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Digital Engineering Practices: Enhancing The Technological Landscape Of Tomorrow

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Narayanan Ramanathan, Global Head- Digital Engineering, L&T Technology Services,,

Narayanan Ramanathan heads the multi-million dollar global business unit of Digital Engineering at L&T Technology Services, one of the leading global ER&D services company, backed by Larsen & Toubro Limited. He is responsible for incubating and building the Digital Business focusing in the areas of IoT, UMACS, AR/VR, AI & Digital Transformation to drive the digital strategy with existing & prospective customers. He also heads LTTS go-to-market strategy in the digital space with new solutions.

It is widely known by now that technology is influencing our lives like never before. Be it our changed lifestyles or behavioral needs, the reach of technology keeps penetrating further. Even the industrial landscape has tasted the positive impact of advancements in technology to an extent that the ongoing transformation is termed as fourth industrial revolution.

As is the popular phrase, this is just the tip of the iceberg from the point of view of potential of new technologies and their impact on life and business. Emerging technologies are playing a key role as we deep dive into new technologies and their applications.

Availability of affordable & fast connectivity, cheap storage and high capability sensors are also contributing to the change. According to Gartner there are likely to be 20.4 billion connected things in use worldwide by 2020 and this cuts across all industries be it automotive, healthcare, industrial products, telecoms and hi-tech and energy & utilities.

Thus digital engineering is fast assuming the primary position as the pathway to truly enhance and disrupt traditional processes and speed up the technology landscape. While digital engineering is essentially data capturing and leveraging for business excellence, it acts as a bridge that merges real time pro-cesses with the digital spectrum.

Let us delve deeper into what is meant by digital engineering.

Digital Engineering: Ready Reckoner:
While there are text book definitions of digital engineering, for simpler understanding one may consider it as the technological concept that enables development of smart connected ecosystem with an aim to enhance experiences and optimize functionalities. Combining the digital, physical and virtual realms, digital engineering and new age technologies are redefining the way products are developed and manufactured for the end consumers.

From an engineering and R&D standpoint, the advent of Digital Engineering leads to next gen Smart Products, Services and Operations which are enhancing the value proposition to the end-users at a rapid pace.

It is for these reasons that digital engineering continues to enjoy a huge appeal with the business ecosystem. For instance Zinnov Research expects that the global spend on Digital Engineering will jump from USD 223 Billion in 2018 to an estimated 667 Billion by 2023.

The scope of Digital Engineering spans the entire product life-cycle, starting from the concept phase to planning, right through to the design and production process to monitoring products (in-cl.-built infrastructure) over their service-life.

From shop floor to top floor
The last three decades has also witnessed a huge improvement in the IT infrastructure and this digital transformation has made significant impact on organizations. However the rapidly changing future requires a new kind of transformation, which not only embraces IT but also a new kind of engineering which enables personalised and optimised user experiences with the help of digital and emerging technologies.

The traditional gap between the "top floor and the shop floor" is blurring with new components and machines getting connected by the Internet of Things that can provide the deepest visibility of the factory floor in an instant. Bringing "Smart" onto the shop floor of manufacturing enterprises to boost efficiencies and cut costs for enterprises, is one of the major success stories of Digital Engineering.

Operations Technology (OT)- like MES, Asset management Services, etc is the backbone of smart factories. It controls the infrastructure that powers plants and keeps factory lines running without a glitch. Its only in recent years that compelling technology and business reasons are driving companies to this convergence of OT and Information Technology.

Challenges and Opportunities in the digital era
While the above presents an exciting picture there are certain challenges faced as well by the present day Digital Engineering practitioners. The movement is still at a nascent stage with many enter-prisesstruggling to scale Digital Engineering up to desired levels so as to positively impact the business especially with regards to topline and bottomline growth.

Moreover with Digital Engineering triggering an organizational level change, Change Management should be considered in sync with any Digital Engineering pursuit. And with any investment measure being reviewed from the lens of financial feasibility, the pitch for Change Management should be linked to a validated business cause to ensure success. The measure of success can be across the parameters of Product, Quality and Sustainability. And these parameters in turn can be triggered by any of the three levers namely People, Process and Technology. At the end of the day, all digital engineering interventionsare human centric. Whether its AI, Machine Learning algorithms or the IoT, all futuristic technologies should touch lives and contribute to building a sustainable and inclusive society.

The measure of success thus may be reviewed basis ROV-­Return of Value and not solely on ROI-­Return on Investment.

Lastly with organizations increasingly assuming a data-drive identity, the need of the hour for long-term sustainability of Digital Engineering adoption is to extend the benefits of analytics beyond business intelligence to a more quantified cause such as bringing down the cost of inventory.

It would be prudent to state that Digital Engineering is increasingly dissolving boundaries of physical & digital worlds. The technology concept can truly take over the next decade, and act as a catalyst and steering wheel that can completely eliminate monotonous and reiterated procedures, and maximize cost effectiveness as well as efficiency. Although to-day it is still an evolving discipline, all the technological giants seem to have realized the part it will play for the future of their clients and business. The Digital Engineering Revolution is here to stay and will only pick up momentum in the years to come.

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