How a Digital Twin Works for Business

Digital Twin technology addresses an issue that has always plagued business software and that is now critical to securing the productivity bonanza to be had from the Internet of Things (IoT). It also lays the foundation for successfully executing any organizational change.  AptumX's Chief Technology Advisor, John Blackham, explains...

Why employ a Digital Twin?

Fitting systems to the business

Having spent a lifetime at the interface between software and business, a consistent theme has been the difficulty associated with introducing new software systems to an organization. Like a blind tailor making a suit for a blind customer, getting a good fit is an achievement.

As with optically challenged tailoring, flawed communication is the issue. Software people rarely have a good understanding of a business they engage with compared to the people who have been there for years. Equally, people in business have little understanding of the constructs or constraints of software.

The successes I witnessed stemmed from the person(s) on the software side having scars of understanding that come from close contact with the client’s industry, or from clients who insist on a jointly agreed definition of how their systems operate today and what they will look like with the new software in place.

Reasons why the fit is poor

Since implementation heroes are few and far between, success has generally hinged on the quality of the before and after system descriptions - successful examples of which are also few and far between due to a couple of factors:

  1. It is common to skimp on analysing what happens today, devoting far more attention to the desired future state – the destination. With the starting point inaccurately recorded, typically missing exceptions and workarounds, the result, like its real-world equivalent, is a chaotic journey. The question, ‘How do I get to Paris?’ should evoke, ‘Where are you starting from?’ A no-brainer in the real world but not so in the world of business change.
  2. The tools used to communicate the nature of the current and future systems are a poor fit for the job. They are designed by software people for their own use in understanding the systems they build rather than clearly conveying what happens in real life.
A new approach to understanding business

Today, thanks largely to NASA and their need for ultimate interactivity with spacecraft and crew, we have a solution, the Digital Twin Model - a digital replica of the real world. Being a model means that every detail in the real world has a corresponding digital component with which it can interactively communicate.

The main point about a Digital Twin is that it’s a software construct that business people can understand. It allows business people to define their own systems, eliminating the problems of the communication gap with IT. And it provides a level of quality in defining business that enables the successful automation of business activity, and its associated productivity gains.

The end of ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’

A Digital Twin Model, unlike other business definition software, is designed to be continually updated. It replaces the need to redefine business every time a major change is mooted. No more ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ process maps, the Digital Twin model reflects ‘now’, always current, with which changes can be modeled before they become the new ‘now’.

Defining systems with a Digital Twin model


Digital Twin provides an end-to-end view

The Digital Twin model breaks down business into a set of discrete real-world components - defining its organizational structure, activities and associated resources - items that business people can configure to represent their real-world business environment.

The primary concern for any organization is the transactions by which they conduct business – generating and satisfying demand, sourcing and supplying resources, and creating value in the form of products or services, plus the actions that support their planning, development and maintenance.

A Digital Twin model presents these transactions in high level end-to-end form that enables executives to understand what is happening in their organization at an operational level and thereby factor this knowledge into their strategic planning. Most if not all process planning tools, such as Microsoft Visio, define business as if they are defining software development, by individual functions – a level that is too detailed to be useful in executive planning.

With the type of decisions that executive management faces in adopting automation - the IoT, AI and other new technologies - understanding how their organization works is critical.

First, understand the flow of work

In a Digital Twin Model, transactions are initially defined by workflow – the passage of work from one person (or machine) to another. At each stage of the workflow - a desk or machine – the person(s) or robot involved is identified from the pool of available resource roles and the activities they are to perform selected from a library of predefined tasks that hold all the information necessary to complete the activity.

It is at the task level that work is undertaken (by a person or robot) so it is at this level that integration to external devices or enterprise system software (such as SAP) is defined.

Connecting to the real world

Because the Digital Twin reflects a real-world environment the model can include real-world images or plans on which to overlay visual depictions of transactional processes. And being a model, its structure enables data analysis such as Lean process improvement.

But the key feature of a Digital Twin is being able to connect with the real world in real time. For business this means automating the flow of work and providing people (or robots) with the tasks they need to undertake within a flow.

When a transaction or any other process has been automated the Digital Twin connects the roles in the model to real people, feeding them work to be done, monitoring progress, and ensuring that critical transactions keep moving, intervening if necessary.

The Digital Twin model sits like a spider at the centre of a web of activity being undertaken within an organization, providing a dashboard of progress and tracking the performance of those involved. It includes data unobtainable via other means. For example, since all work within the organization is either being worked on or awaiting action at a specific stage in a transaction the model can accumulate cost and value and provide a real-time gross margin.

Turn on a dime: real-time, validated change

However, the unrivaled benefit of a Digital Twin is its responsiveness to change. The nature of a model is that when its content is altered it immediately validates or rejects the change. This means that Digital Twin systems can be changed and put into production immediately - altered in a matter of hours versus a response time measured in months for other systems, whose technology requires any changes to undergo extensive testing and debugging.