Digital Twins: Breaking Down the Silos

In the age of the data-driven business, every industry is struggling with invisible walls that exist between different departments and units, reducing overall effectiveness. These walls exist because each business unit has their own data and systems held in silos, often not shared with one another, creating silos of disconnected information. 

These disconnected silos create two major problems. First, stakeholders are often unaware that they exist. Second, decision-making processes and strategy are under-informed because they do not (cannot) access all available data. 

The Harvard Business Review once claimed that data silos drive up costs by as much as 80%, threatening the viability of many digital transformation projects. Anything that potentially hinders strategic operational improvements must be addressed – or your business will be unable to challenge more agile, better informed competitors. Not having access to or trust in the available information could put your organization at risk where important decisions need to be made, placing you at a disadvantage to competitors who are able to leverage the available data to continuously improve their business. 

Breaking silos allows your business to maximize value from your data and assetsInformation can be linked to provide additional context that allows you to better understand what is happening in the business – and where improvements and efficiencies can be found. Context is also invaluable when planning for the future, allowing you to define an evidence-based strategy that is tailored to the needs of your customer and your shareholdersproviding an insightful operational strategy that supports continuous improvement.  

Where do silos exist?
Every standalone application or database represents a silo. If the CMMS and data historian cannot share data easily, they are siloed. If your shift log records exist as paper-based forms, they are another silo. Moreover, if engineering information is standalone, then there is no authoritative, contextualized source for maintenance and operations. By joining these together in a digital twin, we create a connected ecosystem where all involved will have easy access to trustworthy information for making better decisions. 

Any corporate data set that cannot share insights with other applications is a silo – and a missed opportunity. 

Data silos are preventing business success
Many businesses have reached a plateau; operations are well established and it is unclear where new efficiencies will be foundManagers know that data-driven decision-making is the future, but their current IT systems are optimized to specific business units – and their operational data is locked up in silos, inaccessible to the rest of the organization. 

Breaking out of these silos is an important step towards higher productivity and safety by allowing complete oversight of operations.  

Why many initial efforts at silo smashing fail
When it comes to storing assetplant master data and engineering information, some organizations attempt to use their maintenance management system as their system of record. However, these systems were never intended for this use, leading to sub-optimal outcomes. 

In many cases, this approach simply adds to the number of data silos in use. The maintenance management system has its own master data set alongside those created by other management applications that are manually updated, and inconsistencies quickly emerge between data sets.  

These inconsistencies can be found at different levels from hierarchical, nomenclature and plant configuration grade of detail, leading to insufficient interoperability between the systems but even more important between the people. A maintenance person may not understand an analytics person easily if both are speaking about different hierarchies and naming conventions.  

Digital twins – smashing silos the right way
To actually smash silos requires a system capable of uniting operations, maintenance, safety, engineering and real-time data – which is where the digital twin comes into play. A digital twin can feed all of  these systems with consolidated, evergreen and consistent data, filtered and maintained for the specific needs of each individual application. 

A digital twin maintains consistency and increases data visibility. 

Why should you break the silos?
Making all of your corporate data available by breaking information silos delivers four key benefits: 

  1. Reduce risk, improved safety  With access to trustworthy data from across all of your operations, it becomes easier to identify and mitigate the risks that threaten the safety of your employees. 
  2. Increased efficiency – Information is easier to find and validate, increasing the speed and accuracy of decision making. Access to accurate, single version-of-truth data improves operations across the entire organization. 
  3. Increased transparency – Breaking silos to ease access to information increases transparency across the organization. All of your stakeholders are then better able to make fully informed operational and strategic decisions. 
  4. Improved analytics – When fed into your analytics systems, plant asset data provides important context to generate deeper, more relevant insights. You will better understand performance and capabilities – and where opportunities to improve exist. 

The view from the edge
On its own, IoT sensor data is of limited use beyond alerts to immediate production process problems. A data historian provides a way to centralize, collate and filter alerts, allowing you to review the complete history of each asset. Moving beyond immediacy of alerts, the data historian allows you to identify and track long-term trends that affect operations, such as misconfigurations or early warning of imminent asset failure. 

The OSIsoft™ PI System™ is an example of a data historian that works alongside the digital twin model. Sensor data can be combined with data from control systems and other sources to create a complete history of operations.  

The PI System stores data at the edge, on-premise or in the cloud – but the most value comes from the way it adds context to the data to represent and define assets and relationships between the data. All of this information is rolled up to the plant or enterprise level as needed to support planning and comparison. 

Data collated by the PI System is not only used by operators of the assets but can also be securely shared with business partners that may be able to help them extract additional value from those assets such as equipment vendors, managed maintenance vendors, or those who provide additives for a process. 

More context required
OSIsoft provides operational information, but customers also need connectivity to the other elements of the digital twin. As they operate assets, they need to understand how each was designed and how they should be ideally operated and maintained.  

But there are other digital twin users who require representations that are up to date with respect to design and engineering changes, with need access to current and historical operational information. This helpthem plan design changes, modernization activities, maintenance and decommissioning.  

By combining OSIsoft and Hexagon software capabilities, the digital twin can serve both types of user. A production analyst can work as normal with PI Vision™ for example, but with the added benefit of direct access to the information in HxGN SDx. They can see things like current design documents, 3D models, P&IDs, and other engineering data. This allows operations workers to quickly understand how an asset was designed, what its operational parameters should be, and how to maintain or troubleshoot it. 

The same is true for HxGN SDx users who are able to access historical and live data from the PI System. This gives engineering and design workers easy access to current sensor data and operational history, which is really handy when planning a change. HxGN SDx can also provide engineering data to the PI Asset Framework to ensure that it is up to date and complete. 

Interoperability is the future
The interoperability between the PI System and HxGN SDx is an important step towards smashing silos. Increased visibility of data enables new digital transformation options and better collaboration across the lifecycle of assets, which gives operators greater control over the present and future of their production facilities. 

To learn more about how HxGN SDx and the PI System complement each other – and how your business will benefit – please watch the Hexagon and OSIsoft “Essential Elements of an Operations Digital Twin” webinar series. 

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Hans Kouwer
Hans is the director for industry consulting for the EMIA region of Hexagon’s PPM division, where he develops strategies to achieve desired outcomes based on customer business needs. He’s held a number of roles for the company since joining in 2008. He is based in The Netherlands.

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