Accelerating Conceptual to Detail Design Workflows and the Role of Technical Debt

July 11, 2023

I have been attending the Hexagon Live conference for two decades now (back when it was known as Intergraph PPM) and it's always been a great event to connect with, and learn from colleagues and customers. This year I was honored to discuss the progress of digitalization journeys with attendees and speak at an engaging session with our Hexagon partner, David Kaiser, on accelerating conceptual to detail design workflows with a combined solution from AspenTech and Hexagon.


Technical Debt’s Impact on Digitalization

One of the recurring conversations throughout the week centered on how technical debt within an organization can hinder digitalization efforts. While the term has since amassed several definitions, Ward Cunningham, who coined the phrase in 1992, explained technical debt as follows: "Shipping code quickly is akin to incurring debt. While some debt can be beneficial if promptly repaid with a rewrite, the danger lies in leaving the debt unpaid.” Cunningham added “every moment spent on imperfect code adds interest to that debt."1

Organizations burdened with technical debt may find it challenging to adopt new technologies, integrate systems or scale their digitalization initiatives effectively due to historical “ad hoc” platform adaptations.

A recent study from McKinsey highlighted that every organization has some degree of technical debt—stymieing important digitalization journeys. Although the study claims that technical debt is hard to identify or difficult to quantify, my anecdotal conversations proved otherwise.

Most customers shared that they started their digitalization journey knowing they had technical debt and that they were measuring their progress based on its reduction, together with improving automation and acceleration in digital workflows.

Additional measures include:

  • Technical resources needed to support systems and workflows
  • Employee satisfaction around automation and the ability to unlock data and answers they need
  • General project development and execution metrics and the trend in how they are improving


Taming Technical Debt with a Combined Solution

AspenTech’s implementation and deployment workflows take into account historical workflows as well as available tools as we help customers define their maturity of adoption model. Legacy systems or outdated software architectures may lack the necessary interoperability and data compatibility required for a seamless design workflow between systems.

AspenTech addresses this issue with software solutions that provide a digital thread from process simulation to cost estimating, to 3D layout to deliverable generation and finally into detail design. Through our partnership with Hexagon, we have integrated Aspen Basic Engineering (ABE) with Hexagon Smart® P&ID. Any modeling changes made in either tool can be updated and synced between them, speeding up projects and optimizing change management.

Though the conversations at Hexagon provided insights into how technical debt has worked its way into our digitalization day-to-day, our lively discussion highlighted how the combined solutions available can address, and out-pace, the issues in front of us. We appreciated having a full house at the session and engaging in a long Q&A discussion on the flexibility and control that users can have in this workflow.


1: Agile Alliance. (2016). Introduction to the Technical Debt Concept (Version 02). Retrieved from

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