Cranfield University


Liz Varga, Chair in Complex Infrastructure Systems, is Director of the Complex Systems Research Centre (CSRC), Cranfield School of Management (SoM), Cranfield University. Liz’s research focuses on explaining the economic, social, and environmental outcomes of interactions and interdependencies within critical infrastructure systems, i.e., energy, transport, water and waste, and telecommunications systems. Her skills are in creating abstractions of real-world systems, recognizing emergent phenomena and co-evolutionary effects, together with measurable systemic metrics, and working in trans-disciplinary environments. Using mixed methods approaches, embracing big data, and leading the design of computational agent-based models, the consequences of social behaviors, political interventions, and technological potentials are examined at multiple scales and assessed for impact upon resilience and adaptation and toward normative scenarios. She has over 60 publications and has been research investigator on 10 Research Councils UK and European Commission projects.

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Guest editorial (17.2):
Volume: 17, Issue 2

Modeling the emergence of multi-utility service companies in the UK domestic energy market
Volume: 17, Issue 2
The paper looks at the potential for multi-utility service providers to create business models that compete with traditional utility product providers whereby customers' services increase and resource efficiency is improved. The objective in our modeling is to show the how Multi-Utility Service Companies (MUSCos) could invade the market, changing it from markets focused on selling, for example, energy to customers, to markets aimed at selling efficiency. The output of our modeling is the extent to which the resource efficiency of UK homes can be significantly improved, and we show this in 10 centile categories. The key difference between the two types of providers (Traditional and MUSCo) is that while households can switch traditional suppliers fairly rapidly (3 months), if a household signs up to get house improvements and utilities from a particular MUSCo, then the arrangement will be at least 5 years, and possibly longer. This means that households, once they sign up are no longer ‘on the market’ for utility supply. Although getting a contract signed may take much more time for a salesman than simply getting a normal utility order, the fruits and the income are guaranteed to the MUSCo for 5 or 10 years. Their sales force efforts can be switched to non-contracted households. So, essentially both utilities and MUSCos are trying to sell to the normal, non-contracted households. The real advantage that a MUSCo customer is that there is a discount on both the house improvements offered and the price of future supplies of energy and water. MUSCos are able to offer reduced cost of house insulation, appliances which reduce consumption and waste from multiple utilities, and can achieve marginal profits from financing of these appliances.

Agent based modelling of local energy networks as instances of complex infrastructure systems
Volume: 17, Issue 2
Attempts to model the present and future power networks face a huge challenge because it is a complex system, integrated by generation, distribution, storage and consumption subsystems, and using various control and automation computing systems. Moreover,in order to address the crucial issues of energy efficiency, additional processes like energy conversion and storage, and further energy carriers, such as gas, heat, etc., besides the electrical one, must be considered. In order to simulate those networks, a fully integrated agent-based model, provided with enhanced nodes or conversion points, able to deal with multidimensional flows, is presented in this article. Moreover a way to try to extend it to cover infrastructure networks is outlined.

Sustainable supply networks: A complex systems perspective
Volume: 11, Issue 3
A complex adaptive systems perspective is used to examine the sustainability of the supply network in the commercial aerospace manufacturing sector. A framework for the analysis of coevolutionary dynamical change is used which examines the structure, integration methods and process dynamics within the supply network. Multiple methods are used for data collection from 8 firms in the sector. The framework identifies 14 management implications related closely to the sector’s current heterarchical supply network archetype. The management implications address known environmental factors for the sector and the broader techno-economic paradigm.

Knowledge transformation, learning and changes giving competitive advantage in aerospace supply chains
Volume: 11, Issue 2
The paper investigates three levels of learning—adaptive, reactive and expansive—for the transformation of knowledge to enhance innovation and competitive advantage in commercial aerospace supply chains. A perspective of supply chains as complex Activity Networks is used for data analysis based on in-depth interviews in a global setting. Themes for the interviews were identified through rigorous literature research. The paper provides evidence of levels of learning in commercial aerospace supply chains. We found that a) adaptive learning brings a supply chain up to present industrial standards only, b) reactive learning makes the supply chain competitive, and c) expansive learning gives the supply chain potential for competitive advantage. By considering supply chains as the interaction of different work activities, the forces of change can be better understood. The findings may be useful to practitioners in understanding the importance of different levels of learning to supply chain sustainability.

A case-study of the three largest aerospace manufacturing organizations
Volume: 8, Issue 2
Many of the most successful firms have placed a strong emphasis on strategy. Strategies help decision-makers in organizations to think through what the organization needs to achieve and how these needs may be satisfied. This case study considers what the Chief Executive Officers of the top three aerospace manufacturers say about their strategies and how these strategies are being implemented. The aerospace manufacturing industry is interesting from a number of respects: its dependence on innovation, its global nature, its relationships with government and other firms, and the different characteristics of the civil and defence markets. This aerospace manufacturing triad is also interesting because of its industry sector coverage: one is a largely defence aerospace manufacturer, the second a largely commercial aerospace manufacturer and the third, an aerospace manufacturer with a balanced portfolio. Strategies are shifting to take an holistic view of the firm as the firm is increasingly being recognized as a complex system. This holism is particularly evident in the manufacturing firms examined, as they balance innovation, strategy and organizational characteristics in an evolutionary manner. Innovation is fundamental to evolution and this case study employs a novel holistic approach to innovation portfolio assessment. A complex systems perspective is taken for organizational analysis allowing the examination of how fluctuations, resource richness, freedom, capacity to innovate, culture, technology and strategy are balanced and made synergetic. This case study reflects upon how these organizations’ strategies are reflected in their organizational forms, their investments in innovations, their performance and ultimately in their potential to evolve.