Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been looking at how organizations and supply chains have responded to dramatically new market conditions and shifts in supply and demand. One promising sign that bodes well for the future is a renewed appreciation of the importance of maintaining digital continuity.
Increasingly, our supply chains are digital – the assets that make up the supply chain, the communications channels we use to manage it, even the products we ultimately produce and sell to our customers. Tracking and managing all of this “digital” requires new capabilities.
Here’s a quick look at what’s needed.
Capture a single source of truth
For all intents and purposes, digital means data. With different teams working together across the supply chain to deliver digital goods in a digital way to customers who are digital natives, organizations need to operate based on a common source of truth.
What’s needed is a single source of trusted data on which teams can make quick and informed business decisions. This requires capabilities to quickly build data pipelines that connect departmental silos (e.g. in the S&OP process), and with supply chain partners outside of the organization.
Collaboration is key
A single source of truth enables fast and effective collaboration. With it, you can avoid the vagaries of spreadsheets. No more competing sets of data telling competing stories – which means when you collaborate with colleagues and partners, you can get to work faster.
As far as collaboration tools themselves go, in the past few (work from home) months we’ve all become experts at managing meetings on Zoom and other platforms. That’s a good thing. But there are other collaboration tools that are much more powerful – particularly in a B2B context.
Business networks for example can help organizations quickly build relationships with new partners as circumstances change. Such networks are designed for discovering new partners, managing transactions, collaborating on ideas and sharing data as needed. They’re also cloud-based – which supports the flexibility organizations need to move forward quickly.
Integrate with core business systems
To support a single source of truth that drives more effective collaboration, most organizations will benefit from integrating core business applications. Data feeds to core systems for ERP, for instance, not only streamlines operations but increases visibility in a way that improves business performance and helps ensure compliance.
Create a Digital Twin
Trusted data that tells a consistent story, tools that drive collaboration, and integration with core business systems go a long way toward maintaining digital continuity across business processes and operations. But there’s another technology that builds on this foundation to take you even further: digital twin.
A digital twin is digital replica of a physical asset (or a product). With built-in IoT sensors, the asset can report back to “mission control” regarding asset state, health, usage, performance, and more. Now your digital supply chain team can track these KPIs in real-time. That’s digital continuity.
You can also expose any streaming IoT data to machine learning algorithms to detect patterns and reveal insights that can help improve performance and optimize maintenance. And to further improve asset design, you can use the digital twin to simulate how a modified asset would respond under real-world conditions. This helps to drive continuous improvement and innovation.
Drive smooth operations across the lifecycle from design to operate
For manufacturers, all of this comes together in the context of the design to operate (D2O) lifecycle. The phases of this lifecycle include design, manufacturing, logistics/delivery, and operations – all wrapped up in planning activities that are ongoing across phases.
Trusted data that represents a single version of truth helps facilitate information sharing across these phases. Using powerful collaboration tools, teams can send data from, say, the operations phase to help improve asset design. Or maybe the logistics phase has particular requirements that might impact manufacturing processes.
Think, for example, of the logistics challenge around shipping COVID-19 vaccines at extremely cold temperatures. To pull this feat off without a hitch, all phases of the D2O lifecycle need to be in constant communication and firing on all cylinders. Maintaining digital continuity across these phases helps organizations to maintain purpose-fit manufacturing processes, track cold storage containers in real time, and ensure that workable vaccines reach their destination as required. This, in short, is what digital continuity is all about.