Mastering Tools and Techniques of Digital Transformation

A provable approach to increase workforce productivity and implement Digital Transformations.

Successful digital transformation ultimately depends on the organization’s workforce and its willingness to utilize and take advantage of newly enabled capabilities. Recently, I have covered a dozen of these capabilities—trends, enablers, new tools, technologies and the underlying economic factors that are forcing many changes in the industrial economy. While all twelve are critical, a digital transformation will always fail to reach its true potential without the appropriate workforce alignment.

The focus of my articles has been consistent. Acceptance of digital transformation’s trends and enablers is essential to the innovation and close collaboration needed to deliver competitive, profitable products and services into today’s marketplaces. Trends and enablers require, of course, the mastering of new tools and technologies that bestow huge benefits on the entire enterprise and its workforce and managers, including gains in productivity. 

Some of the new and evolving tools and technologies that benefit the enterprise include:

  • Generative design
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machine learning
  • Virtual reality/augmented reality
  • Topology data modeling
  • Predictive analytics
  • Agile software development

Failure to implement these changes puts everyone in the enterprise at the mercy of the forceful factors that are driving digital transformation throughout the industrial economy. “Everyone” here means the extended enterprise—the entire payroll plus customers, partners, suppliers, distributors, contractors and even lenders.

Major driving factors of the industrial economy include:

  • Growing electronics content and software in physical products.
  • New manufacturing techniques and support processes.
  • Introduction of new lighter, stronger and “greener” materials.
  • Mass customization of all the latest tech features in each new offering.
  • Nonstop innovation leading to shorter product lifecycles.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT), with its continuous marketplace feedback.
The Critical Dozen aspects of digital transformation. (Image courtesy of CIMdata.)

The Critical Dozen aspects of digital transformation. (Image courtesy of CIMdata.)

My previous articles introduced a dozen aspects of digital transformation, listed above. All the articles focus on critical aspects of digital transformation, many of which are often neglected or undervalued.

The most recent article, Digital Transformation: New Techniques & Technologies Disrupt Accumulated Expertise, covered the “what” and the “why” of workforce transition but only touched briefly on the “how.”

This article addresses the “what,” “why,” “how” by building a four-part framework—design, develop, evaluate and revise. This framework is circular, looping back upon itself so that nothing that is learned gets forgotten.

The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Digital Skills Transformations: A Summary

Implicit in the heading of “why” is that we approach digital transformation through innovation and collaboration. I most often encounter these as connectivity, systems engineering and enabling the Circular Economy. Connectivity links all the people, processes and technology to support the entire product lifecycle. Systems engineering entails designing the entire product in sync with its manufacturing, logistics, maintenance and other systems that must work together. The Circular Economy requires a rethink of products and processes to accommodate reuse, recycling, recovery of materials as well as remanufacturing and repurposing.

Connectivity, systems engineering and the Circular Economy all have many benefits, but each also brings workforce frustration.

In a previous article, I pointed to additional troublesome workforce realities. We must address the fact that business decisions are increasingly based on analyzing data and less on experience and insights (a.k.a. the many ways that automation sidetracks the expertise and skills that the workforce has acquired over two or three decades).

The implications are enormous—even unprecedented—for the ultimate success of digital transformation across the entire extended enterprise. Failure is unthinkable at this concluding stage of digital transformation, so I am offering some lessons learned on how to approach these challenges.

Make certain that the skills transition:

  • Aligns tightly with the organization’s overall values, strategic goals, lines of authority, decision-making, systems, structures, policies and other business practices and is directly supported by them.
  • Is directly supported by all of the above at both the enterprise and business-unit levels.
  • Defines and consistently refines the criteria for success to generate short-term, mid-term and long-term returns on investment.
  • Is driven through many channels and platforms to ensure that people get the new skills they need when they need them, in the most effective way, and at the expected cost—all of which reinforce desired outcomes.
  • Centers on “learning by doing” such as self-identifying needs, creating individual learning plans and seeking learning opportunities.
  • Establishes and insists on shared accountability where employees take responsibility for learning and apply what they learn on the job.

With these key points in mind, I am offering a framework that embodies a provable approach to these challenges.

A Digital Skills Transformation’s Framework of ‘How’

As I noted, workforce transition cannot be handled with the usual in-house training. Nor can this vital transition be fully handed off to the solution providers; most of their training courses focus on their newest software and thus probably lack the needed depth and breadth—especially in the areas of process enhancement.

To be sure of success, the starting point for digital skills transition is clarifying how to use, work within and execute each business unit’s new process-enabling systems, solutions and tasks. These initial details should be folded into a detailed learning framework covering the new skills that need to be absorbed.

I recommend starting with product development, which has the most to gain from digital transformation, and then addressing the skills shortfalls in the enterprise’s other business units.

The framework should also consider implementing new processes as there will be big changes in the way products are developed, engineered, produced, serviced and more. Some of the changes are merely troubling, causing productivity to suffer. Some are so disruptive that users struggle to get their work done. If implemented well, this learning framework will be invaluable in securing resources from elsewhere in the enterprise.

I have sketched out a framework that CIMdata and some solution providers, who also focus on knowledge transfer, use. Many systems integrators and software providers in the PLM space offer solution-specific training, among them Accenture, Aras, Atos, Dassault Systèmes, Deloitte, HCL, Oracle, PTC, SAP, Siemens, TCS, Wipro and many others. Some also deliver process-related educational services.

Additionally, some boutique firms, such as SharePLM, focus on more expansive training and even comprehensive skills enhancement, guidance and support. CIMdata’s education section, for example, offers an extensive PLM Certificate Program with live and virtual eLearning courses and digital skills transformation consulting practice.

The following framework has been shown to work, and is the result of years of best practice incorporation and use.


  • Decide which business units and specific key tasks most need skill upgrades; consider new employees separately.
  • Focus on essential workers and determine their individual needs (task knowledge, solution skills or lifecycle management).
  • Determine what skills workers currently have and what else they need.
  • Identify any knowledge gaps and needed pre-requisites (such as CAD, analytics or systems for design-centric thinking).
  • Decide which implementations are most urgent and identify their users.
  • Drill down to determine specific, detailed upskilling objectives.
  • Establish instructional goals for new skills and competencies.
  • From these decisions, establish framework goals and objectives.
  • Use this framework design to secure funding and resources.


  • Create learning templates and lesson plans tailored to business units’ needs.
  • Organize lesson plan contents by needed skills and learning.
  • Outline in detail the skills to be upgraded.
  • Review available training resources, including those from solution providers.
  • Summarize needed reskilling efforts by time and number of workers.
  • Develop and verify instructional materials.
  • Nail down instructional approaches and methods.
  • Organize instructional teams by learning resources and skill sets.
  • Establish accountability.


  • Verify that strategies and templates meet goals and justify resources.
  • Determine whether the reskilling strategies are sound.
  • Evaluate templates and lesson plans in terms of these strategies.


  • Update instructional templates and methods as necessary.
  • Update lesson plans as necessary.

This framework covers the level of detail needed for digital skills transition in product development and related downstream user communities such as production and service. I suggest creating a second framework for departments that use fewer digital solutions. Note that a third framework may be advisable for new hires.

Sustainability must be part of all these frameworks, hence the need to evaluate and revise sections. Templates and lesson plans should be frequently reverified and placed under change control. Refresher courses will be needed to deal with shortcomings, new concerns and changing priorities. Even the best framework becomes a liability if it can’t keep pace, wasting all the time and resources invested in skillset upgrading. Finally, set up a help desk.

Frameworks with this level of detail might seem like academic overkill, a needlessly detailed approach to skills upgrades. Bear in mind the likelihood that every employee has a combination of skills, needs and shortcomings that are unique to their job, business unit and department. Keeping track of all this information is why frameworks, templates and lesson plans are so valuable.

I have learned through extensive experience that frameworks generate sizeable benefits, including increased adherence to new (and existing) processes, greater productivity with tools new and old, enhancement of existing skills and building new skills (a.k.a., reskilling).

Benefits also include keeping the workforce current with all they need to know, better employee retention, defined pathways for job enhancement and progression and speedier innovation. Note that many of these benefits can be measured.

In conclusion, the skills of the organization’s workforce and its willingness to utilize and take advantage of newly enabled capabilities will determine the ultimate success of digital transformation. Ensuring that the workforce acquires and uses these new skills is best done with the four-step framework—design, develop, evaluate and revise.