The Digital Twin concept is creating an opportunity for PLM providers. Top management of PLM user companies already believe PLM is the owner of Digital Twin technology. The opportunity is for PLM providers to take the lead in defining road maps that will guide their customers' visions for Digital Transformation. Let's consider road maps in other sectors and market data to suggest how PLM providers can elbow their way to the front of the queue.
Evolution and Revolution
"My customers would have asked for faster horses"
"No amount of development and optimization of candles will deliver electric lighting"
Most cases are less dramatic, but whatever the situation, there are limitations to both customer-driven strategies, and incremental technology development. Sometimes providers must make a big leap in the technology they offer. But their customers want and sometimes need future development road maps to have a step-by-step feel. Giant leaps are disconcerting.
To bridge this gap, it helps firstly to have a good idea of all the implications of the big leap, and secondly to articulate the road map so that the big leap can be seen in context. One well known example is in the automotive sector: the road maps for ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems including autonomous driving) are presented in six levels, from level 0 (a human driver controlling everything) to level 5 (an automatic system which at least matches the performance of a human driver). The big leap comes at level 4—no human interaction required.
The wireless communications sector has built the idea of continuous progress with occasional big technology steps into its way-of-life. The framework from 2G via 3G and 4G to 5G has provided the foundation for individual road maps for providers across the entire industry ecosystem. By signaling the steps along the way, everyone involved—the users, the OEMs, the suppliers and the legislators—knows what's coming and can plan accordingly.
Digital Twin is a concept that PLM providers use both as a strategic anchor, and also to communicate the pathway to the future. Their efforts are commendable but have left plenty of space for management consultants to sell Digital Transformation strategies to the top table of management in all the sectors that buy PLM technology. Digital Twin is perceived as a technology—the capability to replicate the characteristics of a physical item in the computer. Digital Transformation is something for which management teams must have a vision—a vision for doing more online, a vision that develops and innovates the business model, outflanks fast-moving born-digital start-ups, identifies new revenue streams, and defines new competitive advantage.
So how does this fit into a road map? In enterprise software—including PLM—there is no accepted whole-sector framework comparable to 2G-5G in wireless communications or level 0 to 5 in automotive ADAS. Perhaps the closest contender is Industry 4.0 (I4), which describes the concept of connected digitalized industry value chains. Some published material gives maturity-model type guidance on how to judge the "as-is" and "should-be" I4 status of an organization, for example (see 123), and these concepts help frame the characteristics a road map should address. However, enterprise software is just one part of an I4 vision, so each enterprise software provider must identify how its offer addresses I4 objectives.
Leading providers, and providers that dominate a particular niche, are comfortable to define the agenda, priorities, and road-map themselves. There is a successful precedent in semiconductors—the tick-tock model served Intel well. Tick-tock helped coordinate the development of two co-dependent technologies—chip architectures (tick) and chip manufacturing processes (tock). It also helped to communicate development schedules and sequencing to suppliers and customers, and in this way drove the whole semiconductor-centric ecosystem. Indeed, as limits to Moore's Law came into view, Intel introduced a new Process-Architecture-Optimization model to replace tick-tock. Part of its objective was to provide reassurance that the road map was not heading for a roadblock.
PLM providers hold an important card: management teams in their target markets believe "PLM" is the owner and source of Digital Twin capabilities. In addition, all industry sectors have an almost unblemished historic record of allocating a higher proportion of their budgets each year for expenditure on engineering software—and Cambashi's forecasts indicate this trend will continue (see figure 1).
This trend is the result of the complex interplay of various aspects of market dynamics. New technologies get the headlines, and these are taken up by early adopters. A combination of new technologies and experience enables users to make better use of software, and grow both the scope and intensity of the use of applications. Also, as time passes, the market lifecycle leads new buyers into the market—the early majority and the late majority of the bell-shaped take-up curve—and overall penetration increases. The result of these factors is the 'propensity to spend' curves in figure 1. So market growth within an industry is possible even if the industry itself is not growing.
Given this market opportunity and the Digital Twin advantage for PLM in customer perception, this is fertile ground for PLM providers. However, it is important for software providers to recognize that decision-makers in their target customer organizations don't always appreciate nuances in the way the label "PLM" is used:
- Sometimes, PLM implies product definition authoring tools (such as CAD and simulation) as well as pure PLM capabilities (such as workflow, access control, and change and version management)
- However, away from the engineering team, a full-range engineering software PLM provider can be perceived as being in the same category as "PLM-only” providers.
It is the full-range PLM providers that are best placed to use Digital Twin roadmaps to gain senior management attention and strengthen the opportunity for PLM software in Digital Transformation projects.
Peter Thorne is a director at Cambashi.
 Schumacker, Erol and Sihn's 2016 paper available via https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212827116307909 identifies a number of earlier I4 readiness and maturity models.
 Some management consultants have published overviews of frameworks for projects in this area, for example, BDO (see https://www.bdo.com/industries/industry-4-0/maturity-model), Capgemini (see https://www.capgemini.com/fi-en/2018/09/industry-4-0-maturity-model-mirroring-today-to-sprint-into-the-future/), PWC (see pp 28-29 in https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/industries-4.0/landing-page/industry-4.0-building-your-digital-enterprise-april-2016.pdf).
 Some software providers support studies that address I4 strategies and implementation, for example, a Siemens author worked with academics on I4 modeling ( see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310628749_Industrie_40_Components_-_Modeling_Examples); and acatech's authoritative study (see https://www.acatech.de/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/acatech_STUDIE_Maturity_Index_eng_WEB.pdf)