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The Cambridge Dictionary defines “weave” as “to form something from several different things or to combine several different things, in a complicated or skilled way”. 

This definition applies perfectly to the digital thread, where many different things – practices, processes, tools, people – have to be combined, or integrated, to ultimately form a tightly knit fabric or solution that can be used effectively and provides all the benefits of digitalization. And there is no doubt that doing this is complicated and requires extensive skills together with a clear vision and a long-term digital transformation strategy. 

The concept is actually not new at all. In 1988 August-Wilhelm Scheer described in his book “CIM – Towards the Factory of the Future” the integration of all business systems and processes to achieve a highly efficient operation. The concept was visionary at that time, unfortunately the technology was not fully available yet to execute the vision.

Today, all the technology pieces are there to realize a truly integrated digital thread throughout the entire organization. CAD, CAM, CAE, PLM, ERP, MES, CRM, office tools, integration tools and middleware platforms, etc, everything is readily available. The key is to take all these pieces and skillfully make them work together and integrate them along with all related business practices and processes. Essentially, as the title suggests, to weave the digital thread.  

Weaving the digital thread first requires an owner, a tailor so to speak who pulls the strings or the thread in this case. This ideally is a company executive with the power to make enterprise-level decisions across all functional areas. Traditionally this could be the CIO, the COO, or more recently a chief digital officer or CDO. 

Secondly, it requires a clear vision to digitally transform the entire company along with a long-term digital transformation strategy that brings everything together and everyone in the organization supports. This is important as there will be many obstacles that will slow things down and stand in the way. People who want to hold on to how things have always been done before and to tools they are familiar with, use tools that are outdated and/or don’t lend themselves to working in an integrated environment, and practices and processes that need to be designed to be effective for the entire organization and not just for one specific functional area. 

Third, it requires a realistic tactical plan to implement all required changes. Weaving the digital thread through the entire organization will usually affect all of the company’s practices, processes, tools and people. The digital transformation must be done gradually and in the proper sequence. It usually requires optimizing existing business practices and processes and defining new ones, replacing existing systems and implementing entirely new ones, and training people to do work differently or do entirely different work.

And forth, it requires determination to execute the plan. Like it takes time and effort to design and tailor a beautiful dress, it also takes significant time, resources and money to weave the digital thread and digitally transform an entire company. Many companies start with the implementation but then stop along the way and with that forgo many benefits that come with a fully digital enterprise. 

Andreas Lindenthal, the author, is the founder and managing partner of PLMadvisors. He is a passionate thought leader and recognized industry expert with over 25 years international, hands-on experience in innovation, new product development (NPD), and product lifecycle management (PLM). He has served over 100 leading global companies across various industries to sustainably improve their business results by helping them to drive innovation, increase productivity, shorten time-to-market, reduce costs, ensure compliance and improve product quality through the resourceful utilization and integration of innovation, NPD and PLM practices, processes and technologies.

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