All change begins with the ability to measure. For millennia, humans relied on our five senses to gauge the world around us in order to survive and thrive.
As civilization advanced, however, we started to use technology to expand those natural capabilities. We began building tools to measure time – first sundials and then sophisticated ones like the sky disc of Nebra and the Antikythera mechanism. Early maps on the walls of the Lascaux caves charted the night sky while the ancient Greek Anaximander drew the first map of the world. Beginning with telescopes and microscopes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and continuing today with the CERN particle collider, we’ve developed increasingly advanced tools to examine aspects of the universe beyond human perception.
Today, thanks to the explosion of low-cost sensors and high-powered processing and analytics capabilities, we are on the cusp of the next wave of magnifying our natural ability to assess the world around us and stretching the limits of human perception – if we can open our minds enough to let them.
The tiny engines driving the digital revolution
Sensors come in a variety of form factors and with wide-ranging functions: wearables like fitness and health trackers, infrared imaging and night vision sensors, motions sensors such as gyroscopes, chemical and biological sensors, accelerometers and torque sensors, light sensors, gestural sensors. Increasingly, we’re seeing combination sensors that are capable of gathering multiple types of data from the world.
Experts predict that the universe of sensors will grow exponentially in the near future, up to 100 trillion sensors by 2030, depending upon whichestimateyoubelieve. These tiny bits of technology are driving everything from robotics to self-diagnosing appliances.
A number of advancements are colluding to make these increasingly ubiquitous sensors both cheaper and more capable every day. Image, speech, and voice recognition will advance to near 100% accuracy by 2025, according to the latest published research. Today, a passive RFID tag costs between seven and 15 cents to produce. While active tags are more expensive, the cost of these is also rapidly dropping. Emerging 3D printers will enable lower cost production of sensors (and nano-sensors) to embed in day-to-day items like glasses or apparel. These sensors will quickly make their way as standard issue into many places, including the 111 million new cars and the 2 billion smartphones that will be purchased in 2020. If you have one of the latest smartphones, you already have several sensors on board, including a magnetometer, barometer, thermometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, accelerometer, and light sensor. Indeed, many future sensors will be practically invisible to us.
Perhaps more importantly, the analytics capabilities required to make sense of the staggering amounts of new sensor data – we could be talking brontobytes, or 1,000,000,000,000 petabytes – are also rapidly advancing. The speed of analytics will intensify thirty-fold by 2030, with 95% of queries answered in mere milliseconds, according to SAP estimates. That will be critical in transforming this truly big data into smaller, digestible bites of information. The question is whether or not we can cope with it. As Professor Dr. Yvonne Förster of Luephana University in Luneburg, Germany, points out, our devices already process and deliver information much faster than our human perception can track. As most of these technology-induced rhythms run outside our awareness, it will be interesting to see how we adapt to it.
Widening the doors of perception
Our innate biological senses and nervous systems are truly amazing. The human eye contains 2 x 108 sensors, the ear 3 x 104, and the nose 3 x 107. But with an expanding network of increasingly sophisticated and embedded sensors we’ll be able to expand our perception far beyond our human capabilities. Ultimately, we’ll be able to create an intelligent matrix of sensors and analytic tools to measure, detect, and analyze more data from the world around us. Looking beyond 2025, we will advance beyond data analysis as a distinct activity to more directly experiencing data as an additional aspect of life around us. We will experience the world in much finer detail using virtual reality and other technologies that tap into our biological senses at their roots.
Ultrasound, infrared, low frequency, and position sensors will increase our vision and hearing. Chemical sensors will amplify our ability to smell and taste. Mechanosensors will intensify what we can feel. Medical and biological sensors will monitor the health and status of humans, animals, and plants. And the mix of all the above sensors will be used to monitor a wide spectrum of parameters that are critical to the operation of machines, building, and living things.
Finally, there will be sensors that help us scan our environment for more precise navigation, logistics, weather prediction, agricultural planning, and pollution management. Sensors to watch for here include voice, facial recognition, chemical, biological, and 3D imaging sensors. Occipital Inc.’s 3D sensor provides a spatial view of the environment to be used in virtual and augmented reality and 3D scanning and printing.
We’ll certainly develop algorithms and analytics necessary to process sensor data in an increasingly automated and real-time fashion. But will our minds be able to grasp it all?
An approach that keeps the human at the center might prove helpful as we adapt to the new world of high-powered sensors. According to Professor Förster, we tend to consider technology as an enhancement of our biological nature and believe we can choose which types of technology we allow into our system. But when devices and sensors are ubiquitous, technology becomes like the air we breathe, rather than being a separate part of life, explains Förster. Thus the function of sensors should be to introduce new data streams that are compatible with our existing biological and value systems.
Getting under our skin
Researchers are already developing sensor technologies that are far more embedded than in the past. And they won’t just go into “things” like smart tennis rackets or ceiling fans. Nano-engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a temporary tattoo that could enable non-invasive glucose testing. The FDA has accepted an application for the first digital drug-device that combines a pill for mental illness embedded with an ingestible sensor to track data on patients. MIT scientists have introduced a “Band-Aid of the future” that incorporates temperature sensors, and tiny, drug-delivering reservoirs.
In the future we will see more sensors embedded in humans, animals, plants, and all kinds of everyday items. But how much data do we actually need – and how much can we digest? Much of this data will exist in the background where algorithms will separate the insight from the noise, while new types of sensors will allow us to interact directly with our environment.
Company leaders should consider how they could benefit by combining existing data with the new sensor data that will soon be available. They should monitor the development of sensor technology with an emphasis on where sensor technology threatens to either bypass or optimize traditional business processes, and where new sensor capabilities widen the scope of what we can measure today. And they should keep an eye outside of their own domains for sensor advances that could transform their own businesses in different ways.
There’s no doubt that our five senses will soon be supplemented by these man-made sensors numbering in the billions and capable of measuring anything that we deem to be worthwhile. But deriving business value from them will require us to open our minds to the new possibilities.
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About Kai Goerlich
Kai Goerlich is the Idea Director of Thought Leadership at SAP. His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.
Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.
The business world is now firmly in the age of data. Not that data wasn’t relevant before; it was just nowhere close to the speed and volume that’s available to us today. Businesses are buckling under the deluge of petabytes, exabytes, and zettabytes. Within these bytes lie valuable information on customer behavior, key business insights, and revenue generation. However, all that data is practically useless for businesses without the ability to identify the right data. Plus, if they don’t have the talent and resources to capture the right data, organize it, dissect it, draw actionable insights from it and, finally, deliver those insights in a meaningful way, their data initiatives will fail.
Rise of the CDO
Companies of all sizes can easily find themselves drowning in data generated from websites, landing pages, social streams, emails, text messages, and many other sources. Additionally, there is data in their own repositories. With so much data at their disposal, companies are under mounting pressure to utilize it to generate insights. These insights are critical because they can (and should) drive the overall business strategy and help companies make better business decisions. To leverage the power of data analytics, businesses need more “top-management muscle” specialized in the field of data science. This specialized field has lead to the creation of roles like Chief Data Officer (CDO).
In addition, with more companies undertaking digital transformations, there’s greater impetus for the C-suite to make data-driven decisions. The CDO helps make data-driven decisions and also develops a digital business strategy around those decisions. As data grows at an unstoppable rate, becoming an inseparable part of key business functions, we will see the CDO act as a bridge between other C-suite execs.
Data skills – an emerging business necessity
So far, only large enterprises with bigger data mining and management needs maintain in-house solutions. These in-house teams and technologies handle the growing sets of diverse and dispersed data. Others work with third-party service providers to develop and execute their big data strategies.
As the amount of data grows, the need to mine it for insights becomes a key business requirement. For both large and small businesses, data-centric roles will experience endless upward mobility. These roles include data anlysts and scientists. There is going to be a huge opportunity for critical thinkers to turn their analytical skills into rapidly growing roles in the field of data science. In fact, data skills are now a prized qualification for titles like IT project managers and computer systems analysts.
Forbes cited the McKinsey Global Institute’s prediction that by 2018 there could be a massive shortage of data-skilled professionals. This indicates a disruption at the demand-supply level with the needs for data skills at an all-time high. With an increasing number of companies adopting big data strategies, salaries for data jobs are going through the roof. This is turning the position into a highly coveted one.
According to Harvard Professor Gary King, “There is a big data revolution. The big data revolution is that now we can do something with the data.” The big problem is that most enterprises don’t know what to do with data. Data professionals are helping businesses figure that out. So if you’re casting about for where to apply your skills and want to take advantage of one of the best career paths in the job market today, focus on data science.
The Digitalist Magazine is your online destination for everything you need to know to lead your enterprise’s digital transformation.
Read the Digitalist Magazine and get the latest insights about the digital economy that you can capitalize on today.
About Daniel Newman
Daniel Newman serves as the Co-Founder and CEO of EC3, a quickly growing hosted IT and Communication service provider. Prior to this role Daniel has held several prominent leadership roles including serving as CEO of United Visual. Parent company to United Visual Systems, United Visual Productions, and United GlobalComm; a family of companies focused on Visual Communications and Audio Visual Technologies.
Daniel is also widely published and active in the Social Media Community. He is the Author of Amazon Best Selling Business Book "The Millennial CEO." Daniel also Co-Founded the Global online Community 12 Most and was recognized by the Huffington Post as one of the 100 Business and Leadership Accounts to Follow on Twitter.
Newman is an Adjunct Professor of Management at North Central College. He attained his undergraduate degree in Marketing at Northern Illinois University and an Executive MBA from North Central College in Naperville, IL. Newman currently resides in Aurora, Illinois with his wife (Lisa) and his two daughters (Hailey 9, Avery 5).
A Chicago native all of his life, Newman is an avid golfer, a fitness fan, and a classically trained pianist
Self-service BI and data discovery will drive the number of users using the BI solutions to rapidly expand. Yet all of these more casual users will not be well versed in BI and visualization best practices.
When your user base rapidly expands to more casual users, you need to help educate them on what is important. For example, one IT manager told me that his casual BI users were making visualizations with very difficult-to-read charts and customizing color palettes to incredible degrees.
I had a similar experience when I was a technical writer. One of our lead writers was so concerned with readability of every sentence that he was going through the 300+ page manuals (yes, they were printed then) and manually adjusting all of the line breaks and page breaks. (!) Yes, readability was incrementally improved. But now any number of changes–technical capabilities, edits, inserting larger graphics—required re-adjusting all of those manual “optimizations.” The time it took just to do the additional optimization was incredible, much less the maintenance of these optimizations! Meanwhile, the technical writing team was falling behind on new deliverables.
The same scenario applies to your new casual BI users. This new group needs guidance to help them focus on the highest value practices:
Customization of color and appearance of visualizations: When is this customization necessary for a management deliverable, versus indulging an OCD tendency? I too have to stop myself from obsessing about the font, line spacing, and that a certain blue is just a bit different than another shade of blue. Yes, these options do matter. But help these casual users determine when that time is well spent.
Proper visualizations: When is a spinning 3D pie chart necessary to grab someone’s attention? BI professionals would firmly say “NEVER!” But these casual users do not have a lot of depth on BI best practices. Give them a few simple guidelines as to when “flash” needs to subsume understanding. Consider offering a monthly one-hour Lunch and Learn that shows them how to create impactful, polished visuals. Understanding if their visualizations are going to be viewed casually on the way to a meeting, or dissected at a laptop, also helps determine how much time to spend optimizing a visualization. No, you can’t just mandate that they all read Tufte.
Predictive: Provide advanced analytics capabilities like forecasting and regression directly in their casual BI tools. Using these capabilities will really help them wow their audience with substance instead of flash.
Feature requests: Make sure you understand the motivation and business value behind some of the casual users’ requests. These casual users are less likely to understand the implications of supporting specific requests across an enterprise, so make sure you are collaborating on use cases and priorities for substantive requests.
By working with your casual BI users on the above points, you will be able to collectively understand when the absolute exact request is critical (and supports good visualization practices), and when it is an “optimization” that may impact productivity. In many cases, “good” is good enough for the fast turnaround of data discovery.
Next week, I’ll wrap this series up with hints on getting your casual users to embrace the “we” not “me” mentality.
The lines between the digital and physical customer experience today are largely artificial. Customers shop in retail stores with their devices at the ready. They expect online-like personalization and recommendations in the aisles. They’re looking for instant gratification and better sensory experiences from digital channels. It’s an omnichannel world and companies must figure out how to live in it: delivering a superior customer experience regardless of the entry point.
Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, for example, opened its first three retail stores with the intent of taking customers’ best online experiences and bringing them to life. “In the past, you had this brick-and-mortar experience, and you had the online experience,” says company president Uri Minkoff. “There were such great advantages and efficiencies that emerged with shopping online. You could get recommendations, see how something should be styled, create wish lists, access user-generated content. In the store, it was still just you and the product, and maybe a sales associate. But [unlike online] you had all five of your senses.”
Rebecca Minkoff’s new stores still stimulate those senses while incorporating some of the intelligence that online channels typically bring to bear. Each store features a large interactive screen at the entrance, where customers can browse products or order a beverage. Shoppers can interact with salespeople or they can make purchases on a mobile app without ever talking to a soul. Inside a fitting room, RFID-tagged merchandise is displayed on an interactive mirror, where customers can request new sizes or the designer’s recommended coordinates (a real-life recommendation engine).
The company has found that 30% of women ask for additional items based on the recommendations. It has also sold three times more of its new ready-to-wear line than it anticipated. “We were an accessories-dominant brand,” says Minkoff. “But we’ve been able to build this direct relationship with our customers, helping them with outfit completers and also getting a better sense of what they want based on what’s actually happening in our fitting rooms.”
Each piece of technology adds to the experience while capturing the details. Rebecca Minkoff’s integrated systems can remember a customer’s previous visits and preferred colors and sizes, and can enable associates to set up a fitting room with appropriate garments. On the back end, the company gets the kind of visibility into in-store conversions once possible only in digital transactions. “The technology gives us the ability to create the kind of experience each customer wants. She can shop anonymously or be treated like a VIP,” says Minkoff.
Build Around a Big Idea
Rebecca Minkoff’s approach is a bellwether. It’s not enough simply to provide continuity or consistency from one channel to another. Customers don’t think in terms of channels, and neither should companies. Rather, it’s about defining the overarching experience you want to deliver to customers and then building the appropriate offline and online elements to achieve that intended outcome.
As more goods and even services are commoditized, companies must compete on the experiences they create (see The ROI of Customer Experience). That means coming up with a big idea that drives the design of the customer experience. “Every great experience needs to have a theme,” says Joe Pine, consultant and coauthor of The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier. “That’s the organizing principle of the experience. It’s how you decide what’s in and what’s out.”
For example, Rebecca Minkoff serves as an image consultant to its Millennial customers, who expect personalization, recognition, and tech innovation, using a mix of online and offline techniques. To stand apart, companies must come up with their own unifying idea and then integrate data and systems, rework organizational models, and rethink key strategic metrics and employee incentives in order to integrate the physical and digital worlds around that idea.
Here are some examples of companies that have created a theme-driven experience using online and offline elements.
Nespresso: Imparting a Sense of Luxury
At the most basic level, Nespresso is a manufacturer of coffee and coffee machines. But the company has successfully turned what it sells and how it sells it into a very specific type of experience. Nespresso strives to impart a feeling of quality, exclusivity, even luxury in a host of ways.
The company has created the Nespresso Club, which maintains direct relationships with thousands of customers. Its customer service centers are staffed by 1,000 highly trained coffee experts who don’t just push products but offer advice and guidance as a sommelier might do with wine. Its 450 retail stores (up from just one Parisian in 2000) are called boutiques; the largely inventory-free showrooms are built around tasting and learning.
Online, the focus is on efficiency and service. Customers who prefer digital interactions can order through the web site or mobile app, which offers the option of courier delivery within a two-hour window. The company also recently introduced a Bluetooth-enabled coffee machine, which when paired with a smartphone app, can track a customer’s usage, simplify machine maintenance, and as Wired pointed out, enable remote brewing.
Success didn’t happen overnight, but today Nespresso is one of Nestlé’s fastest growing and most profitable brands, according to Bloomberg.
QVC: Using Online to Complement the Experience
The theme that has driven television-shopping giant QVC’s customer experience for decades has been “inspiration and entertainment.” Traditionally that was delivered through the joy of spontaneous discovery while watching the channel.
Matching that experience online has been difficult, however. At a digital retail conference in 2015, QVC’s CEO explained that in the past the company had failed to deliver the same rich interactions online that it had developed with its TV audiences, according to Total Retail. So the company decided to rethink its use of digital tools to focus on complementing the experience it delivers through TV screens, according to RetailWire.
For example, after enticing TV viewers with products, QVC introduces the next step in the buying journey—“impulse to buy”—in which viewers are spurred on with televised countdown clocks or limited merchandise availability. Online, the company has been experimenting with second-screen content (for instance, recipes that compliment a cooking product being sold on TV) to further propel purchases. The QVC app features the same item that is on-air along with a prompt that reveals all the items featured on TV in recent hours. On Apple devices equipped with Touch ID, customers can check out in less than 10 seconds with the fingerprint-enabled “speed buy” button. The third phase—“purchase and receive”—is complemented by a simple and reliable online browsing and purchasing platform. The last stage—“own and enjoy”—is accompanied by follow-on e-mail communication with tips on how to use products.
Last year, the company reported that 44% of total QVC sales came from online channels (up from 40% in 2014), and nearly half of those were completed on a mobile device. In fact, QVC is currently the tenth largest mobile commerce retailer in the United States, according to Internet Retailer.
Domino’s: Focusing on Speed and Convenience
Domino’s Pizza built a fast-food empire not necessarily on the quality of its pies but instead on the experience of getting hot food delivered quickly. What started out as a promise to deliver a pizza within 30 minutes to customers who phoned in their order is now a themed experience of efficient food delivery that can be fulfilled a number of ways. Domino’s AnyWare project enables customers to order pizzas from their TV, their Twitter account, their smartwatch, or their connected car, for starters. The Domino’s app features zero-click ordering functionality: Domino’s will start fulfilling the usual order for customers who opt in 10 seconds after opening the app.
Domino’s Australian stores are piloting GPS tracking whereby employees begin working on an order only when the customer enters the “cook zone”—a dynamically updated area around a given store that results in the customer arriving to a just-prepared order. The tool builds upon previously developed GPS-based technology for tracking delivery drivers, according to ZDNet. And the company that came up with the corrugated pizza box and the Heatwave Bag to keep pies warm is now building the DXP—a delivery car with a built-in warming oven. All in the name of the fast- and hot-food delivery experience.
Mohawk Industries: Using Social to Streamline Customer Interactions
Mohawk Industries grew to become a US$8 billion flooring manufacturer by relying on customers to visit its dealers’ retail locations to see, touch, and feel the carpet, hardwood, laminate, or tile they planned to purchase.
Today, instead of waiting for customers to find Mohawk, it has redesigned its experience to find them. It has adopted new technology and reworked its sales processes to reflect that new focus. The company’s 1,200 sales representatives have access to a 360-degree view of each customer, complete with analytics and sales tools on their tablets, enabling them to capture and follow through on leads generated through social media engagement.
By analyzing online discussions in real time, representatives can jump into the conversation and help customers find the product they may be searching for and direct the consumer to a retailer to finish the sale. In one episode, a woman was posting about her interest in a particular leopard rug on Twitter. Mohawk’s team surfaced the tweet, passed it on to a channel partner who contacted the woman and closed the sale within two minutes. Today, the company boasts an 80% close rate on sales started and guided in social media and has made $8 million on 14,000 such social leads. Mohawk Industries expects an increase of $25 million in sales year-over-year, thanks to its new customer-centric approach.
Customer Experience Design: Where to Begin
Developing a unique, valuable, and relevant customer experience that combines the best of offline and online capabilities is a huge undertaking. All corporate functions, including marketing, customer service, sales, operations, finance, and HR as well as product or business lines—all of which typically have competing metrics and agendas—must buy into the experience and collaborate to make it happen. And the ideal mix of digital and physical components will vary by company. But there are some best practices to get companies started on their own journeys.
Start at the Top
Without leadership buy-in, changes will not happen. “Customer experience is not a feature, it’s not a shiny button. It’s a concept that sometimes is tough to grasp. But we believe that if done right, it will keep customers loyal. And so we put a lot of effort into it,” says Kevin Scanlon, director of total customer experience at tech company EMC. “That’s why having that top-down support is paramount. If you don’t have it, you’re spinning your wheels. It’s going to give you the resources, the focus, and the attention that you need to design that consistent experience.”
To demonstrate its commitment, every VP and above at EMC has a customer experience metric as part of their quarterly goal.
Begin with the End in Mind
Companies can take a page from the design-thinking approach to product development, starting with the experience they want customers to have with their company and then putting in place the people, processes, and systems to make that happen across various touchpoints. Uber didn’t start by buying 1,000 cars. It started with a completely new customer experience it wanted to deliver—straddling the digital and physical—and then built the organization around that. Uber ultimately leveraged people, process, and technology to bring that to life, but it started with a unique customer journey.
Design for the Customer, Not the Company
To date, most corporate processes have been designed for internal efficiency or cost savings with little consideration for the impact on the customer. Companies that want to design for consistent experiences have to reexamine those business processes from the customer perspective. In order to deliver a standout and consistent experience, enterprises must bring together an assortment of data from a variety of systems—including POS transactions, mobile purchases, call center activity, notes from sales calls, and social media.
The average retailer has customer data in more than a dozen different systems. But it’s not just the front-end customer-facing systems that need orchestrating; back office systems and processes, from your supply chain to fulfillment to customer service, must be designed to deliver the intended experience. For example, Nespresso has to orchestrate a number of back-end and front-end systems to offer customers premium courier delivery within two-hour windows.
Put Someone in Charge
Companies that are truly invested in creating integrated, standout customer experiences often create a centralized function that can bring together the people, processes, and technology to bring them to life. Sometimes there is a chief customer officer or head of customer experience. But unless these people are really empowered, they’re toothless.
EMC’s Scanlon is empowered. He heads up a function that has been transformed from focusing on product quality into a centralized customer experience center of excellence staffed with 60 full-time professionals. The center has translated into “more focus, more energy, more insight to our customers,” says Scanlon. “And we can deliver that insight to our internal stakeholders, which trickles down to our account teams and lets them have more meaningful conversations that benefit our customers—and benefit the company over time.”
Centralize Customer Data
Even if there is no central customer experience function, there needs to be a central data repository and analytics system: a digital foundation that everyone can use to improve their piece of that experience. EMC’s customer experience group has a data governance function that maintains a single source of customer truth. “They’re able to pull all relevant data sources into one location and get past the typical customer data challenges,” says Scanlon.
Invest in People
Companies that care about the customer experience invest in the people who deliver it. Human beings are the clearest signposts on the customer journey. Companies must hire the best, train for desired outcomes, and reward based on experience metrics: for being brand ambassadors and for going above and beyond on behalf of the customer.
Rethink Metrics and Incentives
One major bank was having trouble driving adoption of its online banking tools. The customers that used the tools loved them, but the tools weren’t getting traction. The problem? The branch managers had no interest in promoting digital banking. They wanted to drive as much traffic as possible to their physical branches because this was one of their key performance metrics.
The solution was to change the compensation approach in order to reward employees for the entire customer experience, including online banking adoption. Branch managers were measured on online and offline customer behavior in their regions. That became a single and critical KPI, and it boosted the desired behaviors and improved overall customer satisfaction.
Create a Single View of the Company
For years, companies have talked about the importance of understanding the customer. And that remains true, particularly when it comes to delivering a valuable customer experience online and off. But successful customer experience design is just as much about giving customers a clear understanding of the company through coordinated experiences that deliver on the brand’s theme and bring it to life in various ways in bricks and mortar, through devices, in online interactions, and everywhere in between. D!
Are you familiar with the concept of the twin paradox? In physics, the twin paradox is a thought experiment in which one twin stays on Earth while the other travels in a spaceship at a high speed for a period of time. According to the special theory of relativity, the second twin will return home measurably younger than the first.
In a similar way, the concept of the digital twin can accelerate your business and breathe new life into your products and services.
Already, smart companies are using digital twins to better understand operations, get closer to customers, and transform their business.
Connecting real and virtual
A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-world product or service. That could be anything from a toaster to industrial machinery to complex processes. The virtual representation combines three types of information: business data, contextual data, and sensor data.
Business data covers information such as customer name, location, and service-level agreements. Contextual data includes details such as ambient temperature, humidity, and weather events. Sensor data involves things like machine speed, operating temperature, and vibration.
How does a digital twin work? Let’s say you manufacture industrial drills. A digital twin can help you understand how customers use your drill. The goal is to continuously improve the product to increase customer satisfaction and identify opportunities for new products and services.
For example, you might discover that your drill malfunctions in certain situations. That can enable you to improve product design. Or it can let you help customers modify the way they use the drill to avoid problems.
Or, you might discover that customers use your drill not only to make holes but also to cut materials. That might lead you to develop a new product that’s purpose-built for cutting.
Or, maybe you discover that while customers want holes made, they don’t necessarily want to purchase and operate a drill. So rather than sell drills, you might offer a hole-drilling service. In other words, instead of charging customers for machinery they operate, you charge them for holes drilled by machinery you operate for them. Some SAP customers have been quite successful in making this kind of leap from products to services.
Digital twins across industries
Digital twins aren’t just for manufacturers. Insurers can apply digital twins in offerings like usage-based car insurance. Retailers can track how customers navigate the store and interact with products on the shelves. Cities can model areas for things like smart lighting. Ports can monitor weather, shipping traffic, containers, and trains and trucks entering and leaving.
Digital twins cover the entire lifecycle of an asset or process. In fact, they can form a foundation for an end-to-end, closed-loop value chain for smart, connected products and services, from design to production, from deployment to continuous improvement.
The promise of continuous improvement is why it’s increasingly important to integrate digital technologies into all products. As you leverage your digital twin to identify opportunities for new or better features, you can implement those improvements quickly and cost-effectively through firmware updates.
Implementing digital twins involves four steps:
Integrate smart components such as sensors, software, computing power, or data storage into new or existing products.
Connect the product to a central location where you can capture sensor data and enrich that sensor data with business and contextual data.
Analyze that data on an ongoing basis to identify opportunities for product improvements, new products, or even new business models.
Leverage these digital insights to transform your company — for example, by reducing costs through proactive avoidance of business interruptions, or by creating new business opportunities.
Of course, while those steps are easy to list, they can require significant effort to achieve. But digital twins are becoming a business imperative. Companies that fail to respond will be left behind. Those that embrace digital twins have the opportunity to better understand customer needs, continuously improve their products and services, and even identify new business models that give them competitive advantage.