The first half of this decade has seen a dramatic upheaval within the defense ecosystem. Both military organizations and the companies that serve them have experienced major supply chain disruptions brought about by multiple factors, including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, natural disasters and challenging economic conditions.

As a result, they now need to perform at higher levels, work more closely together, comply with challenging new mandates, and modernize legacy systems. Additionally, organizations must do this in the face of a confusing array of choices, and in a rapidly evolving landscape of emerging technologies like blockchain, robotics and artificial intelligence.

One of the emerging technologies already affecting the sector is digital twins, particularly in supply chain management. A combination of enabling technologies and analytic capabilities, digital twins produce a virtual model of a process, system, or object, informed by real-time data.

A new report from Accenture, based on interviews with senior military, defense and aerospace officials, acknowledges the benefits of digital twins for defense supply chains, including cost efficiency, situational awareness, force readiness, fleet management and sustainability.

Digital twins tap real-time and historical data sources to enable learning, reasoning, and dynamic recalibration for improved decision-making. These emerging predictive capabilities can help reduce risk and empower leaders to make more informed decisions, faster.

However, the same report also found four primary barriers to successful digital twin deployment by defense organizations seeking to explore digital twins on a path to more advanced management of their supply chain challenges. Only by identifying and adapting to these challenges can success by guaranteed.

The knowledge deficit

The value of digital twins is in combining the power of technology and human ingenuity to support decision making. Unfortunately, the global defense community currently has a relatively low level of awareness around digital twins, even at the leadership level. Defense organizations should work to ensure senior leaders know about their effectiveness and understand that adoption is led by them, not their IT organization.

Skill deficits can also be addressed through internal learning, new on-demand talent models and through strategic partnerships with vendors and academic and research institutions.

The data dilemma

Real-time data is the oxygen for digital twins, and often, organizations allow their concerns over the quality, volume and complexity of data and the time and costs involved in managing it to supersede its deployment. Many do not realize they can build digital twins with the data they have today and evolve models and inputs over time.

B-1B Lancer tail number 85-0092 is lifted and placed on flatbed trailers for the 1,000-mile journey to Wichita, Kan., April 24, 2020. The National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University will scan every part of the aircraft to create a digital twin that can be used for research. (U.S. Air Force photo by Daryl Mayer)

The security paradox

Digital twins deliver more value to the military ecosystem when they extend beyond one organization and integrate with the entire supply chain. However, security concerns can make this difficult to do. Given this and the nascency of digital twin applications in defense supply chains, governance is lagging and perpetuates fears around security and compliance.

The way around this is to update policies and agreements on data security to ensure they also support supply chain data sharing. It also requires refining data security accreditation standards to clarify compliance with sharing rules, and ultimately prioritizing cloud adoption to connect and protect data in a consolidated manner.

The supplier gap

As momentum for digital twins grows, defense organizations will need additional criteria around digitalization and data literacy, as well as modernized contracting protocols, to select suitable suppliers. They will need agreements on data ownership and sharing to provide end-to-end visibility while enabling suppliers to protect intellectual property.

Digital twins can support a process of continuous reinvention, as organizations leading the effort strive to improve data literacy through coaching, commercial incentives, adoption of learnings and modern technologies and tools for supply chain management.

As the world adapts to volatility around markets, the environment and geopolitical events, defense organizations must prepare for more dynamic, informed management of supply chains. Digital twins will become central to supply chain management in defense and are likely to set apart leaders and laggards in military readiness and effectiveness in the years ahead. Tomorrow’s defense leaders are today forging ahead to harness the strategic value of digital twins.

Matthew Gollings is Accenture’s Global Defense Industry Lead. He also leads Accenture’s Defence & National Security Team in Australia and New Zealand.

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