Keeping it Real - stay ahead with a Digital Twin

The shortfalls of representation

Picasso’s art represents people and objects but you wouldn’t say his works are twins of the real thing.  A Digital Twin replicates the real world - it is a copy. It is unlikely that Software claiming to represent the real world is a Digital Twin. It will be a conceptual representation.

A digital product that is not a replica of a real world artifact or operation has two shortfalls – firstly, there will be some real-world element that doesn’t have a corresponding component in its digital version, or vice versa, and secondly, it degrades the ability to create an accurate digital definition, thereby creating downstream problems.

The missing dimension

Historically, people who build tools to create digital definitions of the real world have come from an IT background. They bring with them the program flowcharting constructs used to define software. Unfortunately, these constructs are two dimensional and do not cater for the complexities of a three-dimensional real world.

A good example of this is the swimlane. No one in an office or factory could show you a swimlane, yet they exist in the definitions created by process mapping tools. They were created because the original flowchart lacked the concept of a person or location being associated with an activity, and rather than add an extra dimension of people/location the awkward swimlane construct was added.

A simple process structure

However, the most damaging aspect of process mapping methodology is its failure to cater for how business is structured in a real world context. Business comprises two types of process - transactions that are responsible for creating the value for which the business exists, and actions whose activities support the business but add no value. We need to focus on transactions, especially defining them end-to-end so that the CEO and executive team have a clear picture of how the business operates.

In the real world we are talking about defining the workflow - how a transaction passes from person to person (or robot) in going from start to finish, such as from quote to cash. It gives the C-suite a picture of their business without needing the much larger volume of detailed tasks that accompany every stage of the workflow.

In this situation a trading entity - the point at which profit and loss are determined - has just two levels of information to deal with. They are real world features with which we can digitally engage - a critical element of a Digital Twin.

The demise of process levels

In the unreal world of process mapping the lack of this two-tier capability means that processes are defined as a series of tasks, which makes mapping a process from end-to-end unwieldy. The result: transactions are broken into a set of artificial levels, successive layers of sub-process - a construct that has no resonance with the people working in them.

Having people needing to relate their working environment to digital components that don’t reflect how they work is a recipe for things getting lost in translation. Any friction in the definition process tends to leave critical information such as exceptions and workarounds out of the picture. What this means is that any attempt to automate the process will fall foul of incorrect and missing details and this will eventually kill the automation.

To avoid automation failure make sure your Digital Twin software replicates the real world and is not a conceptual representation.