Manufacturing is changing and it is very important than ever to keep up with the latest trends in technology, software tools, and process management. One such trend that can’t be ignored is digital transformation. In the world of technology and change management, the question of how to define digital transformation strategy, what it means, and how it impacts product lifecycle management cannot be ignored.
Many business and technology leaders seem to agree that digital transformation is important, but they may not always understand what it is or why it matters. While digital transformation is everywhere, I have to admit that for the last 2-3 years, it became a meaningless buzzword that is used everywhere and means nothing.
So, the question is how to make digital transformation more specific? How to connect it to PLM? PLM can be a key factor in explaining digital transformation to manufacturing companies. But what role PLM can (or will) play in digital transformation? There is a big gap in understanding and then in the digital transformation strategy. PLM can bridge that gap, helping to show how digital transformation can impact a manufacturer’s operations and overall success. By clearly illustrating and facilitating digital transformation, PLM can help businesses make the jump to a more digitally-enabled future.
In my article today, I’ll be discussing how PLM can help you digitally transform your manufacturing process and what benefits you can expect as a result. So whether you’re just starting out on your digital transformation journey or you’re looking for ways to take your business to the next level, this blog post is for you. Read on to learn more!
PLM Analysts Defining Digital Transformation
My attention was caught by Monica Schnitger’s blog Digital Transformation – Let’s Talk. In this article, Monica speaks about her impression from the recent Autodesk Accelerate 2022 event and a panel of distinguished PLM analysts trying to bring a definition of “digital transformation”. I found the same level of frustration about “digital transformation washing”. Here are a few passages I captured from the article.
The panel, made up of Allan Behrens of Taxal + Stan Przybylinski of CIMdata + Michelle Boucher of TechClarity + our moderator, Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insights + me, struggled to come up with a unified definition of Digital Transformation. Michelle said it was more than just making something that had been paper, digital — that you want digital technologies to make data available to everybody. I disagreed, since for some, taking that step and making a PDF out of a piece of paper is a great start. Not an end, but a start. I think it was Stan who said that digital transformation means using computers for what they are good at, managing and processing data. And so on — Chad had his definition and Allen had his.
This was frustrating to some in the audience, who wanted a pat answer: “Do this then this then this, and you’ll be digitally transformed” would be so lovely. But it’s impossible to lay out that kind of path since every person in that audience came from a legacy corporate and personal IT environment that has evolved to meet needs. And they were bringing that to bear on what they thought needed transforming and what didn’t.
However, my favorite passage was related to the example of the driving experience provided in the article.
To illustrate this, one speaker said that a colleague and his daughter were driving the daughter to a friend’s house when they both realized they didn’t have the exact address. The dad handed his phone to the daughter and asked her to call the friend for help. The daughter connected pointed the phone’s camera at the road ahead, and said, “Tell us when to turn.” I wouldn’t have thought of that — I’d have asked for the address and programmed it into the map for turn-by-turn details. I related this story to someone else who said he would have described what he was seeing and asked for directions in words. Someone else would have used the phone’s browser to Google the address.
Here is why it was my favorite example. Let me take you on a short tour of the driving process of digital transformation.
30 Years of Digital Transformation of Driving Process
Driving is one of the most interesting processes that was transforming over the last 30 years including car experience and navigation experience. It is amazing to see how things changed since the time we’ve been moving from a car, which was mostly a “mechanical device” to a modern electric car with the amount of high-tech equipment, navigation, and infotainment, which fundamentally changed the way we are driving these days.
A mobile navigation application is part of the driving digital transformation. In the picture below you can see the 30 years’ distance. I wasn’t able to find a picture of me in the car 30 years ago driving in Europe with a paper map. But on the right side is a picture of the car, I was driving a few years ago in London. I planned my trip before going to London and everything I needed to do is to connect my phone to the car.
The main point of my example is to look at the history of digital transformation of the driving application, which had multiple steps such as the invention of digital maps, integration of CD and later other devices in the car, invention of real-time traffic updates, social driving, bringing a large amount of information about roads and related information to the map applications and many others.
Ultimately, we digitally transformed the driving process from a paper map to a modern driving experience with augmented reality and online updates.
Next 10 Years of Manufacturing Digital Transformation
Here is my definition of a digital transformation strategy for the manufacturing industry. The foundation of the process will be the creation of online platforms capable to provide a foundation for product development, supply chain, and manufacturing processes. These platforms will be capable to provide modeling capabilities, manage data access, provide collaboration and communication with contractors and suppliers. The formal definition of such a platform doesn’t exist yet. But some elements of these platforms are becoming visible. Here is my take on five important elements of new digital PLM for the manufacturing industry.
- Multi-Tenant Network Data Model
- Digital Thread and Process Orchestration
- Online Service Discovery (design, manufacturing, supply chain, etc.)
- Device Connectivity
- New “business” model for services and data access
This is just my first take on what can become a foundation for future PLM solutions and digital transformation strategies for manufacturing. Pieces of these technologies, products, and services are starting to appear already. Cloud-native CAD and PLM solutions, One-click manufacturing services, IoT technologies, and many others. The change won’t happen overnight. It will take multiple steps and transformation processes.
What is my conclusion?
The manufacturing industry is transforming. We need to move from cloud-washing to network data intelligence. The goal is to create platforms that together can become a center of intelligence and the network for manufacturing companies to support the data-driven system development process and manufacturing transformation.
Product lifecycle management systems have to move from the old state of PLM software to adopt new digital technologies to support the distributed product development process, to collect product data, connect digital threads, and support business processes and product lifecycle across multiple companies. New PLM solutions will become a part of strategic enterprise systems to support digital continuity and new manufacturing business models. Unlike old engineering product development tools, new digital technologies will support digital transformation and business strategy using data intelligence created from an entire product lifecycle analysis. This digital transformation won’t happen overnight and will take multiple steps. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital cloud-native PLM platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.