Nicholas Ismail, Global Head of Brand Journalism, HCLTech
Nicholas Ismail
Global Head of Brand Journalism

Professional background: Nick Ismail is the Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He is responsible for delivering the editorial and content strategy. He previously spent 6 years leading the content for Information Age, a B2B technology publication headquartered in London.

Education: MA (TV Journalism) City University, BA (English Literature) University of Manchester

By Nicholas Ismail, Global Head of Brand Journalism, HCL Technologies Ltd.


Digital engineering and the mobilization of a product-centric delivery model are key ingredients for the success of Industry 4.0

A digital transition does have its challenges for legacy organizations, namely budget restrictions, a lack of expertise and the culture clash that exists between IT and business.  

Legacy enterprises need to reorganize themselves into a product-based structures, where digital engineers, software engineers and product managers develop solutions to customer problems, to succeed in digital.  

This article will explore what digital engineering is, why it’s key for digital innovation in Industry 4.0, how legacy organizations can shift to a product-centric model to enable transformation and the next-gen of customer experience. The article will also reveal how to lead an engineering team effectively.  

What is digital engineering? 

In the digital era, engineers are designing digital assets that act as replicas to their physical counterparts. 

Known as a digital twin, these digital versions provide real-time, interactive information on physical infrastructure, such as buildings or individual machines operating in a factory. 

Digital engineers develop these digital assets via a building information model (BIM), which includes collecting data about a physical assets’ design, construction and longevity.  

As described by the Institute of Digital Engineering, ‘Digital Engineering is the fusion of advanced digital technologies with best-in-class product engineering capabilities, delivering physical resource intensive processes in a digital environment... [These] solutions will play a critical part in the journey to develop the (‘net-zero’) mobility products and services of tomorrow and meet this generation’s customer expectations.’ 

Why is this important? Traditionally, engineering focused on sequential programming and time consuming physical tests. The convergence of digital technologies, such as AR/VR/MR, 5G, IoT and others, accompanied by the accelerated move to the cloud has led to an increase in product engineering complexities. As a result, the traditional engineering approach is no longer viable.

Digital engineering solves the problem and allows organizations to develop and manufacture the next generation of products in a smaller timeframe at a fraction of the cost. The ability to experiment and test the digital twin, without any interference with the physical infrastructure, also allows engineers to make any operational changes with minimal disruption.  

Digital engineering enables organizations to develop and manufacture the next generation of products in a smaller timeframe at a fraction of the cost.

The heartbeat of innovation  

Digital engineering is the heartbeat of future innovation and sustainability in Industry 4.0

The discipline allows organizations, like construction or manufacturing companies across a range of industries, to capture, share and manage a physical asset’s data through BIM. They can then apply a variety of design approaches to projects before construction – testing their performance. This allows them to see in real-time the impact certain actions will have on a project, relating to key items such as cost and environment. 

According to Nathan Doughty, chief executive of Asite, writing in Raconteur, ‘digital engineering also encompasses drone imagery, augmented and virtual reality, internet of things sensors, advanced building materials and even artificial intelligence and machine-learning. Along with BIM, these technologies can be used to inform a digital twin and ensure it accurately represents the real-time attributes of its physical counterpart.’ 

Digital engineering in action 

Construction firms, such as Skanska, are prioritizing digital engineering to build sustainable and cost-effective buildings, while keeping existing buildings and infrastructure in optimum condition throughout their life cycle. This approach provides increased visibility and a focus on improved customer experience and mitigating risk – key priorities in the boardroom. 

Getting visibility across a company’s physical infrastructure via digital twins and technology is critical to achieving operational excellence in Industry 4.0. 

As an example, HCL worked with a global chemical manufacturer, with plants across multiple locations. The organization was facing challenges in real time visibility of plant KPIs and comparing performance across plants. Incorrect workflow and poor business data visualization at different workflow stages was hampering operational productivity. HCL helped the customer achieve operational excellence by improving visibility into production operations, by implementing a Global Instance of SAP MII covering 48 plants to connect plant and business applications for real time visibility into KPIs.  

A product-centric model 

A digital engineering function is a key part of building a product-centric organization, which is essential for driving digital transformation. 

Gartner explains: ‘Product-centric approaches make it easier to rapidly innovate and iterate because they focus on customer experience, evolving requirements, and the strategic differentiation for a product or service. A product-centric model is ideal for integrating digital technologies and scales, offering a high chance of growth and profitability.’ 

The research organization provided an example of a Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas Shipping and Container Line that realized their data and analytics for internal IT services, such as APIs, could be leveraged for customer products and services. The company created CargoSmart, a software as a service platform that provides information and analytics on shipping routes, container locations, and cargo tracking to external and internal customers. 

To become a product-centric organization that pushes the next-gen of customer experience, Gartner recommends three actions: 

  1. Look outside your organization 

    Follow the example of other organizations that have successfully evolved their business model to become a software technology organization.  

    Traditional companies, like Bosch and Volvo, have embraced new ways of working, such as continuous product development, to scale digital business models effectively. 

  2. Be realistic about investment targets 

    Recognize that ROI on digital products won’t be immediate and adjust investment models to reflect this. 

  3. Product management should lead digital transformation efforts 

    Place product management and the engineering teams that support this function at the heart of digital business. 

    To do this, treat product management like any other business function, with short- and long-term goals, as well as key targets to achieve. 

Leading an engineering team 

The heartbeat of a product-centric organization is a product-oriented engineering team. 

To lead this team effectively, Lead Engineers or Product Managers must set a clear vision and direction for their team to follow. 

To ensure everyone is on the same page, collaborative and effective leaders who are also efficient product managers should: 

  • Keep products in line with a company’s goals and values 

  • Foster an environment of collaboration, where everyone’s views are listened to  

  • Champion diversity and inclusion, and mentor younger members of the team

  • Work on process to streamline workflows 

Leading an engineering team also requires certain soft skills, that may not come naturally to the average tech leader. 

These include: 

  • Empathy 

  • Active listening 

  • The ability to compromise 

  • Embed your problem-solving mindset into your team 

  • Shout about success and celebrate your team’s achievements 

  • Create a culture of positivity