How do I access my PLM data on a cloud?

December 30, 2008

Before we put something on a cloud, let’s think how we can take it off… and I really think this is good idea. Like with backups of early days – you can backup, but can you restore? With all the excitement around cloud computing, all these applications will produce massive amount of data. So, my voice in cloud-oriented technologies will say – how do I access my cloud-located data? Or, in another words – how will this data be available for me as users? For those of you who are already  typing the answer  to this question as “web services”, please slow down. I’m not talking about how one API will contact another one. My question is specifically how will I be able to manipulate data located somewhere now called http://mydata compared to how I can manipulate data located on c:\ or on \\mysqlserver

I found two interesting answer on this question. One is service available from, leader of SaaS eco-system This service, called “s2s” or salesforce to salesforce, allows users of salesforce applications to share data between them. This service allows users to integrate data between suppliers, partners, vendors and customers. With four simple steps – Invite, Publish, Subscribe, Collaborate, you can access data across a company’s account. Another example is more technologically crafted – CloudSQL from Zoho, a provider of online collaborative applications. CloudSQL allows you to use the very well-known SQL language to manipulate data between different Zoho applications, such as Zoho Creator, Zoho Reports, and Zoho Projects. What is interesting is that this service claimed to be an expandable middleware able to collaborate with external web services.

 Although I’m sure you will be able to find more examples these two are very representative. The problem with data access is recognizable by vendors doing SaaS business and they spent time and effort to provide “access and connection points” to their applications and data behind the cloud.  While the example is very end-user oriented, the Zoho example is very oriented on application engineers, service people and other developers, and also leverages today’s widely adopted standards (SQL). 

I find both examples, as well as this topic , very relevant for PLM. In most implementations of PLM,  data access is a very critical point and can not always be solved easily. So, before we move our data stocks on the cloud, let’s think how we make the data accessible. 

How to make PLM social – problem in content?

December 29, 2008

It has become obvious – social software has made revolutionary changes in our mind. Flickr, Twittter, MySpace, Facebook and many other social services have changed our way of communicating and collaborating. This leads me to ask a few other questions– what about enterprises? And more specifically – what about PLM?  The way I see it, as Product Lifecycle Management is focused on lifecycles , it is already very social. As PLM is heavily focused on collaboration between people, a social approach should be very appropriate. 

However, the social environment of enterprises would be different from the social web environment of consumers. There are a few important requirements, to socialize the enterprise environment in general – the social enabling infrastructure, and rich user-oriented services (address books, communities, connections, social searches). In my opinion, the most important requirement for the enterprise social web environment is user generated content. All successful consumer-oriented social services have been created around friendly and widely available content such as pictures, messages, and user contacts. Now, the question is how to replicate this approach to Product Lifecycle Management.

 When I think about PLM, the first thing comes to mind is that PLM is very anti-social: Very few people in the organization can handle CAD content, product structure and other information regarding Bill of Materials (BOM). Sometimes, this information is so confusing that sometime only the creators of this information can understand what is going on. A role-oriented approach is successful from the process-oriented standpoint, but this approach creates great diversification in how people communicate around products they design and manufacture. Taking these factors into account, the first and foremost steps, of equal importance, in making PLM social is to make PLM content widely available in the organization and user friendly.

 Availability of PLM content for all users inside of enterprise organization and in the extended enterprise will allow people to socialize around this content. I’m expecting many changes in this direction from the following different standpoints:

 ·         hardware (especially touch interfaces) and various communication devices, that will connect me to my PLM content everywhere

·         new ways to work with product models (especially geometry) and information, that will enable all people to work, i.e. change, review, comment;

·         new levels of communication between people (online), that will connect to people and PLM content.

 The bottom line is that I strongly believe that successfully created and organized content will make a big shift in PLM  – a shift that will make PLM a social system – finally. 


PLM Dream Technologies for 2009

December 25, 2008

 As the New Year is very close, I see this ias a good time to dream about the future. Therefore, I decided to raise “Dream Technologies” for the PLM topic on Think Tank. What are Dream Technologies? Simply, things that I don’t believe can be achieved more than 50%. As this is almost impossible, we can only dream about it for the moment.

 I decided to qualify the following three topics as my dream technologies that in my view can provide a significant impact on future of the development of PLM, (but not limited to PLM, of course)

1.     Persistent Content

2.     Modeling Prediction

3.     Plug off-the-cloud

Persistent Content

This is a technology enabler to keep product data and information available for long periods of time. In today’s systems even a time-span of 5-10 years is something hardly achievable. What about 40-50 and more? More and more industries today and the future will be required to keep life-long information about how their products are designed, built, utilized etc. In the AEC industry, information about buildings need to be used for very long time for maintenance and many other purposes. The Persistent Content technology is something that will allow product data and information to be connected in a meaningful way. At the moment, we contain design information , including design documents and  mostly in PDF formats. Lots of information about design process, manufacturing, supply chain simply gets lost. Making this information available can be mean a great deal for many purposes such as data traceability, analyses and reuse.

Modeling Prediction

I see the following possibility as very promising –analyzing design, manufacturing, supply chain and other related information to product model information in order to predict future behaviors of manufacturing, consumers and perhaps designers. This technology is connected to the idea of persistent content that will allow long a time-space storage for product data and information. As soon as it will be possible, applying a Bayesian inference can provide interesting and promising results. Think about being able to predict how successful the manufacturing process will be for a particular product during a specific time and according to specific manufacturing facilities. Initial usage of predictions have been used in Supply Chain analyses, but the scope of these systems is not holistic and is presently focused only on supply chain performance.

Plug off-the-cloud

Currently, everybody is thinking how to ‘plug-into-the-cloud’. I think it is a good time to develop PLM systems that will allow us to plug-off. This technology will allow customers to use PLM systems in an on-off mode and synchronize/cache content on demand, optimizing connection time, quality and availability. This on-off technology can be very beneficial, since many PLM/CAD applications are, by nature, desktop oriented. By allowing plug-off/on capabilities, their future on ‘the cloud’ will be more promising.

This is my last post before the holidays,I wish all of you Happy Season’s Greetings and all the best!

SYS! – Oleg.


December 24, 2008

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Merge of Social Software and Business Process for Product Development

December 24, 2008

 One of the biggest organizational challenges is to get an agreement about business and organizational processes in the context of Enterprise Software. Since PLM is the heart of all organizational processes related to product development, PLM implementation becomes heavily involved in the discussion about how specific organizational and development processes should be implemented. In many cases, it can impact PLM implementation or even damage original plans and ROI expectations.

 I’d like to propose an idea about how to merge some excellent capabilities of social software like Wiki and the capabilities of collaborative business process management available in PLM, or even in business process management. This “Mashups” will allow to have Wiki-style front-end user behavior, allowing relevant people in the organization to capture, document and craft business processes in a collaborative way. This Wiki-style frontend will be combined with collaborative business process definition done by a PLM system.

 It will also beneficial to take one more step, and make the collaborative process definition available as a ‘service on a cloud.’ In this case, the organization will be able to minimize efforts in its implementation, so we will have a “Wiki-style PLM on a cloud”. Today, there are multiple vendors providing workflow and business process management capabilities as a service, and I think this number will grow. Wiki engines are also available so we have all the basic technologies in place. The only requirement left is to create a product development envelope, allowing integration of these tools with design and product data management tools.  The only requirement left is to allow the integration of these PLM on a cloud service together with design and product data management tools, creating a product development process environment. 


Do you have PLM iPhone? – “I’LL TXT U”

December 23, 2008

“I’LL TXT U”… You are probably familiar with this modern slang. If not – this is time to ask your kids, if you can disconnect them from their iPhones, iPods, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. They will explain to you that this is “the most productive way to communicate”.

That being said (by your kids), I’d like to talk about productivity. I actually started this discussion actually in “micro-blogs and micro-content for PLM”, but it was continued in Vuuch blogYammer Will Not Work in PLM”. The discussion raised the question about PLM productivity and user productivity in general. This is a valid point, in my view, and obviously not only for PLM, but for every user. But I’m trying to see if there is something specific about PLM productivity, and especially something that can make PLM-related products more productive. 

I think that this problem generally has roots in currently-existing user experience metaphors.  Since the mid 1980s, the intentions of software and computer manufacturers were to support the individual users of stand-alone computers in their traditional office environment. Most activities were in context of launching applications and storing information in documents. A key factor in the original success of existing desktop systems was a set of intuitively clear underlying principles that rendered a consistent mental model of the digital workspace as whole. But this workspace wasn’t monolithic. Desktop metaphors allow you to create as many workspaces as you want. Most importantly is the fact that this model does not focus on data or information. Information and everything related in this desktop metaphor is part of the documents. In general, documents can be everything – emails, excel files, MS Access database, files, etc. The introduction of browsers for the ‘massive Web user’ experience didn’t bring much in context of productive user experience – users now have another application with which to launch and look for data. This data is even more disconnected – in our example, multiple web services such as Twitter, Yammer, IM etc. overload users with additional sets of informational channels.

 Now, a few words about PLM. Since PLM is not a single application, there are various aspects of productivity. Productivity of single applications and tools is something so important, that it is solved, in most cases, on the level of the applications/products themselves (i.e. CAD, CAE, analytics etc.). But I see the problem going beyond tools on the level of process management and overall user experience of information overload. Product Data Management, Collaboration, etc. create bottlenecks in the way that people behave and affect the productivity level. In my view, the key issue PLM needs to solve in order to be more productive is to provide a way to access data contextually to users, depending on their roles in the organization and their daily work. 

So, Context is King! As a user, I have an incoming stream of tasks – this is my everyday life. As a designer, engineer or manager in a manufacturing enterprise I spent a lot of time in getting everything I need to accomplish my tasks – designs, suppliers, ERP, Catalogs, other users…. (you can continue this list). As PLM is trying to do all these together, it becomes very complex and expensive (since you need to make all this happen in your organization). Users are reluctant to move from their desktop user experience with email, excel files and other documents since they feel that it simple and successful. Also, users don’t see good alternatives. 

Getting back to “yammer” and micro-blogs… For me, both of them can provide additional ongoing contexts to communication. As such, a micro-blog for a particular ECO may contain all the material people need to work on as well as connecting to all people involved into this specific ECO. If I spend less time finding all the information and will not be required to dive into an unfamiliar environment, I will appreciate this service and return – so it will be successful! I think we will continue to search for a better user experience in general and for PLM in particular. New user interface technologies, extensive usage of Mashups and other contextual services will help provide users with the right data syndication to make their daily work more productive.

PLM and BIM – common roots or common future?

December 22, 2008

I was looking at the evolution of PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) and BIM (Building Information Modeling) and found interesting parallels and associations.

Fundamentally, for a long period of time, I associated PLM with Manufacturing and BIM with Architecture, Engineering and Construction. After doing some research in this field, I observed a sort of convergence between both areas from a strategic standpoint and from a (potential and future) technological standpoint.

Based on the most fundamental definition of PLM from CIMData –” ‘PLM’ is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from its conception, through design and manufacture, to service and disposal“; PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies and extended enterprise. One core PLM area – Product Data Management is focusing on capturing and maintaining information about product and/or services through their lifecycle; Secondly, CAx – focused on Product Design, other two areas – Product and Portfolio Management and Manufacturing Process Management focused on various aspects of process and decision making. In the scope of these areas, there are multiple development processes and methodologies – Concurrent Engineering, Top Down Design, Bottom Up Design, Design in Context. The most fundamental technologies used for PLM are Product Design Technologies (CAx), Product Data Modeling and Collaboration Technologies, allowing customers to develop the overall PLM processes in organization. I see much agreement in the development of processes for provided by many vendors. Unfortunately I can see significant industry level disagreement in the development of modeling technologies that will allow participants of the entire Product Lifecycle to create, share, and collaborate on product information. 

Now, let’s shift gears to BIM. There are a few roots of BIM definitions. I’d like to take the following simple one: BIM is the process of generation and management of the “building data” during its lifecycle. BIM today is accepted by major vendors in Architecture, Engineering and Construction and used in all building types – from simple warehouses to many of most complex new buildings. BIM covers multiple domains – geometry, spatial relationships, geographical information, quantities and properties of building components. It helps manage a wide scope of works, system assemblies and other related processes. BIM provides potential future as a virtual information model to be handled from Design Teams to Contractors and Subcontractors, and then to Owners, each adding their own additional discipline-specific knowledge and tracking of changes to the single model. The core technological and modeling principles of BIM were defined as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes)  and aecXML which are data structures for representing information used in BIM. There are a few other data structured developed by commercial vendors in the BIM domain. 

From my perspective,  there are definitely common roots for both PLM and BIM. Both came as answer to support people collaboration around the entire lifecycle of products, but in different industries (Machinery and AEC respectfully). In the early beginning, their capabilities were around design tools (CADs or CAx) and improved significantly with introducing of 3D. In machinery, introducing of 3D parametric modeling and, in AEC, 3D building models created a solid base for collaboration and process support. 

At the same time, there are some significant differences in the maturity of information models and process development for both BIM and PLM. PLM developed mature best practices related to development processes in the organization, especially processes and standards for organization in aerospace, defense and auto-manufacturing. At the same time, PLM in these industries was quite unsuccessful in establishing common information data models. IGES and STEP were two of the most successful, but not on the level of supporting virtual information model for the entire lifecycle process. In BIM, the development of IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) has been quite successful in my view. IFC is a vendor-neutral information model and supported by most  AEC/BIM vendors.

It’s also interesting to note how the  future of PLM and BIM is being  presented by vendors. Inspired by Web technologies and the future of Web-based systems, DS introduced PLM 2.0 as the next paradigm of Product Lifecycle Management – online applications with lifelike experience. In BIM, there are emerging definitions of BIM, BIM 2.0 and even BIM 3.0. BIM 2.0, according to these definitions, is focusing on analyses and BIM 3.0 on simulations. According to some other definitions of BIM 1-2-3, BIM 1.0, called ‘CAD on steroids’ focuses on model-driven AEC-oriented CAD .(By the way, this is similar to PLM which  developed around 3D parametric CAD systems). BIM 2.0 is focusing on how to expand BIM systems to non-A/E people (similar to PLM 2.0’s – “PLM for all”).

 Now, the most interesting observation is about 3.0… In some of the research, BIM 3.0 is defined as “post-interoperability”. I see development of IFC and BuildingSmart as something that can provide a future foundation for BIM tools to work in a seamless environment. It’s too early to introduce PLM 3.0, but at the same time, the idea of “post-interoperability” is definitely interesting as the future of both PLM and BIM industries. 



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