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Digital Twins fueling the Digital Transformation

The step by step roadmap towards a smooth creation of Digital Twins by a company, without disrupting their processing. Image credit: Mevea

Mevea published a very nice article on “The Digital Twin Journey: a smooth pathway to Digital Innovation”. It is surely worth reading.

Taken for granted that adopting the Digital Twin paradigm (get more commentaries on Digital Twins by searching for them on this blog) is increasing an enterprise efficiency along the whole value chain, from supply to production, delivery and operation, one has to wonder how much such a shift would cost to her enterprise and what kind of disruptions, if any, would be created in the smooth working of the enterprise.

The good news, pointed out by Mevea article, is that in many cases the adoption of a Digital Twin paradigm is a natural evolution of the enterprise processes, with no disruption in current processes, rather a continuous -and manageable- shift towards the digital space.

As shown in the figure (get the full size one in the Mevea article) the shift can be staged and Digital Twins can even be introduced at micro level, with the final goal of reshaping the whole product lifecycle, from research and development (a soft spot for starting the introduction of Digital Twins). There is a little to gain in each stage although the full deployment will multiply the benefit (it is not just the sum of the single benefits achieved along the way, it is much more and that result in a profound change of the way the enterprise works and interacts along the value chain with suppliers and customers.

As I said it is a nice article making for some very good reading.

Personally, I would say that there is even more benefit that can be derived by adopting the Digital Twin paradigm:

  1. The shift towards Digital Twin can be seen as part of a larger shift, the Digital Transformation of the business
  2. The adoption of Digital Twin along with a (controlled) Open Interface and Open Data Framework (these are also component of a Digital Transformation) may stimulate the creation of an ecosystem increasing the overall value of the enterprise product/service and the overall value of the market:

Digital Twins as Digital Transformation enablers

By creating a mirror image of a product (in all its lifecycle phases) into the cyberspace the Digital Twin shifts (or enable the shift) manipulation of atoms into manipulation of bits.

  • No longer there is a need to create a mock up of a product, its evolving Digital Twin is the mock up, and it can be used in parallel by several teams, internal to the enterprise or external (suppliers, potential customers…) resulting in a co-design;
  • The customisation can involve the end customer that interact with the production stage and can test the intended customisation by simulating them in his environment (possibly using simulation tools provided by the producer or by third parties and even by creating virtual interaction with the other systems already operational in his environment);
  • Suppliers can become involved in the design phase, using the mock up to adapt their components for a smooth fit, similarly, players in the distribution chain can make sure the packaged product can fit nicely into their processes;
  • Maintenance, Operation and Upgrades can be managed through the Digital Twin, opening up the door to more effective operation and to the delivery of ancillary services.

What is interesting is that the adoption of the Digital Twin paradigms can become an effective factor in the Digital Transformation of a whole value chain, since suppliers and distributors will be stimulated in adopting the paradigm shift. In the end the whole value chain will have moved to the cyberspace.

Digital Twins as ecosystem creators

By making possible to third parties to interact with the Digital Twin of a product we are -de facto- lowering the entrance barriers, thus stimulating smaller parties to take advantage of a product Digital Twin to create additional features, services.

These adds on may target the needs of market niches so small that may not be of interest to a big player but they may represent an interesting source of revenue to smaller ones. At the same time the increased offering increases the end customer’s perception of value, indirectly increasing the value of the product manufacturer.

The nice thing, that has been proven over and over, is that once you are in the cyberspace and open the access to a multitude of parties, there is no limit to the creativity that can be stimulated and to the resulting offering.

Clearly there is a need to ensure that opening the access to a Digital Twin does not lead to undesired side effect. This is something that should be taken care by the Digital Twin creator. Developing a framework for access and use by third party, controlled by the product manufacturer is not creating a walled garden (although it is), rather it is ensuring the quality of any add on and its smooth interplay with the product. It is a safeguard and a service to the end customer, and it is also what makes the ecosystem valuable to anyone operating in it.

The adoption of blockchain in this area is something that may help in protecting ownership and safeguarding towards improper use of this technology.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.