Dissolving silos with a digital thread

For decades, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) held the promise of managing

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Aras' Mark Reisig

product data from conception to end-of-life. Today, in the midst of a digital revolution, manufacturers are striving to harness product data across the lifecycle by pursuing the digital thread—the connection between a physical asset and all the digital information generated across its lifecycle.

Related to this is the digital twin—the set of digital information that represents a physical asset’s exact configuration. The ability to provide contextual product data for digital twins holds the promise of improving product-innovation success rates and organizational-productivity gains by 25%.

Unfortunately, despite many digital-transformation efforts in recent years, companies are still overwhelmed by countless data silos and disconnected information. These disconnects, and the resulting lack of visibility and collaboration across the enterprise, lead to a multitude of business inefficiencies. 

The reliance on proprietary PLM systems has forced organizations to choose between unsustainable customizations or sub-optimizing their processes to fit out-of-the-box software. Both choices result in a form of vendor lock-in, due to the lack of open APIs and inflexible architecture, and create yet another closed technology stack in the IT architecture.

Compounding this, traditional PLM systems are a compilation of technologies accumulated through acquisition, and integrated with other legacy systems from bygone eras, which weigh down already lethargic infrastructures and increase organizations’ technical debt.

Most silos were created to fulfill a legitimate business need within a specific domain. However, due to a narrow focus and outdated architecture, they eventually limit cross-functional collaboration and evolve into secret productivity killers that limit an organization’s visibility.

Businesses divide their organizations vertically to streamline execution within functional areas, yet the efficiencies gained often come at the cost of impeding a seamless flow of product data across these organizational barriers.

The key to overcoming silos and gaining a competitive data-driven advantage is optimizing the flow of product data across value streams horizontally through systems, domains and departments, to and from your physical assets, to create value. These are the keys to enable the digital thread and eliminate data silos.

Look for solutions that are:

End-to-end—A PLM solution must truly span the entire product lifecycle, not just engineering.

Open—All systems (but especially a PLM platform) must be accessible via open, published APIs. You can no longer afford to lock yourself into a vendor’s proprietary solution.

Flexible—Only deploy systems that are open, with flexible and dynamic data models.Technology, data, connectivity and artificial intelligence will continue to accelerate at exponential (and soon double-exponential) rates, which will drive profound changes in business operation. Open and flexible architectures are already causing domains to be supplanted by technology. If you want to see silos dissolve, build fluid digital threads and digital twins on flexible architectures and data schemas.

Upgradeable—The ability to continuously customize and upgrade is critical to staying current with new technologies and providing the flexibility to connect to one system one day, and another the next, thus providing a fluid digital thread that is responsive to the business.

Connected to the right data—To eliminate silos, you first have to liberate your data so it’s available to anyone in the organization at the level of granularity required. You achieve this democratization of data by leveraging common data standards for the right data—the master data. By governing the data flow across the digital thread, you break down the silos and gain invaluable fact-based insights.

Built with cross-functional teams—The demands of digital business are motivating some forward-thinking organizations to transition to cross-functional teams that—along with open, flexible, platform-based PLM technology—are dissolving silos.

The organizations that will reap the most benefits are those that envision a journey of continuous change based on open, flexible and upgradable technology. To accomplish this, they must learn to keep critical applications operational while replacing them with open and flexible technology that seamlessly flows their product data across their increasingly cross-functional enterprise.

Mark Reisig is product marketing manager at Aras.