The IT (Information Technology) industry as we know it has evolved drastically over the last two decades. This evolution typically follows a cyclical pattern, following an S curve. In the 1980s/90s, when the software industry flourished, it was all about reimagining and reshaping the way the world works. As a result, software became reliable and highly stable. Eventually, we began seeing the benefits of digitization, which led to the IT industry exploding. New services and new offerings were developed by integrating different technologies. Building the foundational technology was the first half of the S curve; maintaining it and coming up with newer services to make use of the foundations was the second half.
Today, technology enables businesses to incubate innovative ideas every day. Continuing the S curve, digital engineering is also reimagining the world we live in today. Digital engineering is all about building new products, new avenues, new business models, and newer technologies.
New world with digital engineering
As digitalization has an ever-increasing impact on our lives, we are slowly transitioning into a physical age. This refers to the ability to move from digital to physical to digital again in an omnichannel environment, for example, you use a digital experience to buy a physical good which gets delivered to you, and value-added services which are again bolting onto a physical object but in a digital way, or you have a physical object which has a digital interface.
The new digital world will be filled with products, platforms, and experiences developed by digital engineers. In digital engineering programs, data is gathered and analyzed to create a digital twin. In the same way that software engineers develop programs, digital engineers create what is known as a BIM (Building Information Modelling), which includes information about a physical asset's design, construction, and future use. They aim to capture this data in an orderly and structured way from the outset of an engineering project, collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure quality. Digital engineering also includes drone imagery, augmented and virtual reality, internet of things sensors, advanced building materials, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Combined with BIM, these technologies can be used to create a digital twin that accurately represents its physical counterpart in real time.
By using a digital twin, businesses can test and anticipate project outcomes, therefore understanding asset construction intricacies and reducing risks. The digital engineering process involves collaborative ecosystems that span across departments and demographics to identify, generate, and validate ideas, observations, and analyses quickly. In addition, the use of digital engineering enables engineers to design assets with maximum value at their core, enabling them to amplify asset efficiency.
Rohit Madhok is Senior Vice President and Global Head of Digital Engineering Services at Tech Mahindra.
The great evolution
Humanity is reaching Mars and digitalization is at its peak. The emerging field of digital engineering, as well as related new-age technologies, is redefining how products are developed and manufactured for consumers by combining digital, physical, and virtual realms.
With digital engineering, employees will be able to work in new and more efficient ways, freed from the constraints of traditional engineering methods. Using digital twins, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), employees can resolve complex questions quickly and explore what is possible in a virtual environment. These technologies allow individuals to experiment with new products or processes and ‘break things’ without fear of real-world repercussions. The ability to conduct this kind of experimentation without having to wait for things like physical prototypes or production lines to be built is hugely advantageous.
As digital engineering evolves further, it is integrating electromechanical engineering to further enhance IoT (Internet of Things) connectivity - a vital part of our digital world. Using digital twins, IoT connectivity can reach a level where all devices and experiences can become immersive. A car, for example, will become a digital medium for transportation, like the self-driving cars that are already available and present. With this technology, chips can be designed to provide IoT connectivity and digital touch points and interfaces within the car. Even if your car is in Germany and you are in the United States or India, you could still directly interact with it.
The current state of play
To fully leverage digital engineering, business leaders will have to overcome several challenges. Vulnerabilities, security breaches, and even human rights are among the most well-known risks. Due to the number of touch points with digital world, the human rights issue is the most important one at hand, since an individual’s identity, persona, and digital footprint could be vulnerable to bad actors.
The carbon footprint is also an issue, due to the enormous cloud infrastructure that is running continuously. Many hyper-scale computing service providers such as AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform are aware of this issue and working towards the solution. As businesses now use cloud, cloud hosting providers can take on the burden of hosting and deploying IT infrastructure at scale more efficiently. It means organizations will consume less energy and produce much less end-of-life IT waste, which will reduce environmental pollution. In addition, as younger generations become more conscious of their carbon footprint and other environmental issues, we will see some significant improvements and overcome this challenge as a wider society.
A lack of skilled talent is another issue for the development of digital engineering – and indeed, the wider technology sector. Businesses need the best creators, designers, and engineers. This means that they will need to boost their internal capabilities with creative hiring and resourcing strategies that not only bring in industry-leading talent, but also provide continuous upskilling with evolving time and technology.
The road ahead
Due to digital engineering, businesses could pivot quickly during the pandemic and tough economic times, allowing them to work virtually when needed and be more flexible in meeting customer demands. With so much disruption and accompanying uncertainty in the world today, the ability to solve issues swiftly and creatively will become increasingly important in the coming years. By integrating technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) with digital engineering, tedious or repetitive process can be removed, and cost-effectiveness and efficiency can be increased.
The digital engineering revolution is unquestionably here to stay and will gather further steam in the coming years.