The Unbroken Digital Thread
– Enabled by Modular Architecture
By Johan Källgren – PALMA Software
In today’s hyper competitive world, with customers that continuously getting more educated about what they need and want, forces companies to offer an increasingly complex assortment of products and services. However, this diversity can be hard to grasp for customers who wants better and less expensive products. Consequently, to stay competitive companies must continuously improve execution in all areas, for example, Sales, Operations, Engineering and Product Planning. This requires among other things correct master data that is easily accessible along the value chain.
Many companies are still, however, trapped in siloed data or organizational boundaries as fig 1 is illustrating.
Fig 1: Document driven company, with manual information exchange across company functions
The information management symptoms of a disconnected company are;
- Lack of trust in data from other parts of the company
- Hard to find relevant data needed for a specific task
- Many versions of the same master data
- Difficult to communicate data to downstream systems.
This situation impedes the execution of business processes like:
- Product Development
Consequently, the company stands the risk of losing competitiveness with declining performance as a result.
The response to this challenging situation is to CONNECT the company. This is illustrated in Fig 2.
Fig 2: Data driven, connected, company with seamless exchange of information
Another popular term for describing the CONNECTED company is “the unbroken digital thread”. The term is not new but has been widely used the last years. For example, Gartner published a research paper “Innovation Insight for the Digital Thread” in 2021, describing the advantages of having an unbroken digital thread supporting the product development process by reaping efficiencies through networks that tie together all the data gathered throughout the product development process.
The “the unbroken digital thread” concept can be applied to all business processes and functions, making it possible to present data in a comprehensive view of an organization’s complete value chain.
In fig 2, the unbroken digital threads are illustrated as white line connecting the different company functions together.
However, establishing these unbroken digital threads is not trivial. First you have a technical problem in physically connecting different IT Enterprise systems together, second, you have to agree in a data format that all systems are understanding. The technical connection is today solved with robust and intelligent connection protocols called “Applied Programming Interface” (API) which are well known. The other problem, to have the systems understanding each other is more challenging. However, this paper presents a solution to this as well.
By organizing product and/or service structures in Modular Product Archtecutres, a well-defined information model is achieved where the modules become the information carrying item that is used across company functions and along business processes. By organizing the modules in a logical structure, applicable in its native format to any type of “Bill-of-Material” (BoM) structure information, a comprehensive information model is achieved that then can be enriched with any process specific data.
In fig 3, this is illustrated as the grey dotted lined centerpiece, connected the different Enterprise IT systems together.
Fig 3: Product Architecture Information model enables the unbroken digital thread
Modular Product Architecture
One of the most efficient ways of enabling a Digital Transformation towards the unbroken digital thread is to start with the heart of any company, its products.
Developing and implementing a Modular Product Architecture is in its nature a cross-functional entity that incorporates commercial, technical, and operational data and hence lends itself very well as a backbone for a generic information model.
Below is a zoomed in example of what a Modular Product Architecture Information model can look like.
Fig 4: Product Architecture Information model
A successful unbroken digital thread connects people, processes, and a company’s information management systems. By using the same information model, built from the principles of a modular architecture, the different data threads can be stitched together, enabling a smooth flow of operations. Hence, an unbroken digital thread creates value way beyond simply making the IT enterprise systems working better together.