When I speak to clients about their business challenges, they often mention slow processes, untimely data and a lack of functional optimization that leads to potential losses in revenue. While there are multiple ways of solving these problems, the use of “digital twins” is gaining traction.
But, what are they and how do they work in practice?
A digital twin is a virtual duplicate of a physical object, process, or system, that can be used to predict how those elements will respond to different variables. In practice, digital twins can help organizations create more agile operations, mitigate future risks and remain competitive in an increasingly complex and unpredictable business environment.
Digital twin first-movers
What we are seeing right now is the blurring of physical and virtual worlds as many ideas and technologies coalesce to give us what Accenture’s 2022 Technology Vision report calls “virt-real.” Questions from business leaders are coming through in a flurry–What’s in it for my organization? How do I take advantage of new opportunities and sustain the core of my business in the process? How do I train my people to embrace these changes?
Our recent research described how digital twins can mirror end-to-end processes like supply chains–a function put to the test throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies can capture a 3-D scan of all the assets, develop digital versions of processes and turn them into digital objects through tokenization, non-fungible tokens (NFTs). These process-driven digital twins are proprietary, exist 24/7 in the digital world and can be changed anytime to model and pilot new approaches–all without disrupting the physical supply chain. For example, the fashion company, Gucci, created The Gucci Garden Experience to sell virtual products. It sold a virtual-only digital twin purse for a higher price than its physical counterpart!
Another area that has drawn global attention is climate change and the decarbonization of the planet. Developed cities are expending tremendous amounts of energy. To help reduce carbon emissions, Cityzenith has created the SmartWorldOS Digital Twin platform. This model of digital twin buildings, infrastructure and energy grids uses sensors in the physical world to create a metaverse where humans can track, monitor and simulate their energy consumption and identify ways to reduce it dramatically.
In fact, in almost every industry, the product development life cycle is undergoing transformative change as sustainability rises up the agenda. When coupled with digital twins that center on specific processes, systems or functions, digital threads, data streams that flow through the entire product life cycle, could prompt a massive step change.
Most companies are missing out on anywhere between 35% to 65% in value by not realizing the full potential of digital twin investments. Soon I believe, this will be an essential part of an enterprise’s digital strategy to stay resilient, relevant and agile.
From a supply chain perspective, nearly two-thirds of chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) believe that programming the physical environment will emerge as a competitive differentiation strategy. Yusuf Tayob, Group Chief Executive of Operations at Accenture, was recently interviewed by Supply Chain Management Review. He stated that for consumers and business, “it’s a new conversation. I liken it to the cloud. Five years ago, people thought of the cloud as new, but Accenture was doing Software-as-a-Service a decade ago.” He added: “We see this as having a profound effect on our clients across a number of industries and equally affecting the B2B and B2C spaces.”
Re-imagining operations with digital twins
From an operations perspective, digital twins do three things:
- Mirror the exact appearance of the main object
- Behave in an identical fashion
- Process and analyze information, helping leaders to
But the accuracy of models relies on three elements–quality and quantity of data, enabling technologies and business applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP). Setting the right operations foundations in place is vital for using digital twins to their full advantage and enhancing business performance. Our most recent business operations study showed that organizations that improve their data capabilities, see the biggest impact in improving their operations maturity. Those with the most advanced level of operations maturity–those that are future-ready–are almost three times as profitable and twice as efficient as their counterparts.
So, how can executives get smarter with data for digital twins?
Data has multiple sources–whether internal or external. Like any other intelligent system, high-quality data is the lifeblood of the twin models of the process flows. Data-led insights can act as a precursor for solving multiple what-if conditions, including the identification of process deviations. Rejections and error detections are also greatly beneficial and when combined, can bring about higher transparency and generate business value. These models are complex and organizations need to use their partners to continually build on existing capabilities.
Three key takeaways to consider
In my view, here are three key factors business leaders should be actively thinking about to embed digital twins into their organizations:
- Is your business prepared for the mirrored world? Have you invested in improving data, enabling technologies such as a robust data foundation, AI, and cloud, as well as talent capabilities? To get this right, leaders need highly skilled talent with a deep level of understanding of these technologies and industry expertise. The digital twins approach is not a single solution that can be bought off the shelf. It needs a combination of multiple technologies and the right people to make an impact.
- Are you scaling innovation? Does your organization have the cultural mindset to reimagine the way processes could run with digital twins? Make a list of all the use cases your organization can support and prioritize those with the potential for the highest returns.
- Have you taken a deep-dive into the ecosystem? The technology market is fragmented and every player has its niche capabilities that can be tapped into through alliances and partnerships to build a competitive advantage.
How will this take shape in your organization? I believe it’s time to explore the possibilities.
Contributor: Vikas Kaul, Technology Strategy Lead, Accenture Operations