The programming language to hack next PLM system

July 31, 2015

tech-crunch-hackaton

Have you heard about hackathons? According to wikipedia, hackathon or “hack days” is an event where software engineers including designers, project managers and everyone else collaborate actively on a project. It is also a term that used for more organized innovative effort. Hackaton organizations goes back to roots of open source software. I can see a growing interest in hackatons as an organization of a specific effort to create a new software or make a significant progress in a project collaboratively.

TechCrunch article Which programming languages get used most a hackathons? gives you an interesting outline of tools and services people are using these days to hack future systems and products. Navigate to the following link to get a full research list. Among platforms, programming languages, databases and communication frameworks I was a bit surprised to see Autodesk services (Well done Autodesk!). None of other providers of platforms, APIs and services from engineering world wasn’t mentioned. You can also see a growing number of hardware platforms, which gives you an indication of large number of hardware development.

The section related to APIs caught my special attention.I’ve been talking about Web APIs yesterday in my blog – PLM and spreadsheetware. Take a look on the picture below

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 9.25.06 AM

Communication APIs, social APIs, payment APIs, Geo APIs. This is where web programming environment is heading these days. Web APIs and RESTFul services. Combined with agile development methods it gives you a good foundation how to develop open systems. Do you remember my old post – Is PLM customization a data management titanic? For the last five years, CAD and PLM industry moved forward with development of SaaS applications and services. It is a time to turn SaaS applications into consumable web APIs and services that can be re-used to hack a better PLM experience.

What is my conclusion? The time when companies developed system for 2-3 years to bring them to the market is probably over. The idea of hackatons and agile development is compelling. It can be used for new product development and hacking of service based products to solve a specific problem. Manufacturing is going into networking future and no-stack software era. To provide a set of consumable open services can become extremely important. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM and Spreadsheetware

July 30, 2015

plm-spreadsheetware

The debates about PLM and Excel are heating up. The discussion started in earlier blog posts by Lionel Grealou and Jos Voskuil. In addition to that you can read some of my posts from last week related to PLM and Excel – PLM: Need for speed and PLM vs. Spreadsheets: Bullfight and Prohibition.

I’m glad Ed Lopategui joined the conversation about PLM and Excel with his article – Your PLM Logic is Useless: Because I’m Excel. I love how Ed called Excel – The Batman of PLM. Here is my favorite passage:

Excel is the Batman of Product Lifecycle Managment (PLM), a vigilante working outside the system that benefits truly unfettered fanaticism and simultaneously annoys the cognizant authorities. You’ve got to hand it to Excel for its amazing versatility, the amount of surprises in that utility belt has kept the mighty spreadsheet relevant after all these years. Excel’s flexibility is both a blessing and a curse for information governance strategy the world over, and that includes especially PLM. Oh Excel, is there anything that people can’t twist you into doing? After all, some enterprising individuals have used Excel for some rather unusual things over the years.

So, can we say PLM defeated by Excel and we just need to go and hire Chief Excel Officer to run Excel-based PLM system? In my view, PLM vendors made multiple attempts to defeat spreadsheets. Even so, none of them produced something that can be qualified with something that investors call 10x better than competitors. I hope some vendors will disagree. Please do. And send me customer testimonials attached to your disagreement. Maybe jury is still out. Who knows…

If we cannot defeat Excel and reinvent a new thing, maybe we can embrace it? So, would some sort of smart integration can be helpful? One of the top VC companies in Silicon Valley Andreessen Horowitz just put a bet on a company Blockspring, which is planning to reinvent the way we work with Spreadsheets in Excel and Google. TechCrunch article just put an article about it earlier today – Smart Spreadsheet Service Blockspring Raises $3.4 Million. The idea of Blockspring in a nutshell is to bring the power of Web programming into Spreadsheets. If you familiar with Web APIs and RESTful services, you should love Smart Spreadsheets. It helps to call online services to populate and update data in spreadsheets. Look on the following video for more details – Paul Katsen, of Blockspring founders makes a demonstration of some neat features:

What is my conclusion? PLM vendors tried to defeat spreadsheets and failed so far. Maybe we should stop our attempts to replace spreadsheets and empower engineering IT folks with smart PLM spreadsheetware? As I predicted few years ago, PLM folks need to learn Web APIs. REST APIs can be used together with spreadsheet services to prevent cloud integration spaghetti. That would be a way to help Excel not to be useless in running some business logic. And it certainly solves some problems related to data import and update. I’m not sure it will solve all PLM problems. But this is clearly an interesting attempt to bring some fresh blood into PLM vs Excel fight. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


PLM: Functionality, Usability, Cost. Pick any two…

July 29, 2015

project-management-constraints

My SmarTeam colleague and long time blogging buddy Jos Voskuil challenged readers with an unusual PLM dilemma. You should pick between usability and business benefits. Ouch… painful choice, right? Navigate to the following post How to measure collaboration? to read more.

The challenge proposed by Jos was the outcome of our PLM vs. Excel discussion. You might be interested to look few other posts related to the topic: PLM – Need for Speed and PLM vs Excel: Bullfight and Prohibition.

Jos brings all these “SAP-like” value proposition reasons for enterprise system. Jos is actually confirming enterprise systems are guilty to build bad user experience and brining SAP as an example. He acknowledges that it worked well for financial systems, but sort of failed in engineering domain. Here is my favorite passage (a bit long one) explaining about ERP and PLM selling points and how is that related to usability:

ERP systems have never been sold to the users for their usability. It is more that the management is looking for guarantees that the execution process is under control. Minimize the potential for errors and try to automate all activities as much as possible. As the production process is directly linked to finance, it is crucial to have it under control. Goodbye usability, safety first.

Why is this approach not accepted for PLM? Why do we talk about usability? First of all, the roots for PLM come from the engineering department (PDM) and, therefore, their primary data management system was not considered an enterprise system. And when you implement a system for a department, discussions will be at the user level. So user acceptance became necessary for PDM and PLM.

But this is not the main reason. Innovation, Product Development, Sales Engineering, Engineering are all iterative activities. In contrary to ERP, there is no linear process defined how to develop the ultimate product the first time right. Although this believe existed in the nineties by an ERP country manager that I met that time. He told me: Engineers are resources that do not want to be managed, but we will get them. An absurd statement I hope you agree. However, the thoughts behind this statement are correct. How do you make sure product development is done in the most efficient manner?

I like how Jos brings the idea of efficiency. This is where it come back to reasons why people mistakenly prefer Excel over complicated and well structured enterprise systems. It gives them a very brutal feeling of efficiency and ownership. This is why I love my PLM Excel spreadsheets. But this feeling of efficiency is wrong. There are many reasons for that – it gets complex within time, it is hard to manage, etc. I outlined all of them in my six years old blog – PLM Excel Spreadsheet: from odes to woes.

The real problem is related to complexity of enterprise systems. It goes to the point you are afraid of these enterprise beasts. You are afraid to do something wrong. In some situations, you want only highly trained people to do something, because you are afraid of making a mistake that will cost time and money. On the other side, engineering and manufacturing process is very iterative by nature. So, how to bring a flexibility of spreadsheet and protection of enterprise system?

There is an old saying of product development that it can sound something like this – “Fast, Good or Cheap. Pick two”. This is a translation Project Management Triangle where you actually balancing between scope, schedule and cost. Fast is a translation of time; good is a translation of quality and cost is a translation of resources needed to make it happen. The three properties are interrelated and it is not possible to optimize all three of them.

Here is my translation of project management triangle in the context of PLM – “Functionality, Usability, Cost. Pick any two”. Obviously, the enterprise thinking is prioritizing functional requirements. One of the most typical PLM selection process is to fill in blanks of RFP for PLM implementation with a very long list of functional requirements. Guess what happens if you have missed functions… You lose the deal. Usability requires lot of work. It is very hard (almost impossible) to make it usable for the first time. You need to increase your budget to get it done or to increase a development timeline. Which was a challenge for most of PLM vendors until now.

What is my conclusion? Unfortunately, for enterprise PLM, the decision to pick any two ended up with functionality and cost. Therefore we have gigantic complex creatures called Enterprise PLM systems with a long list of supported functions and questionable usability. And for the reason not to make costly mistakes people are forced to use them. Is it going to change? I guess it will change as enterprise UX paradigm shifts. Less is more in a new world of enterprise transformation. It doesn’t mean we will accept mistakes or make it less secure. Actually, the brutal efficiency with less functions will win the future. Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg

picture credit Wikipedia article

 



PLM – Need for Speed

July 28, 2015

plm-need-for-speed

The conversation I started yesterday PLM vs Excel: Bullfight and Prohibition made me think again about reasons why Excel is constantly winning the competition with enterprise software. One of my readers compared Excel v PLM usage with situation where diversity of painting tools used – each one is more suitable for a particular part of the job. I like it and can see a point where clunky enterprise software tools used to manage structured requests, while Excel can be used as a lightweight tool for reports and data input. Although, I can see it done in many companies, I don’t think it is a sustainable situation.

So, why many people (including myself) are preferring Excel or spreadsheets atop of more structured enterprise-like tools? Here is my guess. It is all about speed. It is about speed of changes, speed of interaction, speed of implementations. Absence of speed and agility is a pain point in PLM implementations. It comes in variety of things. In my view, PLM can learn from Excel and improve its speed in 3 aspects:

1. Speed of installation and configuration

This is a place where change is already happening. Thanks to cloud technologies and SaaS applications! Today, we don’t need to setup servers and install PLM software. This part is gone. For many PLM application, new cloud PLM tools are good enough and it takes minutes to get an instance of PLM tool at your disposal.

2. Speed of implementation

PLM implementations are huge problems in the way it happens now. You might remember my blog – What cloud PM cannot do for you? There is no magic. The alignment with manufacturing organization, definition of data models, setting up processes, implementing some scripts is time that team need to spend. It is far from perfection.

3. Speed for clicks

This is a tricky part. By nature, enterprises are very structured. People, departments, processes. To make change is not simple and it requires involvement of people. As a result, many enterprise applications (PLM included) designed with a "structure in mind". It is transformed into many "clicks" that user must perform. When a specific function you need is "15 clicks away", you will hate the tool and prefer Excel spreadsheets. But I can spot some changes here. Organizations are becoming more agile, lean and flat. There is a lot of place for improvement for PLM tools here.

What is my conclusion? PLM architects and developers should think about "speed" as a core competitive advantage that can help them to win over existing PLM incumbents. While setup and installation problems are gone now as a result of massive cloud invasion, implementations and UX paradigms are still the same "old fashion father’s PLM". So, we need to add speed to PLM environment. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


PLM vs Excel: Bullfight and Prohibition

July 27, 2015

plm-spreadsheet-bull-fight

PLM has love and hate relationships with Excel spreadsheets. PLM vendors are spending marketing dollars campaigning to replace Excel. The last post by Lionel Grealou caught my attention during the weekend. Navigate to read PLM vs Excel post here. In addition to to almost traditional confirmation that PLM can outperform Excel spreadsheet, I noticed an interesting statement about the fact some organizations are prohibiting availability of Excel reports. This is a passage I captured:

Some organizations considered removing access to import from / export to Excel from their PLM applications to limit uncontrolled usage of data and reports. Most PLM applications now have advanced data search, live feed dashboard which can be tailored to business needs, with Excel-like features for data mining, profiling, compiling, formatting, presenting in various chart for analysis.

The comparison of PLM vs Excel capabilities for BOM management looks like a bullfight. But honestly, I’m not sure who is who in this fight. PLM vendors are fighting excel spreadsheets for decades with no visible success. The number of whitepapers and sales materials trying to convince users how much damage Excel can do is skyrocketing. But customers are still using Excel.

To remove an access to Excel reports is actually something new and unexpected. I had a chance to see many situations when IT was developed bunch of Excel-based solutions to eliminate the need of end users to touch complex enterprise systems in manufacturing, supply chain and finance. Customers loved Excel and hate complex enterprise software. Which reminded me my very old blog – Why do I like my PLM Excel Spreadsheets with top 5 reasons why I prefer Excel over PLM system. To balance a PLM point of view, I can recommend another post – What PLM need to take over Excel spreadsheets?

What is my conclusion? I’m sure you know that bulls are colorblind. Matadors used red material to mask the bull’s blood. PLM sales materials explaining the value of PLM systems vs Excel spreadsheets is like read caps. Users seems to me colorblind to recognize them. Prohibition also seems to me as a bad way to convince users. Especially in our era of consumerization and total focus on user experience. Enterprise UX is going through the paradigm shift. Old, bulky, cumbersome, weighty and hard to use environment that can block a productive flow will be replaced with new tools. It is all about the need for speed. When each function engineers need is “15 clicks away”, you cannot expect company to perform well. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


5 questions to ask before moving your CAD work to cloud using Fra.me [UPDATED]

July 27, 2015

cad-frame-cloud-nirvana

I keep following new cloud software outfit Fra.me. Few months ago, at Siemens PLM conference, I’ve seen how SolidEdge runs in the cloud using Frame infrastructure. You probably noticed my blog – Fra.me and bridge to the cloud earlier last week. Another article about Frame by SolidSmack is bringing a news about the availability of two Frame plans – Personal and Business. Here is the passage from the article:

Today, company CEO Nikola Bozinovic has just sent word to SolidSmack that Frame is now available in two distinct plans – Frame Personal and Frame for Business – for both individuals and teams to install, manage, and share their desktop applications using nothing but a browser. Among other reasons why the platform has been of interest is because it will allow users of CAD software offerings that aren’t currently Cloud-supported – such as SolidWorks or Solid Edge – the ability to work from any internet-connected device in the world without being tethered to a particular workstation.

So, maybe Fra.me is that magical “single click” solution that will solve all problems of engineers to move their work into cloud environment? The idea sounds very appealing- create your cloud computer, which will make all your existing desktop top available via just browser.

frame-cloud

At the same time, it made me think about basic checklist you do before jumping into Frame nirvana.

1- Does my CAD license valid for cloud?

I know, legal stuff is boring. Some of you might remember Autodesk eBay lawsuit. As a user, you can check small letters in your CAD EULA document. It is a good idea if Fra.me will publish some clarification about licensing on their website. From tweet chat with Frame CEO Nikoa Bozinovic, I understood that he is aware about licensing issue.

2- How to bring my existing CAD project library to Fra.me?

Engineering work is rarely done from scratch. It is usually about re-using existing projects, using standard library of parts, etc. Sometimes, existing libraries are large and to move them into cloud environment can take time and cost money. At list this problem exists for many cloud based environments. Will Frame provide services like Amazon Import/Export? Frame is addressing speed of data exchange between Frame computer and Dropbox, but I didn’t find any information how to import file.

3- How to share data in a team?

For many years of desktop CAD software use, customers developed many best practices about how to share data. It starts from well known “z-drive” concept and also use of more advanced techniques and software such SharePoint. So, how my z-drive library will be available on Frame?

4- How to use PDM tools together with Frame?

The usage of PDM is growing. Many CAD users found the real value in managing their CAD data using PDM systems. PDM systems today are bundled with many mainstream CAD systems. What will happen with my PDM installation? How to move it into Frame environment? Does it mean I need Frame IT option to do that?

5- How to escape Frame (in other words how to get my data out)

The last, but also important – how to escape from Frame in case something goes wrong or company will move into another solution. Nobody likes data lock-in these days. The idea of Google takeout is very appealing and I wish it will become part of CAD data liberation. It is not clear how to handle export of data from Frame computer. It might be simple, but can take time and money like import of data.

What is my conclusion? It takes time to bring cloud tools such as CAD, CAE, CAM to the level of maturity available in desktop systems today. Cloud providers are pushing forward to develop new tools and re-use existing components. However, in many situations, existing desktop tools have better support for needed functionality and complete workflows. Frame is digging into an interesting opportunity to take “desktop world” to the cloud. The short term value proposition is clear. In my view, existing CAD / PLM vendors can be interested to use technologies like Frame to prolong existing solution lifecycle into cloud time. My hunch, it can influence the speed of early cloud adopters to move into full cloud solution. Cloud companies should watch it closely. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

[UPDATE 27-JULY-2015]

Frame CEO Nikola Bozinovic kindly agreed to provide answers on my questions and publish them on blog.fra.me. Meantime, don’t miss Frame white paper which is specifically focused on “Frame for CAD” that can be downloaded here.

I captured few interesting passages that can give you ideas about Frame strategy to provide value proposition of running existing desktop CAD and PDM/PLM system in the cloud using Frame virtualization environment.

Previous to Frame, adopting the cloud for CAD workflows primarily had to do with moving to cloud-based file storage. This essentially meant splitting up your workflow and spending a lot of time downloading and uploading files. While some CAD options exist as native cloud apps, these options don’t have anywhere near the feature set of established Windows-based CAD tools. So, in the past, cloud options created an inefficient and fragmented CAD environment. With Frame you can continue to use the tools that you’re used to, the way that you’re used to using them but get all the benefits of being able to access them through the cloud including seamless integration with cloud storage.

Focus on being a CAD expert, not an IT expert. Managing desktops and laptops used for CAD, license servers and PDM systems can be a pain because they are generally distributed across multiple locations, owned or managed by different departments and configured in different ways which lead to different behaviors. With Frame, every element of CAD management and administration is centralized. License servers and PDM systems can be installed on Frame utility servers to make them accessible from anywhere and by any department. Similarly, CAD software only needs to be installed and setup one time and then can be accessed by any number of users from the Frame Launchpad in a browser.

I captured the following architecture diagram from Frame for CAD white paper:

frame-cad-pdm-architecture-use-cases

Cloud storage is required in case you want to store your files and data. Frame white paper recommends to use services like Dropbox (the only released support) and Box (in beta) or Google Drive (in beta). The installation and configuration is not exactly “single click”. White paper provides instructions and recommendation how to setup and configure environment. Frame confirmed several CAD systems already on-boarded to Frame environment – Dassault Systems Solidworks, Siemens’ SolidEdge and NX, PTC’s Creo, Vectorworks and ANSIS). I guess more to come. It is notable that none of existing Autodesk desktop systems are not tested for the moment. For some installation and configuration related topics Frame white paper recommends to contact Frame directly.

Stay tuned for more information.

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Fra.me

 



How PLM platforms will survive in no-stack era

July 26, 2015

vertical-plm-platforms-and-no-stack

TechCrunch article Software for the full stack era speaks about brutal reality existing business software platforms are going through. From the beginning it speaks about reasons major business platforms were created – IBM to automate clerks’ work, SAP – to unify enterprise finance and Siebel to computerize sales rep Rolodexes.

Which made me think what problem existing CAD / PLM platform solved? My guess today’s PLM platform were born to solve a problem of complex configurable 3D digital models for aerospace, defense and automotive companies. Look around, each of these OEMs is using PLM platform from one of top 3 PLM leaders – Dassault, Siemens PLM or PTC. To made it happen companies spent a fortune on gigantic enterprise IT effort to install, configure, plan, implement, support and maintain upgrades and future business requests. The follow passage from TechCrunch article is my favorite, because it explains how it usually happens in every company.

For all the innovation these relationships have brought to business, there’s been a price: the custom patchwork of disparate technologies that now power global enterprises. Typical IT lacks flexibility and efficiency, and often fails to fulfill its promise to customers. If you look under the hood at most global businesses, what you find is something akin to a Ford Model-T that has been continuously fixed by an expert mechanic to keep it on the road for a century. It might be a feat of engineering, but there ain’t no way that car will be driverless anytime soon. Unfortunately for leaders of global businesses, these clunky technical landscapes are doing more than simply irritating employees and customers — they’re jeopardizing their long-term survival.

The last point is clearly resonating with voices of large manufacturing companies having concerns about slow ROI and the fact traditional PLM platforms reached their limits. Solving urgent business needs by integrating new technologies with existing core PLM solutions can introduce a significant problem. Sometimes, it cost so much that it drives huge platform migrations. For most of PLM systems, the architecture and technologies of core functions such as CAD data management and BOM management were designed back 10-15 years ago. To connect and interplay between heavily customized core PLM modules and expanded PLM solutions can bring significant service and implementation expenses.

Technology and architecture of existing PLM platforms are going deep back to the time when enterprise IT was a king and to run PLM system atop of proven RDBMS was a key to success. This is probably still a reality for many manufacturing OEMs. But large manufacturing OEMs are starting to think about their long-term survival. That’s why GE has FirstBuild microfactories and car manufacturers are looking at Local Motors community model.

So, what PLM platform will support future manufacturing environment? TechCrunch brings Uber model as an example of how full-stack startups like Uber built their infrastructure:

With so much outdated infrastructure from a pre-Internet era, it’s inevitable that the way we consume even the most basic services will evolve. Companies need to embrace this fact to participate in the software-defined future. But doing so requires a dramatic change in how software is perceived, developed and consumed.

So the question arises, if the tech solutions of the 1980’s and 1990’s won’t suit the needs of today’s innovators, what will? The technologies that power these businesses, no-stack technologies, tend to be API-based micro-services that package up a lot of underlying capability. Unfortunately, the similarity in terms leads many to think that these two are diametrically opposed. They’re not.

Uber, the prototypical full–stack startup, requires no-stack technologies to do so much. Instead of hiring hundreds of engineers to build out capabilities far from their core business, Uber relies on API-based services to power a lot of their communications. When you locate yourself and request a car, Google Maps helps Uber route drivers to your location (for now). When you receive a text message with a driver en-route, it’s powered by Twilio’s APIs. When your receipt appears in your inbox, it’s SendGrid’s transactional email system.

Discussion about no-stack technologies made me think again about un-bundling PLM services. This trend will be an orthogonal to the PLM verticalization we observed for the last 10-15 years when PLM vendors tried to acquire and combine their platforms into gigantic software stacks.

What is my conclusion? The odds are high that new manufacturing companies will try to buildsolutions atop of no-stack technologies. In that case, sooner than later we are going to see a competition between DIY solutions built by manufacturing companies like Tesla Motors, Local Motors, GE, etc. What will be a future role of existing PLM players in that case? How PLM platfromization trend will go alongside with no-stack reality? Interesting question to ask about from PLM analysts, architects and strategists. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 284 other followers