lonnie D. Bentley p.160 7th edition
- SYSTEMS ANALYSIS
- Tom Ritchey, Analysis and Synthesis.
- Géza HUSI: Mechatronics Control Systems
- Bentley, Lonnie D., Kevin C. Dittman, and Jeffrey L. Whitten. System analysis and design methods. (1986, 1997, 2004).
- Hawryszkiewycz, Igor T. Introduction to system analysis and design. Prentice Hall PTR, 1994.
- Whitten, Jeffery L., Lonnie D. Bentley, and Kevin C. Dittman. Fundamentals of system analysis and design methods. (2004).
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- Introduction to Social Macrodynamics
- A useful set of guides and a case study about the practical application of business and system analysis methods
- A comprehensive description of the discipline of system analysis from Simmons College, Boston, MA, USA (Archive of original from www.simmons.edu)
- System Analysis and Design introductory level lessons