Last week I read Verdi Ogewell’ s article:  PTC puts the Needle to the Digital Thread on Engineering.com where Verdi raised the question (and concluded) who is the most visionary PLM CEO – Bernard Charles from Dassault Systemes or Jim Heppelman from PTC. Unfortunate again, an advertorial creating more haziness around modern PLM than adding value.

People need education and Engineering.com is/was a respected site for me, as they state in their Engineering.com/about statement:

Valuable Content for Busy Engineers. Engineering.com was founded on the simple mission to help engineers be better.

Unfortunate this is not the case in the PLM domain anymore. In June, we saw an article related to the failing PLM migration at Ericsson – see The PLM migration dilemma. Besides the fact that a big-bang migration had failed at Ericsson, the majority of the article was based on rumors and suggestions, putting the sponsor of this article in a better perspective.

Of course, Engineering.com needs sponsoring to host their content, and vendors are willing to spend marketing money on that. However, it would be fairer to mention in a footnote who sponsored the article – although per article you can guess. Some more sincere editors or bloggers mention their sponsoring that might have influenced their opinion.

Now, why did the article PTC puts the Needle to the Digital Thread made me react ?

Does a visionary CEO pay off?

It can be great to have a visionary CEO however, do they make the company and their products/services more successful? For every successful visionary CEO, there are perhaps ten failing visionary CEOs as the stock market or their customers did not catch their vision.

There is no lack of PLM vision as Peter Bilello mapped in 2014 when imagining the gaps between vision, available technology, and implementations at companies (leaders and followers). See below:

The tremendous gap between vision and implementations is the topic that concerns me the most. Modern PLM is about making data available across the enterprise or even across the company’s ecosystem. It is about data democratization that allows information to flow and to be presented in context, without the need to recreate this information again.

And here the marketing starts. Verdi writes:

PTC’s Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), digital twin and augmented reality (AR) investments, as well as the collaboration with Rockwell Automation in the factory automation arena, have definitely placed the company in a leading position in digital product realization, distribution and aftermarket services

With this marketing sentence, we are eager to learn why

“With AR, for example, we can improve the quality control of the engines,” added Volvo Group’s Bertrand Felix, during an on-stage interview by Jim Heppelmann. Heppelmann then went down to a Volvo truck with the engine lifted out of its compartment. Using a tablet, he was able to show how the software identified the individual engine, the parts that were included, and he could also pick up the 3D models of each component and at the same time check that everything was included and in the right place.

Impressive – is it real?

The point is that this is the whole chain for digital product realization–development and manufacturing–that the Volvo Group has chosen to focus on. Sub-components have been set up that will build the chain, much is still in the pilot stage, and a lot remains to be done. But there is a plan, and the steps forward are imminent.

OK, so it is a pilot, and a lot remains to be done – but there is a plan. I am curious about the details of that plan, as a little later, we learn from the CAD story:

The Pro/ENGINEER “inheritor” Creo (engine, chassis) is mainly used for CAD and creation of digital twins, but as previously noted, Dassault Systémes’ CATIA is also still used. Just as in many other large industrial organizations, Autodesk’s AutoCAD is also represented for simpler design solutions.

There goes the efficient digital dream. Design data coming from CATIA needs to be recreated in Creo for digital twin support. Data conversion or recreation is an expensive exercise and needs to be reliable and affordable as the value of the digital twin is gone once the data is incorrect.

In a digital enterprise, you do not want silos to work with their own formats, you want a digital thread based on (neutral) models that share metadata/parameters from design to service.

So I dropped the article and noticed Oleg had already commented faster than me in his post: Does PLM industry need a visionary pageant? Oleg refers also to CIMdata, as they confirmed in 2018 that the concept of a platform for product innovation (PIP), or the beyond PLM is far from reality in companies. Most of the time, a PLM-implementation is mainly a beyond PDM environment, not really delivering product data downstream.

I am wholly aligned with Oleg’s  technical conclusion:

What is my(Oleg’s) conclusion? PLM industry doesn’t need another round of visionary pageants. I’d call democratization, downstream usage and openness as biggest challenges and opportunities in PLM applications. Recent decades of platform development demonstrated the important role network platforms played in the development of global systems and services. PLM paradigm change from isolated vertical platforms to open network services required to bring PLM to the next level. Just my thoughts..

My comments to Oleg’s post:

(Jos) I fully agree we do not need more visionary PLM pageants. It is not about technology and therefore I have to disagree with your point about Aras. You call it democratization and openness of data a crucial point – and here I agree – be it that we probably disagree about how to reach this – through standards or through more technology. My main point to be made (this post ) is that we need visionary companies that implement and rethink their processes and are willing to invest resources in that effort. Most digital transformation projects related to PLM fail because the existing status quo/ middle management has no incentive to change. More thoughts to come

And this the central part of my argumentation – it is not about technology (only).

Organizational structures are blocking digital transformation

Since 2014 I have been following several larger manufacturing companies on their path from pushing products to the market in a linear mode towards a customer-driven, more agile, fast responding enterprise. As this is done by taking benefit of digital technologies, we call this process: digital transformation.

(image depicting GE’s digital thread)

What I have learned from these larger enterprises, and both Volvo Trucks and GE as examples, that there is a vision for an end result. For GE, it is the virtual twin of their engines monitored and improved by their Predix platform. For Volvo Trucks, we saw the vision in the quote from Verdi’s article before.

However, these companies are failing in creating a horizontal mindset inside their companies. Data can only be efficient used downstream if there is a willingness to work on collecting the relevant data upstream and delivering this information in an accessible format, preferably data-driven.

The Middle Management Dilemma

And this leads to my reference to middle management. Middle managers learn about the C-level vision and are pushed to make this vision happen. However, they are measured and driven to solve these demands, mainly within their own division or discipline. Yes, they might create goodwill for others, but when it comes to money spent or changing people responsibilities, the status quo will remain.

I wrote about this challenge in The Middle Management dilemma. Digital transformation, of course, is enabled by digital technologies, but it does not mean the technology is creating the transformation. The crucial fact lies in making companies more flexible in their operations, yet establishing better and new contacts with customers.

It is interesting to see that the future of businesses is looking into agile, multidisciplinary teams that can deliver incremental innovations to the company’s portfolio. Somehow going back to the startup culture inside a more significant enterprise. Having worked with several startups, you see the outcome-focus as a whole in the beginning – everyone contributes. Then when the size of the company grows, middle-management is introduced, and most likely silos are created as the middle management gets their own profit & loss targets.

Digital Transformation myths debunked

This week Helmut Romer (thanks Helmut) pointed me to the following HBR-article: Digital does not need to be disruptive where the following myths are debunked:

  1. Myth: Digital requires radical disruption of the value proposition.
    Reality: It usually means using digital tools to better serve the known customer need.
  2. Myth: Digital will replace physical
    Reality: It is a “both/and.”
  3. Myth: Digital involves buying start-ups.
    Reality: It involves protecting start-ups.
  4. Myth: Digital is about technology.
    Reality: It’s about the customer
  5. Myth: Digital requires overhauling legacy systems.
    Reality: It’s more often about incremental bridging.

If you want to understand these five debunked myths, take your time to read the full article, very much aligned with my argumentation, albeit it that my focus is more on the PLM domain.

Conclusions

Vendor sponsoring at Engineering.com has not improved the quality of their PLM articles and creates misleading messages. Especially as the sponsor is not mentioned, and the sponsor is selling technology – the vision gap is too big with reality to compete around a vision.

Transforming companies to take benefit of new technologies requires an end-to-end vision and mindset based on achievable, incremental learning steps. The way your middle management is managed and measured needs to be reworked as the focus is on horizontal flow and understanding of customer/market-oriented processes.