Let's start with table-stakes; the entry level is that a Digital Twin road map must make a positive contribution to an overall value proposition. Each PLM provider must show how its road map for Digital Twin can support and help shape Digital Transformation in general.
Executive management at PLM user companies have probably heard this before, from their management consultants, and probably from other categories of enterprise software provider. So, from the point of view of this senior team, the general version of the road map leaves a lot of work for them to do—they will feel they have to convert the generalities into specifics that relate to their business.
To get closer to the customer, some providers may choose industry-specific explanations, using the language of a specific sector, quoting support for industry standards, and presenting use-case examples. Others may prefer a more horizontal and technology-oriented view and aim to differentiate as a platform to support all required solutions—their Digital Twins will be more inter-operable with existing systems and Digital Twins from other providers. Both approaches have the same goal—customer acceptance of the road map as a contributor to their Digital Transformation vision.
Providers' teams in the field that have gained 'trusted advisor' status with their contacts will be very effective in this environment. They will bridge the gap and in some cases be able to open up new lines of communication to their customers' top management. They may even find ways for their contacts to use their roadmap as the framework for Digital Transformation planning.
But this is business-as-usual for PLM providers. This is just a start. The wave of awareness of IoT, digitalization, Digital Twins and Digital Transformation, which is sweeping production, distribution and service industries deserves much more.
Re-Aligning the Tectonic Plates
It's probably too early to say the days of unfettered globalization are over. But anyone writing the PEST (Political, Economic, Social, and Technology) sections for a business plan with global scope will be asking questions about globalization assumptions and forecasts.
This is fertile ground for discussion with the top management of any organization involved in design, engineering, production, distribution and service. In the manufacturing context, the flow of conversation is broadly:
- Advances in manufacturing technology shift the balance between low cost labor and highly skilled labor as a source of competitive advantage.
- At some point, new versions of the old spreadsheets that said "build factories in low cost regions" are going to reach a tipping point and will say "build factories in locations where it is easiest to install, run and maintain advanced production systems."
- These are complex waters to navigate. Those spreadsheets are just one of many factors that guide manufacturing businesses towards growth and profit. But fluency in the use of connected digital systems is widely seen as vital for survival. This fluency will be key to the ability to 'sweat the assets' of an advanced production system; and also enable an organization to define and defend its role in the most profitable industry networks.
- A step change in thinking is needed to enable an organization to achieve the required level of digital fluency. In these days of cloud computing and smart connected products, it is not effective to think in terms of computers, application software and databases. The siloes are changing and the old technology-centric acronyms no longer provide a good guide to the way software should be used. The best way to plan digital transformation is in terms of Digital Twins.
- This is because Digital Twins will be the nodes that enable communication, automation and optimization for cooperating teams of people and systems. And, crucially, the concept of Digital Twins empowers non-technical people to see, and help define, the information flow to support their organization's core value-adding processes.
- Digital Twins add all the physical assets of an organization and its partners into the scope of online information and operational systems. Business process and business model development can consider the entire business online. This is a big change, in the past only the parts of the business defined by forms, documents and transactions could be handled this way.
- Digital Twins allow every status, every action, every command traveling to and from smart connected objects to be handled online and also to be simulated in advance. Whereas Amazon had to invest at a spectacular scale to move retailing online and change market expectations, Digital Twins offer a step-by-step approach, using the smart connected assets, which are first choice for investment anyway; and integrating the smart connected capabilities, which so many companies are adding into their own products.
Business Value From Digital Twins
Everyone needs a proof-point for these claims; technology must deliver business value. One of the easiest examples to explain is predictive maintenance—smart connected assets backed by analytics systems to offer a step change improvement in up-time for the assets, with lower servicing costs. But wait—where did this concept come from? It needed a Eureka! moment from the individual or team who first imagined it. Somehow, these people juggled concepts of continuous monitoring, the ability to identify and recognize pre-failure profiles from sensor readings, and insight and belief that this could change the business process of periodic maintenance and fault fixing.
This leads to a question for the management team: where do they (or their management consultants) expect this type of thinking to originate? Digital Transformation benefits for their organization will come partly from implementing widely known concepts like predictive maintenance, and partly from seeing unique and proprietary opportunities to innovate, differentiate, and improve business processes that impact customers, suppliers and in-house plans and decisions.
The opportunity could be up-time in a production facility; or operational processes to reduce material and energy consumption; or virtual commissioning to reduce the time needed for physical commissioning and start-up of new assets. Who in the organization will see these new capabilities, new efficiencies in working practices, new automation opportunities, and new cost reductions?
Making Digital Twins a core unit of thinking for Digital Transformation will increase the chance that leaders at all levels can contribute, and make the connections to business value. The IT team is important, but a Digital Twin discussion is not an IT discussion, it's a business discussion in which insight into the way assets and products are used will be the catalyst, so the top team themselves will be vital contributors. Engineering software PLM providers will want to emphasize how, compared to a no-simulation Digital Twin, the capability to simulate its physical counterpart enables their Digital Twins to support a much wider range of possibilities for automation, remote asset management, problem solving and process innovation.
A Digital Twin Road Map
Imagine a PLM user company accepts the vision as above and starts to use Digital Twins as the central entities in their Digital Transformation vision. They will still have some very real problems to overcome before endorsing and investing in more than proof-of-concept projects, for example, an overloaded IT department with a 6 or 12 month queue of projects; difficulties coordinating projects that span many functions; and a skills gap when it comes to development of connected, web-based, real-time, or mobile information systems.
The road map for Digital Twins can learn from Intel's tick-tock. Parallel streams of 'Extend and simplify Deployment' and 'Extend and simplify connectivity, simulation and interoperability' span the spectrum from immediate deployment problem solving, to development of big-picture vision for Digital Transformation. The connectivity and interoperability themes point at the opportunity to create a maturity model analogous to the six levels of ADAS, or perhaps 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G. Is it conceivable that a future definition of Digital Twin categories could be accepted as a framework by users and competing providers?
The first step is the hardest—elevate the Digital Twin concept. It can become the lingua franca that enables the top table of PLM user company management to inject their business insight and articulate the business process and perhaps business model innovations that will deliver value from real Digital Transformation projects. These projects will implement connected applications that maintain and integrate Digital Twins. At my company, we invest to measure this connected applications opportunity across nine market area with a goal to provide the hard-to-get quantitative market data to enable technology providers to judge the opportunity and see how to allocate resources. This is a great opportunity for PLM providers. Come on, PLM!
Peter Thorne is a director at Cambashi.