What the Dropbox price drop means for engineers and cloud PDM?

September 2, 2014

engineering-cloud-storage-pdm

Cloud storage is an interesting place these days. In my article CAD companies and cloud storage strategy few weeks ago, I discussed the aspect of cloud storage business. Cloud storage companies want your data and for that purpose they will make it very easy for you to sync your data into cloud storage.

Dropbox just made another move and simplified their cloud storage pricing model. Navigate to the following Business Insider article to see some interesting aspects of comparison between cloud storage providers. The most interesting part of the article speaks about specific cloud storage features – view only, password protection, time expiration and remote delete.

Dropbox’s new Pro plan also offers a few collaboration features, including “view-only” permissions, which is helpful for freelancers and contractors that want to show mockups to their clients without letting them make any changes. Dropbox Pro also lets users password-protect their links to any folders or documents, and even apply expiration dates to those items. As PCWorld’s Zach Miners points out, this would be useful for wedding photographers that only want to allow access to a particular album of photos for a limited time. Finally, Dropbox Pro will also let you delete any Dropbox files from a lost or stolen device while keeping those same files backed up in Dropbox’s cloud, which will be a relief for many who have ever worried about losing sensitive data on a misplaced device.

1TB is a lot of data. Even if you think about heavy CAD files, it is a lot. My guess 1TB can cover a storage for CAD and related Office files in many companies. But features differentiation is more important in my view. Dropbox price drop and attempt to introduce important features made me think about future trajectories of cloud storage and how it will related to engineers and growing number of cloud PDM solutions.

1- Cloud sync. Cloud storage will be free very soon. It will not be a differentiation factor to decide what solution to choose. The ability to bring your data to the cloud and bring it back at the time you need in a secure manner will be a key thing to evaluate. You can see how Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox and other vendors are trying to simplify the cloud sync story for their eco-systems. So, think about your tools (CAD systems first!) and they way you work with your data before deciding to sync your files into one of major cloud storage service. To simplify data sync for CAD and other tools can be a first place to show advantages of cloud PDM.

2- Data access control. This is another fundamental functionality. Engineering data contains lots of dependencies. People are re-using the data between projects, working in teams and with different outsource providers. To support access control schema that can support individuals, small companies and teams in large companies can be a challenging task. This is a place where cloud PDM vendors can show a second advantage vs. generic cloud storage providers. For many companies, this is a showstopper to move into cloud solution.

3- Viewing service. It is extremely important to view files and data remotely without downloading file(s) to your computer and mobile devices. Engineering data stored in a very specific formats. To be able to access this data when it located remotely in the cloud can be a third important advantage of cloud PDM tools.

What is my conclusion? The time to pay for cloud storage is almost over. The next battle in cloud solutions competitive race will require to show functionality specifically tuned for engineering data. Cloud sync, access control and viewing is top 3 elements of any cloud PDM solution. The solution that will get it right, has a chance to win cloud PDM competition game. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


The foundation for next PLM platforms

August 29, 2014

PLM-software-platforms

Platform. This is a sweet word in a lexicon of every developer. The desire of software vendors is to become a platform to fuel the development of other products and serve needs of customers. In my debates with Chad Jackson about granularity and integration earlier this month, I outlined what, in my view, can differentiate tools, bundles and platforms. That discussion made me think even more about what PLM platforms are made today. In my view, there are two major foundations for most of PLM systems and tools developed today: 1- 2D/3D design platform and 2- object database modeling abstraction. Let me speak more in details about each of these foundations.

2D/3D design platform

Geometric paradigm provided strong foundation for design and engineering since early beginning of CAD/PLM. Therefore, CAD systems are deep in roots of PLM vendors today. Historically, all major PLM vendors today developed their software and businesses from CAD and related engineering applications. As a result of that, 2D/3D geometry, design, modeling and related information is a foundation of their products. Geometry modeling combined with PDM (product data management) created core foundation of these platforms.

Object Database Modeling

Object data modeling paradigm used by many CAD agnostic PLM vendors. Many of these vendors started as PDM companies expanded to support product development processes. Therefore, flexible data management approach became a main foundation layer for these products. Most of these systems were developed on top of relational databases (RDBMS). The flexibility of these platforms to manage any product information and related processes is a key strength.

Next PLM platform

What do you think will happen in the future of PLM platform? Are we going to see new elements and technologies to fuel future PLM development? In my view, last decade of innovation in open source, data management, web and cloud technologies created a new foundation for future PLM platforms. At the same time, the maturity of product lifecycle management implementations can provide a better understanding of functional architecture of PLM products. It made me think about what can become a foundation of future PLM platform development. Below, I put my four candidates to play a role of next PLM platform foundation.

1. MBSE (Model Based System Engineering).

As products are getting more and more complex, the approach that helps us to support product development becomes more visible and important. Product is going much beyond 3D mechanical design and contains information about system architecture, requirements, functional decomposition of mechanical, electronic and software elements. From that standpoint, MBSE is a good foundation to create a platform and I can hear many voices these days about future of MBSE approaches.

2- Unbundled 3D service

3D was born as part of CAD design. Engineers need to use 3D CAD system to create actual product. However, there are many people in manufacturing ecosystem that just need to consume 3D data or information in the context of 3D data. Think about 3D service unbundled from CAD system providing ability to visualize and re-use 3D information, combine it with other non-3D information. In my view, such approach can create a good foundation for future PLM platforms. I can see PLM vendors taking some elements of this approach today.

3- Product Development Standards

The level of dependencies in a modern manufacturing eco-system is huge. You can hardly find a single manufacturing company solely responsible for the development of their products. Companies are relying on development partners and hundreds of suppliers. Therefore, standards are getting more and more important. Some of product development and vertical industry standards can provide a functional foundation for future PLM platforms too.

4- Database technologies, big data and web infrastructure

Data technologies is a key element of any PLM system. We need to be able to manage a diverse set of information about product – visual, structured and unstructured. Functional requirements are different from the ability to create and maintain the information as well as ability to make analysis and re-use the information in a very scalable way. Modern data management software stack can become a foundation for future PLM platforms.

What is my conclusion? Product and technological development are going together. New platforms can arise from as a result of maturity of product and technological innovation. I see these four sources as a list of core elements of platform innovation sources. This is of course not an exhaustive list. I can see potential mix of these approaches together as well. These are just my thoughts and I’m looking forward to your comments.

Best, Oleg


Do we need PLM walkie-talkie?

August 28, 2014

plm-walkie-talkie

Continue the topic of efficient communication started yesterday about future of the email for engineers, I want to speak about some other interesting alternatives engineers can use to stay connected and work together. Instant messaging is crazy popular. We use it everywhere. Last year I posted about opportunity to develop instant messaging app for enterprise and engineering workspace. Navigate to my post – PLM messaging and whatsapp moment. My main point was how to create an efficient context for communication.

New startup CoTap looks like trying to bring Whatsapp moment to enterprise customers. My attention was caught by TechCrunch article – Cotap, A WhatsApp For The Workplace, Adds Box, Dropbox, Google, OneDrive And Desktop App. CoTap takes the direction to integrate variety of contextual data sources by adding support for file sharing from Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive and Desktop apps. Here is an interesting quote:

The Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive integrations that are being announced today are a part of that bigger concept, … the idea here being that you can send flyers to staff with information, pictures of lost property, or other communications — as well as the latest marketing strategy. After a user has connected up the service in question, sending a file is as easy as sending a photo in a messaging app. Cotap also used as an API layer across all four to power search and to surface recent documents. Effectively, what it means is that Cotap sits as the mediation point between the four storage services — imporatant since in many businesses you often end up with a mixture of services between official company accounts and those you have created for your own documents when you are working on a nonwork device. Recently modified files show up first on Cotap.

It made me think about engineers in manufacturing companies. How do they communicate? Email too complex. At the same time, it is hard to add a specific engineering context in IM like Lync, Skype and others. In my view, the demand for new engineering communication tool is there. Companies are looking how to use the ideas coming from social platforms in enterprise communication. However, the experiments with "twitter for engineers" and some others are questionable. To create list of "followers" is not practical. You quickly getting to the point of "too much noise" in your social channels".

What is my conclusion? The idea of walkie-talkie style of communication between people you are working on daily basis is a refreshing one. Especially when it disconnected from platform (desktop, mobile, voice) as well as provides a good content integration (video, photo, drawing, 3D, etc.). It removes noise and allows to engineers and their peers in an organization to focus on their work and problem solving. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Engineers and email workhorse

August 27, 2014

email-workhorse-plm

We love and hate email at the same time. Since early beginning (back in 1962) email remains one of the fundamental ways of electronic communication. One of the major email transformation back in 1990s was influence of internet and significant expansion of email content and functionality.

In the world of software vendors banking on collaboration, the death of email was predicted long time ago. Engineering software (CAD and PLM) vendors are part of that group. The need to transfer large CAD files was on of the most critical reasons used by companies developing PDM/PLM software against email in communication and collaboration.

Nevertheless, despite all predictions, email is alive and transforming. I’ve been reading Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet. Article explains why email will never die and provides a very good set of arguments to support that statement. Here is my favorite passage:

You can’t kill email! It’s the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing. Email is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built. In that way, email represents a different model from the closed ecosystems we see proliferating across our computers and devices. Email is a refugee from the open, interoperable, less-controlled "web we lost." It’s an exciting landscape of freedom amidst the walled gardens of social networking and messaging services.

Speaking about email transformation, I want to mention (again) the strategy of "unbundling" of email. The article brings few interesting examples of email unbundling – newsfeed, identification platform, direct social communication, digital package delivery service, business and work communication, etc. However, one of the key issues related to remaining popularity of email is the role email plays as a communication platform. The main point here is how to make communication smarter. Here is an interesting explanation from the same article:

This change might be accelerated by services like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, which sorts mail neatly (and automatically) into categories, or Unroll.me, which allows users to bundle incoming impersonal communications like newsletters and commercial offers into one easy custom publication. That is to say, our inboxes are getting smarter and smarter. Serious tools are being built to help us direct and manage what was once just a chronological flow, which people dammed with inadequate organization systems hoping to survive the flood. (Remember all the folders in desktop email clients!)

I found the topic of "smart communication" interesting. This is can be a refreshing idea. At the end of the day, engineers are looking how to make communication easy and smart. At the same time, the adoption of new communication tools can be hard and limited if you need to communicate across multiple organizations and individual networks. I was discussing some aspects of unbundling in the field of 3D, CAD and PLM. Email or let’s call it engineering communication platform can be another "unbundled" service.

What is my conclusion? Efficient collaboration and communication is a key. PDM/PLM vendors are trying to find a new innovative way to re-invent collaboration. Internet, cloud, social… we’ve heard many names and buzzwords for the last few years. To re-invent communication leveraging email communication platform by making your email inbox smarter can be a refreshing approach. What do you think? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors?

August 26, 2014

3d-cad-unbundle-plm-1

Unbundling is an interesting trend in many industries these days. It is relatively new marketing and business activity that helps to create new business offering, packages and product configurations. In many situations "unbundling" is a disruptive factors in many industries. Here is how it explained in Wikipedia article:

Unbundling is a neologism to describe how the ubiquity of mobile devices, Internet connectivity, consumer web technologies, social media and information access[1] in the 21st century are affecting older institutions (education, broadcasting, newspapers, games, shopping, etc.) by "break[ing] up the packages they once offered, providing particular parts of them at ascale and cost unmatchable by the old order."[2] Unbundling has been called "the great disruptor".[3] "Unbundling" most basically means simply the "process of breaking apart something into smaller parts."[4] In the context of mergers and acquisitions, unbundling refers to the "process of taking over a large company with several different lines of business, and then, while retaining the core business, selling off the subsidiaries to help fund the takeover."[5]

Enterprise software is well known by existing large "bundled" application suites. For long period of time, vendors developed large set of packaged applications. On the other side, customers’ demand was to achieve high level of vertical integration between product lines and product families. Last year, I explored some perspective on the future of unbundling in enterprise software and PLM. One of the drivers behind future "unbundling" is related to interests of customers to get better optimized software environment, focus on specific groups of users and driving faster ROI and fast implementations.

My attention caught my Aras blog post – If all you have is Teamcenter Everything Becomes a 3D CAD Problem. The article speaks exactly about the problem of bundles in engineering software. It discusses different needs of users in an organization. The split Aras introduced by Aras goes between people that need to get on 3D CAD software and rest of organization. Here is the passage, which explains that.

The 3D CAD vendors have created very complex file configuration management problems. Independent of how you manage your enterprise product lifecycle, you have to worry about breaking the configuration integrity of these fragile 3D CAD systems. Given the unique complexity of the 3D CAD problem, do you really expect that a single enterprise tool will be able to manage the entire product information data set and processes? Or is it better to manage CAD with the PDM system provided by the CAD vendor, and use a more suitable enterprise system to manage the majority of the product information and processes? Thousands of end users managing the true majority of product information and use cases have been asked to wait decades while exotic 3D CAD centric PLM systems are deployed to the specification and requirements of the few design engineers. But what is the missed opportunity cost to the business?

I can see Aras’ marketing and business message for "unbundling". As non-CAD PLM vendor, Aras is looking how to disrupt integrated suites provided by PLM vendors such as Siemens PLM and maybe others. At the same time, for customers looking how to solve a specific set of problems outside of engineering organization, to deliver such unbundled solution can be an interesting and efficient strategy.

There are lot of questions that customers will raise as soon as vendors like Aras will unbundle specific 3D CAD functionality from broader scope of process management. To achieve both vertical integration and granularity in platform and tools is very hard and this is a weak point in Aras strategy compared to integrated PLM suites. Few weeks ago, I debated that topic with Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insight. Read about debates here – CAD: Engineering bundles vs. granular apps. More of my ideas and thoughts about the same topic is here – PLM: Tools, Bundles and Platforms.

What is my conclusion? To unbundle complex engineering applications suites as PLM is not easy. Vertical interesting is very important and it will be hard to give up them. Flexibility and agility are on the top priority lists for IT managers when it comes to management of application and resources these days. It looks like an interesting topic to put on the list for PLM vendors and software architects these days. Unbundling was very disruptive in many domains. Will PLM domain can be disrupted by unbundling into platforms and granular apps. Will 3D CAD become the first tool to unbundle from PLM? It is a good question to ask. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How PLM vendors can find mobile moments

August 25, 2014

plm-mobile-moments

People are getting crazy about mobile apps these days. We are spending more time on our mobile devices. Nobody will argue about importance of mobile. We can see different mobile strategies among PLM vendors. At the same time, for most of them "mobile" is about developing "same version" of PLM suite, but for mobile device. Back in 2012 I posted about that – PLM gold rush: did vendors miss the point? Few months ago I was talking about "social" as a new mobile opportunity for PLM. I think PLM vendors didn’t crack "mobile" topic yet.

Forrester research put an interesting perspective on how to develop mobile apps. They called it "mobile mind shift". Navigate here to learn more. The following Forrester video gives you an idea about what is behind mobile shift. The most interesting part I found is related to finding so called "mobile moment". Navigate here to see an interesting table summarizing a potential list of mobile moments. I found some of them speaking very closely to potential mobile moments for PLM customers.

To succeed in your customer’s mobile moments, you must understand their journey and identify their needs and context at each potential moment. Then design your mobile application to quickly provide just what’s needed in that moment.

Here are few examples of consumer sale, business meeting or field maintenance.

Get information on a product while in a Best Buy store. Use a tablet to show a doctor a new Medtronic device. Retrieve maintenance history for a GE wind turbine.

These examples make sense to me. However, it made me think about complexity of finding these mobile moments. The situations where a specific customer wants to be involved into mobile context specific iteration can be very different. While lots of companies are moving to mobile these days, it looks like it will take time until overall B2B eco-system will be ready to mobile product and business related contextual scenarios.

What is my conclusion? B2C ecosystem is changing fast. Consumers are moving to mobile and requesting more and more interaction with businesses via mobile devices. However, B2B applications are not there yet. It seems to me sales and field maintenance operations can be two potential domains where PLM vendors can find mobile moments in the near future. We will see more mobile interactions coming soon with enterprise applications that will provide PLM "mobile moments". This is an early alert for PLM vendors and PLM architects. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to reinvent engineering standard and references books?

August 22, 2014

future-engineering-ref-books

I remember one of my birthdays back many years ago. My dad pushed me towards a bookshelf with kids encyclopedia and encourage me to study most of it for the next year. I found reference to these books on wikipedia now. According to the information on wikipedia, it contained only ~6000-10000 pages. It was huge amount of information back that days. Also, I remember my first introduction into library of engineering codes and standards. I remember first day I had an access to Encyclopedia Britannica. The old way accessing information…

Everything changed since then. We are not looking for books when we need to get an information about anything. We "google it"… The voice recognition technologies is getting better, so since last month I can try to ask my Android wear device for information. It doesn’t work for everything, but it is getting better.

The fundamental change happened with encyclopedia business. It became completely horizontal. Time ago a small team of people worked to create an encyclopedia that was consumed by millions of people for a long time. Now it is different – wikipedia changed the way we create knowledge and consume knowledge. The knowledge is crowdsourced by millions of people and consumed at the same time.

digital-revolution-phases-encyclopedia

The way we present knowledge is also changed. Reference books with plain text pages are thing in the past. Today, knowledge represented as a intertwined linked data set with references and rich media – videos, photos, maps and even 3D reconstructed objects. Here is an interesting example of how 3D and information technology can change museum business – Smithsonian X 3d.

New technologies in the field of knowledge capturing and representation combined with new approaches in data management and 3D scanning can change the way we work with information. I’ve been reading Kalypso article – Reference Books and Libraries – So “Yesterday”, which speaks exactly about that:

Let’s face it; libraries, reference books and dictionaries are losing their luster. Exploration and learning today are more likely done through online resources like Google, online research and scholarly journals, Wikis and blogs. So what does this mean for innovation and product development research processes?

Today, three ring binders and file cabinets still clutter the offices of marketers and market researchers at Fortune 500 companies that are considered leaders in innovation. Most of these companies probably have sophisticated enterprise information systems that contain sales information, financials, product data records, inventory and even employee time‐tracking.

Surprisingly, these companies may still track their historical ideation, concept, and project information in three ring binders or manila folders stacked in closets or stored in the basements of a research facility.

Earlier this week I learned about interesting project – LODLAM (Linked Open Data in Libraries Archives and Museums). If you have few minutes free, navigate to that website and take a look. It also brought me back to the ideas of usefulness of Knowledge Graph for PLM. I found a very good capture of current status of how LODLAM approach used to develop new type of information application is the presentation from SemTechBiz 2014. Take a look on the slides here.

lodlam-example

All together, it made me think about engineering standards and reference books. It is so old and not efficient. In many cases, engineers are relying on memories because access to the libraries, codes and information is too complicated. Like encyclopedia Britannica existing engineering references look are outdated and complicated to use.

The more I thought about that, more questions came to my mind. How to find relevant engineering codes and standards online? The diversity of engineering disciplines is very high. There are lots of specific industry oriented codes as well as country specific standards and references. How large companies are working with that? Who is curating this information for large industry leaders as well as for millions of small manufacturers and individual makers.

What is my conclusion? The way engineering standards and references are represented today is outdated. The best engineering libraries I found on the web are bunch of university libraries. The data is poorly organized and search mechanism is far from perfect. How to organize engineering references and provide a better access to engineers. Do you think software vendors looking for that? Will future engineering information and design systems provide an access to reference information as part of design and manufacturing processes? Too many questions today :). I have some answers, but I’m looking for some crowdinformation today. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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