Technical skills are no longer the overriding metric to judge the strength of your technology team. Employees also must excel in communication, collaboration and creativity for businesses to be competitive.

That’s the assertion of Gary Beach, author of “The U.S. Technology Skills Gap” and former publisher of CIO Magazine. In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Beach recommends that companies evaluate their talent with a “digital transformation skills matrix.” Here’s what he suggests:

“Plot the Y-axis of the matrix, on a scale of zero to 10, to represent what Thomas Lynch, the chief information officer for Suffolk University in Boston, calls the ‘cultural capacity’ of an employee to communicate, collaborate, think critically and be creative. Along the X-axis, also on a scale of zero to 10, identify the ‘technical capacity’ of an individual to work competently with discreet technologies needed in digital transformation projects.”

In Beach’s matrix, the most valuable employees are those in the upper right quadrant, those with both strong technical and “cultural capacity” skills.

Let’s back up for a moment and discuss what “digital transformation” means. There are a gazillion spinoff definitions, usually shaped by whichever technology company (including ours) is framing it to their products. But essentially the term captures the idea of leveraging new disruptive technologies to rethink business processes and improve efficiency, productivity and innovation across an organization.

My colleague, Dave Corcoran, recently addressed how PTC’s Onshape Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform has been a powerful lever for product development teams to maintain business continuity during the coronavirus pandemic. Companies relying on installed on-premise CAD software experienced major interruptions when their facilities were closed, while teams remotely using Onshape remained productive despite the chaos. It has all come down to access.

As when using any SaaS platform, Onshape users are instantly able to access their work online from anywhere on any computer or mobile device. Engineers using on-premise software, however, are dealing with VPNs, network licenses, and temporary licenses – not to mention needing to have a high-performance workstation at home that is powerful enough to run installed CAD software.

How One Manufacturer is Rethinking its Processes

High-end cabinet manufacturer Premier Custom-Built strives to combine the rich woodworking heritage of Pennsylvania Dutch Country with the latest cloud product development processes.

Premier Custom-Built, a custom cabinet and furniture manufacturer for the luxury market, has been rethinking its product design process long before the global pandemic. As emphasized in the Pennsylvania-based company’s name, no two cabinet designs are alike. Everything is made to order, and built twice – first in digital form and then in the physical form that gets installed in kitchens, living rooms and even yachts.

Premier’s IT department has become a critical part of their product development process due to FeatureScript, Onshape’s open-source programming language that lets teams create custom CAD features specific to their industry or even only to their company. The Premier team has already created more than 50 custom cabinet features so far, automating repetitive tasks and giving engineers more time to focus on innovation.

“FeatureScript saves us 50-75 percent of the time to make multiple cabinets as opposed to have to model them one cabinet at a time,” says IT Manager Kevin Hertzog.

One of Premier’s long-term goals is eliminating the amount of paper documents used on the manufacturing floor. Although the company designs and builds its own specialized machinery, and uses the latest technology across its multiple facilities, there is still a dependency on old-fashioned 3-ring binders (known as “the book”) to reference product information.

According to software engineer Chad Stoltzfus, all the product specs in those binders will eventually live inside their Onshape CAD models,

“With Onshape, we can take data from the CAD model and turn that into data for the shop,” he says. “Essentially, the definition of our product can exist not in paperwork and the model, but solely in the model.”

“One of the things we frequently talk about at Premier is this idea of having a single source of truth,” Stoltzfus adds. “And that's the logic behind using a cloud-based platform. What we are aiming to do is make our product models the single source of truth.”

Real-Time Engineering Information is No Longer a “Nice to Have”

Onshape Enterprise’s Release Activity dashboard gives an overview of pending, rejected and released Documents.

Onshape Enterprise’s real-time business analytics enables executives and managers to monitor all aspects of design activity as it happens. Project managers can instantly catch up with their team via project dashboards, real-time activity feeds, time series visualizations and contributor leaderboards – without waiting for scheduled formal design reviews.

Onshape Enterprise tracks all users’ sign-in locations and activities, giving managers a real-time snapshot of the company’s CAD usage.

Executives already rely on real-time analytics for nearly every other area of their business (sales, marketing, supply chain management, etc.), so why not for engineering? Better intelligence ultimately results in better business decisions. This kind of real-time information is only possible with a cloud-native platform – providing an instant snapshot of who is working on what and when across your organization.

Although Onshape’s real-time collaboration tools have especially proven their value during this pandemic, the fact is that they have always been invaluable for distributed teams. It’s extremely rare that products are designed and manufactured under the same roof today, and even rarer for every colleague or partner to be able to look over each other’s shoulder while collaborating on a project.

In Onshape, multiple engineers can simultaneously work on the same CAD model and provide immediate feedback to each other. Whenever one team member makes a design change, everyone else on the team instantly sees it. A comprehensive Edit History tracks who made which design change and when – and teams can also instantly share CAD models with colleagues or external partners with varying levels of editing/viewing access.

As communication and collaboration skills become even more critical to companies, Onshape makes it much easier for those skills to be deployed. When a team is humming along at full speed, feeding off each other’s energy and ideas, everyone can see the momentum unfold in front of them.

Onshape makes it very transparent who is contributing to the team effort and how. Under these optimal conditions, rating your employees with a “digital transformation skills matrix” won’t be necessary.