PLM “Digital” Magic?

PLM “Digital” Magic?

Digital Transformation is in the air. Every company these days is transforming itself into a future digital universe. There are a lot of rational and important reasons why to focus on digital transformation. It brings new business models and unlocks new business opportunities. It helps to provide a better experience to customers and increase company profits. And it is a future.

I honestly believe in the digital future. Because our lives changed for the last decades of massive business changes in consumer technologies, travels, e-commerce and many other filed. This is what we do on an every-day basis. We don’t use maps, watch YouTube and disconnected cable channels. We check prices online before buying food in supermarkets and making travel arrangements using phones. Our kids don’t know what is file and they use online services for homework. We use the same web sites to check kids achievements and time tables. We don’t need maps when we travel, everything we need is a phone with an internet connection.

But, it took decades of changes and many incremental steps to do so.

Sounds familiar? I’m sure it does. Here is the thing… if you move to the business, the story won’t be matching gigantic leap as we made in our personal lives. Manufacturing companies are still running fax machines (even if they don’t, they are using tools that are very much similar to fax machines). And this is where the problem starts. How to get out of the past? There is no simple way how to do so. It is about transformation. Like in the picture below.

Manufacturing companies are part of this entire digital extravaganza. As much as I believe in the digital future, many businesses are not there yet. Any many businesses won’t make it. The devil is in details and it requires many changes in an entire organization of business – from using different systems and technologies to changing people’s behaviors and the way they do work.

My attention was caught by Jim Brown’s of Tech-Clarity survey results about how companies are changing themselves. The chart below gives you an idea of what is the conclusion. Here is a formula form the picture. Digital Product Innovation = Digital Twin + Digital Thread + Digital Innovation Platform + Digital Manufacturing. It feels and sounds like we are adding a magic “digital” word and everything is changing.

I downloaded the research. I cannot share the report here, because I want to respect Siemens Marketing that wants people to leave their dummy (or not) emails. So, you can do it by yourself using this link.

I found a few interesting passages explaining what is behind “digital” everything in the chart above. Here is a definition of Digital Twin:

From an innovation perspective, we define the digital twin as a virtual model of a physical item. The model represents a specific product, configuration, piece of equipment, plant, city, or other physical assets with enough fidelity to predict, validate, and optimize performance and behavior.

So, a digital twin is a virtual model of physical items. But we had modeled before – CAD model is a foundation of this model and many other data pieces added to this model like simulations and more.

Here is a definition of Digital Thread:

…the digital thread ties product information, decisions, and history together in a structured, integrated way that captures product innovation and knowledge throughout the product lifecycle. It establishes traceability from early in the front end of innovation through development and beyond. The digital thread approach also incorporates streamlined design creation by sharing and/or reusing design data across the stages of innovation. Design continuity along the digital thread allows designers to add their design information to a design model, directly incorporating and extending design data from prior steps instead of recreating design information.

Preserving a history of changes is a foundation of the PDM system. Extended more it comes as a system to manage the data about all stages of product development was a foundation of PLM for years (or how the document says “innovation”).

Digital Innovation platform combines these two activities – digitalize design data and process. (sounds very PDM/PLM-ish).

Digitalize Design Data Leading companies support product innovation with digital data. For the purposes of this research, we define “digital data” as data in a database that can be accessed by any application. Digital data does not include files that must be opened by a specific tool or data embedded in documents, forms, files, CAD models, or scanned data. Top Performers are 50% more likely to have fully digital design data than Others.

Digitalize Design Processes Digitalization extends beyond data to processes. We define “digital processes” as those that are executed based on computer-managed workflows and tasks. An example is managing engineering changes and approvals via digital workflows. Top Performers are over three times as likely to have fully digital design and development processes.

The definitions made me feel a bit confused. One one side, “digital” is a way to introduce new digital technologies to change processes. But if digital technologies have the same purpose and activity we had before (CAD, PDM, PLM…), then how we change process to digital?

What is my conclusion? Digital transformation is extremely important. At the same time, I’m very much interested to learn more is actually different in Siemens product that makes them “digital” compared to existing product Siemens was developing for the last 20-30 years. I believe an additional of “digital” word has some magic thing inside that I was not able to capture. I look forward to talking to Siemens people if they are ready to do so to learn more. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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  • Thanks for highlighting our research, Oleg. I think you missed a key point in that we are presenting a maturity model. If you like at the pillars, they are not “brand new” things that companies are doing. They are the same goals we’ve had in our industry for years. If you look at an example like “Digital Twin,” you point out that the definition calls it a model. At a lower level of maturity, that’s all it is. At the highest level of maturity, the level that really supports a digital enterprise, the twin is a digital model with a connection to a physical model with feedback from the IoT. The framework has to relate to companies of different levels of maturity. That takes more than magically adding the word “digital” to the front. The other pillars are similar.

    In order to really understand it, I suggest companies take our interactive Digital Product Innovation Assessment so they can see each of the maturity levels and see where they stand compared to the leaders. You can access it at

  • Sankar Krishnan

    I think the fundamental question raised here is: What is new in these technologies which enables the industry to take them to a higher maturity as you call it. When you look back at myriad implementations of PLM over the last several years (irrespective of which platform), the common pet peeve is about the usability of these system across the key stakeholders in a contextual manner.

  • Hi Sankar,
    I think the challenge in many cases is the conflict between added capabilities and simplicity. I know the larger vendors are working on both, but the two goals work against each other.
    I’m sure our friend Oleg will tell us that newer applications are being built from the beginning with simplicity in mind, and of course I agree! So for now, getting to higher levels of maturity requires more mature systems. Hopefully we will see improvements in the traditional systems getting simpler (for example with thinks like Active Workspace for Siemens or PTC Navigate, breaking down solutions to apps, and building new apps to extend the “core”) and newer systems gaining more capabilities.

  • beyondplm

    @jim_techclarity:disqus @ Thanks for clarifications! Indeed important difference between status quo and maturity model. At the same time, what makes “digital twin” different from the early stage “model” and how it reflected in tools and technologies Siemens PLM Software provides. Did I miss that?

  • beyondplm

    Sankar, You’re asking absolutely legitimate and most important question. I can see how Mendix can help to build applications and integrations. But I don’t understand how Teamcenter is becoming more mature. It is probably becoming more old because it built on top of relational databases at the time when company IT was focusing on how to install servers and run all systems on the same databases (Oracle or DB2).

    The usability of the systems is important, but it is often mistakenly mixed with workflows these systems are supporting. Most of PLM systems are coming with a support of specific workflows and they are conflicting with existing workflows in a company. And this is a moment everyone is talking about usability of the systems.

  • beyondplm

    @jim_techclarity:disqus I think systems should be built with a specific workflow in mind. I’d be carefully calling it “simplicity” because of some processes are very complex and requires lot of flexibility and adaptation. It is especially true for larger companies. But I can see the same also for smaller companies. On average, I think larger companies are more struggling with flexibility and smaller companies are suffering from the lack of knowledge.

  • Lars Taxén

    Interesting discussion! But what are we really talking about here? What is the essence of the ‘digital’ anyway? I think this is important to consider, if not only for the risk of overloading the term with connotations that are unjustified.

    Here is a try. We need to distinguish ‘digitization’ from ‘digitalization’. Digitization is the process of “converting any thing into digits (ones and zeros), make it digital. The thing here could be analog data, logs, description about some things, let’s say, equipment, its location, attributes etc. So, any thing, description of any thing, documents, information available in papers, hard copies etc. Converting them into digital format is called digitization” (Amarnath, 2019). Digitalization, then, is the strategy of adopting recent technologies in IT to make the most of the digitized resources available in the enterprise.

    This means that an artifact is digital when it contains some digitalized part such as computers, special purpose ASICs, FPGAs, microprocessors, analog-digital converters, sensors, and the like. Some features provided by a digital artifact may be controlled by software (materialized as load modules containing program instructions). However, the essence of a digital artifact is that it remains an artifact: a material thing whose meaning is established only in and through the activity of individuals in social practice using the artifact. As you indicate, the “digital” has been with PLM since its inception. The change now is that digitization impacts more and more of our artifacts.

    So, even if obvious, the biology of the “person” in your top figure does not change because our technology changes. Sometimes I get the impression from discussions that digitalization will transform us into some new ‘digital’ species just because our technology evolves. However, even if our way of navigation changes from paper-based maps to GSP systems, we still need the mental capacities to make sense of it!

  • beyondplm

    @larstaxn:disqus Thanks for sharing your insight. Indeed digitization vs digitalization difference is important.

    However, in this article, I wonder what Siemens PLM have added (or will be adding) to their existing software, which makes it magically digital as Jim mentioned.

    I understand Jim’s point about the maturity. Even so, what means Teamcenter maturity and how it is related to digitalization (since it is RDBMS digitized from the day one).

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