Creating a Digital Thread of product information is critical to Digital Transformation. With a digital thread, teams can more efficiently access and impact the information they need. Different domains can collaborate seamlessly. Data can flow more easily between related processes. In short, the typical bottlenecks that prevent change are eliminated, helping companies drive organizational improvements, strategy updates, and new product innovations faster and more effectively.
But what defines Digital Transformation is unique to your company—as unique as the processes you employ, the data you generate, and the products you build. And out-of-the-box software will not meet every company’s unique needs, which is why customization is inevitable.
Plenty of enterprise software companies are touting the value of a Digital Thread to drive Digital Transformation forward. But how you will leverage their technology to create the Digital Thread is important to consider. Check out six questions below to ask yourself—and your Digital Transformation platform provider—before taking the leap.
1 - Is It Digital Transformation or “Best Practices” in Sheep’s Clothing?
Can just any out-of-the-box enterprise software tool build your unique digital thread? Generating, managing, and connecting related information across the product’s lifecycle should be a unique process: defined by your organization in a way that is specific to the products you create and the teams you employ to create them.
Certainly, enterprise software is a great starting point for any team. But step back in time with me. About a decade or so ago, “best practices” in PLM were all the rage. This amounted to software companies encouraging organizations (in an entirely different business from theirs, which they knew very little about and employed few to no experts in) to change their unique, differentiated workflows to match the software development company’s idea of how they should run their business to build their products.
Not coincidentally, those “best practices” matched the workflows and processes baked into the software. And changing existing processes to match software workflows “out of the box” meant that the software, which was rigid and difficult to change, wouldn’t require customization. Therefore, “out of the box” is best, they’d claim.
2 - Is the Path to “Out of the Box” Paved with Good Intentions?
In truth, “Out of the box” is an impossibility. Every company is different—every team, every process, every workflow, and every data point—because every company builds different products. The way one company’s product information must fit together, flow-down, and relate in interconnected ways to build its unique Digital Thread must, necessarily, be as unique as the processes used to create that data.
And as much as your product is your competitive differentiator, so is the process you use to build that product in your unique way. Leverage technology to enhance your unique processes? Yes. Use it to accelerate your processes, digitalize your processes, connect more groups across the organization into your processes in an automated way? Yes, yes, and yes.
But replace your processes with rigid, “out of the box” software that belies the complexity, uniqueness, and competitive differentiation of your team’s approach to product development? No. Never change what makes your teams unique—and uniquely successful—just to conform to some software company’s idea of how you should run your product development business.
3 – How Are Customizations Built?
In that light, it’s no wonder customizing enterprise software is inevitable. For companies investigating software vendors to support their digital transformation, the question should not be, “to customize or not to customize?” Rather, it should be, “tell me how your tool gets customized?” Who customizes it, how long does it take them, how easily can they continue iterating on customizations when they need to change, and how do those customizations stay in sync with vendor updates and upgrades as they are released?
Spoiler alert: most PLM software is not designed with customization in mind. Yes you can do it, or—more accurately perhaps—the consultants you hire can do it, but they must be knowledgeable developers who can access and change the code base, then recompile the code and launch the new system.
And once they’ve done that, the new code has branched significantly from the original code base, heading off in a new direction to meet the unique needs of your team. When your organization inevitably needs to add its own updates and improvements to that iteration, they must start from this new point: a branch that no longer allows the return to the original, “out of the box” toolset.
At the same time you’ve been customizing, your vendor has been doing the same—they call it R&D, of course—but they’ve started from the last point you both had in common: their last released version. In a way, they’ve branched as well; except their branch is the one that matters when they release a software upgrade. When your team has branched from the vendor’s path via customization, their updates become inaccessible to you, because their tool is not built to be customized and upgraded.
In order to upgrade, you must back up to an earlier version, before your customizations, meaning you’ve lost your changes and you must add them in all over again from scratch—or lose those processes forever: yes, the very same ones you just constructed so carefully to build your precise, unique, differentiated Digital Thread of product information.
4 – Are You Giving Me Branches or Rungs?
In contrast to branches that can leave you stranded between versions like other PLM system customizations offer, Aras Innovator is built with rungs you were meant to climb. Customization through configuration in Aras Innovator offers a GUI (graphical user interface) specifically designed so that administrators can easily configure (on the back-end) a customized user experience (on the front-end).
This easy, no-code, “configure to customize” path is the one most customers use to extend Aras applications or build their own. But additional low-code functionality exists for administrators and developers who know how to code, and who need the platform to achieve more.
Using AML (Aras Markup Language), an intuitive XML framework, developers can quickly write methods (short snippets of code) to instruct the system to do more. Methods are straightforward to write and easy to interpret (one example of AML is “OnGet”—which means “when this data is retrieved, do this specified action”). And Aras offers this AML editor to administrators in open, easy ways, by design—like the rungs of a ladder offered throughout the tool—to keep your customizations carefully organized without sacrificing your ability to access and change up our platform services to work the way you need them to.
In short, upgrades can always be achieved, and quickly. Aras provides them to you free of charge, and they take an average of 3 months’ time, vs. our competitors’ average of 11-14 months’ time, to complete. Development work is low-lift (hence, “low-code”), and this easy, intuitive, point-and-click configuration to customize the tool is available throughout every application on the Aras Innovator platform.
Through this combination of GUI-high, code-low administrator user experiences, not only can existing applications be configured to work in new ways—with new workflows, capabilities, and connections—brand-new applications can be built from the ground up, to ensure your Digital Thread works the way you need it to: connecting every new process, data point, team member, and external tool you need to connect across a single, seamless platform.
5 - Can I Build It as I Go?
The old analogy of building the airplane while we fly it, or building the car while we drive it, seems apt during this past year of inevitable Digital Transformation—this was a sink or swim, ride or die, fly or fall, change or be changed kind of year. The need to change the way digital systems work should involve quickly and efficiently adapting them to new needs as you go—not contracting again with your system integrators, making a new purchasing decision, or interviewing a new stream of vendors to replace legacy tools that just don’t do what you need them to anymore. By the time you’ve done that, in a year like this one has been, the opportunity has gotten away from you—or the challenge has overwhelmed you.
In Aras Innovator, changes that your administrators introduce are made at run-time: meaning you can see most changes happen live in the system as you make them, or—for other changes—simply log out and log back in again to see them. There is no recompiling code or re-creating and redeploying executable files. To ensure the integrity of the current data in the live, production system, teams will test changes in pre-production or sandbox environments and then deploy those changes to the live environment, where end-users can enjoy the nearly seamless introduction of new capabilities.
This helps to ensure agility—or, the means by which teams can deploy changes rapidly, discover how they work out for end-users, and continue iterating on the environment to get the feature set just the way it’s needed, continuously improving functionality as new needs come online. These changes may be minor, or they may be major, so this same agility allows teams to add new users, integrate new tools, update their processes swiftly, and rapidly adapt to changing business environments—even pursing new strategies for the product, the organization, or the market by changing up the capabilities of the platform when needed, as demand dictates.
6 - Is It Designed for Upgrades?
Low-code ensures agility. It ensures that the data you build on the platform matches the needs of your team and your organization and is not stuck in time where it can’t be accessed or built upon further. And, it ensures that your teams can take advantage of the upgrades offered to you by Aras, because the platform is designed to be built upon.
Aras Innovator is architected so that, as we update Aras Innovator, your teams can choose (or not choose) to deploy our changes; and, as we add functionality, our improvements (to applications and to platform services) can be brought in alongside your customizations—at no additional cost to your organization. This level of choice extends to our SaaS Cloud: the same functionality and customizability exists on Aras Innovator in the cloud, and we only upgrade your cloud environment on your schedule—not ours. Whether cloud or on-premise, Aras upgrades its customers free of charge, because it is that easy, and we work alongside your teams to ensure your customizations are tried and tested before we call your upgrade done.
It’s Your Data – How Do You Want to Create and Manage It?
Don’t lock away your product data—your organization’s most valuable asset—in legacy systems where you can’t get at it, improve it, build on it, and connect teams with it.
As a low-code platform, Aras Innovator lets you control the applications, teams, and tools that access and manage your data. It allows you to extend native Aras Innovator applications to work the way you need them to and build new applications that connect with your data across the platform. You can continue iterating on what you’ve built to manipulate your data and processes in new ways, expanding and completing your ever-evolving Digital Thread.
Finally, Aras Innovator hosts every application—ours and yours—on a single software architecture to ensure data can flow seamlessly among applications in the way your teams need to consume and control it along its Digital Thread journey. And no matter how much you’ve customized your environment, you can always upgrade to our latest and greatest release, continuing to build your Digital Thread throughout time as your organization—and ours—evolves to realize new capabilities and new technologies.