Digital Transformation for the Unknown

Digital Transformation for the Unknown

Why would anyone prepare for the unknown? As people, I think we’re wired to not plan for the unknown. In fact, I think we thrive on routine.

Basketball, Subways, and Coconuts

I know from coaching sports that it’s relatively straightforward to incrementally teach players different skills by spending a few extra minutes each day building on top of previously learned ones—a methodology borrowed from former UCLA coach, John Wooden. This is very routine. While it’s great for increasing your knowledge and skill, the team also has to be prepared for the unexpected—not just in a reactive manner, but also to take advantage of new opportunities as well.

These are known unknown events—also referred to as a subway uncertainty (Makridkas, Hogath & Gaba, 2009). In a subway, you may be inconvenienced by unforeseen delays, but you can recover—you can trust your subway trip will be an anticipated length and take you to your destination. As a coach, you prepare for this type of unknown. Your opponent may appear to be disruptive, but if you’re prepared, you can adapt with agility and speed to counter or to inflict your own disruption.

There is another type of uncertainty known as coconut uncertainties, which are rare, unpredictable events that occur without warning (Makridkas, Hogath & Gaba, 2009). These coconuts, like Nassim Taleb’s “Black Swan” events, are freak events—outliers, which you can’t predict or measure (Taleb). This is where a basketball analogy ends because you can predict all possibilities in a game, but you can’t in business or life.


Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the topic of business resiliency has become a renewed focus with every CIO. And it’s not just because of the pandemic itself, but also because of many disruptions related to the pandemic, and other unrelated disruptions just as unexpected—some good, many bad, depending on the business. This has forced many organizations to rethink their product lifecycle management strategy, the importance of their digital thread, how to deal with the growing complexity of their products, how to increase the profitability and elasticity of their value chain, and how to better adapt to a world of accelerating data, connectivity, change, and uncertainty.

It’s the Data Stupid

The first problem with digital transformations, besides the fact they don’t work, is they are viewed as a one-time top-down IT initiative with a fixed strategy. Then add a healthy dose of “let’s jump to some technologies like AI,” to further complicate matters. Until you get your data under control along with some basic processes and empower your people to carry out multiple incremental and continuous transformations, you’re going nowhere. If there is a key to making this work, it’s the ability to rapidly protype across functions—along a digital thread with an IT landscape that is current. Once you have the dexterity to do that and you gain some control over the data with empowered people, then give them a platform and your ability to continuously digitally transformation will be feasible. However, the plan you cooked up a year ago may not be.

Don’t Plan for the Past

What happened in the past is no predictor of the future. If it were, I could buy something from Sears using an app on my Kodak. I could also buy a traditional PLM, customize it and get stuck in time. Many of these traditional deployments are five to ten years old—some older. So, before you start a digital transformation initiative, check to see: 1) how old is your PLM software and 2) how long and how expensive is it to upgrade? It’s not uncommon for a traditional upgrade to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take up to a year or more. Therefore, if your PLM software is stuck in the past, your ability to digitally transform will be fighting a serious uphill battle.

Assuming you’re more current, it’s always good to plan and have contingencies for every subway uncertainty that you can think of. If you’re on an up-to-date platform, companies can plan and be ready to adapt to subways, but few consider the coconuts. To ignore the coconuts is to ignore reality. The key is understanding what we don’t know is more relevant than what we do (Taleb). Therefore, we need to be as open, flexible, and agile as possible. And our tools and processes should be the same. This is key to not just transforming as quickly as possible, but to building up business resiliency.

Anyone who knows Aras knows that we’ve always had a resilient platform—PLM applications built on an open industrial, low-code platform that allows people to sustainably customize and build applications. And no matter what you do, Aras upgrades it, so you stay current, enabling you to evolve as your business does—both with planned transformations (recommend incremental) and unplanned.

ACE 2021

If you want to learn more, I encourage you and your co-workers to register and attend our global ACE 2021 Conference, April 19-21. It’s free. There are over sixty presenters. Here are just a few of the presentations featuring the power of Aras’ Platform to help you with your Digital Transformation success:

• Empowerment—The Missing Ingredient to Digital Transformation, Peter Schroer, Aras
• Empowering Digital Transformation Across the Digital Thread. The Challenges of People, Processes, and…, Bill Halliden, Toyota Motor Europe
• Systems Thinking – Key to a Successful Digital Transformation (Panel) with Denise Fitzgerald, MIT Lincoln Lab, Mike Vinarcik, SAIC, Ernesto Mottola, Toyota Motor Europe
• Digital Thread: The Key to Transforming Your Future, Peter Bilello, CIMdata
• What’s New From Aras?, John Sperling, Aras
• Leveraging the Aras Platform to Manage Cubic’s Value Stream Across the Digital Thread, Dan Hedstrom, Cubic
• The Future of Products and the New Lifecycle, Rob McAveney, Aras
• Digital Engineering Implementation, Philomena Zimmerman, U.S. DoD
• Insitu’s Agile Approach to Transforming their Engineering Value Stream, Jacqueline Bono, Insitu, Inc.

Additionally, there are over 30 additional customer presentations, so please join us and engage with members of the Aras Community.

In addition, there will be three demonstrations of the Digital Thread in Action:

• Systems Thinking and Design of Complex Products, Tim Keer, Aras
• Collaborate to Innovate Across the Digital Thread, Gary Wilmot, Aras
• Predict and Simulate the Future with Digital Twins, David McDonnell, Aras

Also, our product Management team will be presenting several applications in the following presentations:

• Accelerate Product Development with Simulation Task Autommation, Matteo Nicolich, Aras
• Plan and Track Quality throughout the Digital Thread, Craig Currie, Aras
• Handling Complexity with Product Variablity, Ayla Singhal, Aras
• Aras Enterprise and Managed Services, Lopa Subramanian, Aras
• Cloud Technology and Containerization, Lopa Subramanian, Aras
• Tomorrow’s Process Plans and MBOMs, Mike Gavlak, Aras
• Digital Twin, Life Control and Beyond. Where are we going?, Graeme Taylor, Aras
• Streamline your Low-code DevOps Processes, Sean Coleman, Aras
• Why & How to Upgrade to the Future – Get to Aras Innovator 12, James Gehan and Tom Turner, Aras

Empower yourself and your team—prepare to adapt to the unknown. I hope to see you at ACE. Feel free to ping me at the conference or email me at

Mike Lindner