Should PLM 2.0 come with a new PLM format?

March 31, 2009

I’ll start with a disclaimer. I understand that to start a “format discussion” is at least as dangerous as starting a discussion about CAD interoperability. Nevertheless, I will try to turn this conversation away from “how to invent new universal format” to discussion and focus on “maybe we are missing the purpose of formats – it’s about aggregating data rather than protecting data from other CAD vendors”…

 I have been thinking about CAD/CAM/CAE/PDM/PLM and data formats for quite a while. On one hand, a file is a very natural way for desktop applications to store information. Therefore, lots of applications in our domain have used files for various purposes. On the other hand, with current technological development, including the mainstreaming of Web-related technologies, and the conversion from local desktop experience to live and connected experience, I came to the following conclusion: It’s time to change our current perspective on CAD/CAM/CAE/PDM/PLM related file definition?

 But let me take a step backwards for second. Does it make sense to talk about files in the 21st century? What do you think? In the world of internet applications, online services and cloud data services a discussion about files sounds archaic. But if we will turn this discussion in the direction of data encapsulation and information delivery mechanisms, talking about file formats will make sense in terms of how it’s possible to change things in the world of engineering and manufacturing enterprise applications.

 So, what could be the ultimate goal in creating a new PLM 2.0 format?

 Historically, all available formats were created as an accomplishment for the various tools (CAD/CAM/CAE etc.) to store their information. In the world of engineering and manufacturing, the majority of information was still managed by files. The exception is PDM and ERP application – but even in this case, they manage lots of vaulted data (actually files on servers) with having to add relevant metadata information. So, as each application domain created their data format, the results were that these formats have become very domain- oriented. I have to credit some of the activities like STEP/ISO in trying to create standardized representation of product data exchange, but even in this case, they created AP (Application Protocols) according to specific domains.

 I think that PLM 2.0 can offer how to package data across the application domain. It will prevent having to be locked to specific engineering tools. It must be able to be sent, for example, a CAD model together with CAE analyzes. Although I can come up with more examples the general idea is to come up with something that can encapsulate data in a user-oriented manner, compared to what we have today in a tool-oriented manner. In the end, this is can be bring a large added value of new PLM 2.0 technologies, similar to the value of Web 2.0 related technologies in making end-user-participation a model for the Web.

 I have to admit, that some of the discussions in the Enterprise Data Management and Architecture as well as GIS related field specifically inspired me to think about a new PLM format perspective. I’d like to mention the following shapefile 2.0 manifesto. Also, adding my previous thoughts about PLM and BIM, I think we will see more and more intersections of existing domains in the future, as a lot more will move towards a connected application world. 


PLM – Small Things that Matter

March 30, 2009

Hello New Week! After having a long ‘cloudy’ conversation last week, I feel like descending from the cloud back down to earth and discuss a few small things in PLM software. After scratching my head for some time, I  actually reached the conclusion that productivity in our  life is the most important characteristic of software. This is something that can make the life of people working on software both excellent and crazy at the same time.

 In this post, I want to expand on a topic in my previous blog post about second movers innovation. Some of you commented that this is an exact Apple business model. So, I started to analyze PLM software and think about what areas need to be improved in PLM in order to find an iPhone recipe for PLM. So, following is my conclusion – we need to invest in two areas to give an “iPhone in our hands” feeling to our users.

 1.    Fast data availability.

The main idea is that data needs to be easily available for customers. Think about people looking for a specific part, Bill of Materials, or Design. They need to have a straightforward way to get to this data without being involved in complex operations or application experiences. Without mentioning any specific PLM software, I think we have been doing pretty much the same thing for the past  for 10-15 years. And this is generally the same for all enterprise software.

In my view, Dassault Systèmes 3DLive user experience is a remarkable application, but still not applicable for general purposes.

2.    Mouse click user experience

This is a killer enhancement, if somebody would be able to improve it. In general, the User Interface complication needs to be resolved. Today it is too complex in features and too heavy in mouse clicks. It brings me back to my UNIX and MS DOS (yes!) experience. Command lines in the user interface was very efficient in being able to get work done fast. I remember a similar experience when I worked with the AutoCAD command line. The operation was smooth and efficient, from what I can remember. So I want it back…

So, I’m sure these two areas do not cover all possibilities and options regarding how to improve small things that can create the next state-of–the art PLM application. But getting back to the history of CAD and PDM, I think there are a few examples that show that small things can really make a big difference. One of the examples is the creation of SolidWorks by John Hirschtick and his team. You can find this story in curriculums of MBA courses. By moving the established model of Solid Modeling to a cheap and available Windows platform, adopting the Windows user experience with SolidWorks made a revolutionary change for many designers. Looking forward, I think, touch-based interfaces will improve user experience.

I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation with your feedback. 



Microsoft’s Cloud-y Future, SharePoint and PLM Collaboration

March 26, 2009

Previously, I already touched SharePoint on the PLM SharePoint paradox. Thanks to all of you for commenting on this post. I’d like to continue the SharePoint topic in context of the MS Cloud future. After reading the interview with Steve Balmer in the NYTimes, I found this sketch by Mr. Balmer interesting. Balmer is pointing to SharePoint as a tool for enabling collaboration for MS Azure’s cloudy future.

steve-balmer-cloud-y-sketch

Offering SharePoint for Collaboration purposes definitely can be an opportunity for PLM providers to work on PLM collaboration services and expand the across the organization and supply chain.  My usual “SharePoint concern” is about how packaging and implementation services related to SharePoint when it comes together with today’s PLM applications. In this case, it will be interesting to see how the MS Azure SharePoint future will become available, including a more precise set of packages, development tools and pricing. Sounds like a  “cloudy”, but promising future… 


The Biggest PLM Challenge on the Cloud

March 25, 2009

We’ve had a discussion about the  future and benefits of cloud applications. Without rehashing the conversation too much, it seems obvious as to how an offering based on Cloud Computing and SaaS/PaaS/IaaS can simplify application development, streamline implementation and improve ROI. But what is the biggest challenge of PLM on the cloud?

 I think that a Cloud and SaaS offering can provide enough benefits to be launched very soon. For example, the computing capabilities initially announced by Autodesk, project Autodesk ShowRoom will make third-party computing resources available for designers. IBM, together with Dassault Systmes also mentioned Cloud computing as part of their strategies.

 Today, I’d like to raise an issue that, in my opinion, is crucial to making the PLM cloud journey successful over the long-term. This issue is Application Integration. As a system becomes more and more distributed and disparate within and across organizational boundaries, the need to keep a log? of transaction and communication between these systems also grows. This problem is already known but the capabilities of the system to be integrated for enterprise deployment are much bigger compared to future cloud-based options. In order to deploy PLM successfully, organizations will need to integration tools and processes across multiple applications.

 This problem is not unique for PLM applications, but also exists for other enterprise applications that are moving to a SaaS / Cloud zone. We can see similar challenge in the CRM and Finance Application offerings. An example of a company offering a cloud-based application that solves integration needs is Workday. Workday offers business and CRM applications. To solve their growing integration needs, Workday acquired a company called CapeClear and established an ‘Integration on Demand’ offering.

 To sum up, I think that integration will cause enterprise cloud deployments to face significant challenges and will require solutions beyond standard SOA and Web Services-based offerings. It will be interesting to see how ISVs will recognize and face these challenges.  I also would like to learn from your personal experience with this issue.


Where is the PLM shortcut to the cloud?

March 24, 2009

 I definitely think that “cloud” will become the buzzword of the year 2009. As the number of cloud-based announcements is growing, I tried to see where PLM of its into this cloud race. So far, I’ve observed three main trends companies are using to jump  on the cloud-related business.

 1.    Develop a cloud-based platform/infrastructure  

In my view, Amazon is the leader here in the way that it established an elastic cloud platform and also provided database services (Amazon Web Services, Amazon EC2, Amazon WS). Microsoft, IBM and other big IT vendors are joining the race – you can see a few announcements recently from MS and from IBM. Do a Google search for buzzwords such as SaaS, IaaS, PaaS and you will find whole bunch of relevant publications.

 2.    Use cloud services and/or a platform to develop new applications

This is not only a place for innovation for many big companies, but also an absolutely sweet spot for newcomers. The number of applications on top of established cloud services such as Amazon is growing. Where Amazon and Google look more infrastructure and data oriented, Facebook, and some others provide more social-oriented applications. What’s interesting here is the redevelopment of available utilities and tools that can  be connected and backed up with cloud services.

 3.    Integrate and/or migrate existing application offering with cloud services

This is a space where existing established ISVs are trying to balance between today and tomorrow. According to the latest Forrester research “Platform-As-A-Service Reference Architecture”, at least 50% of ISVs today are developing SaaS applications. “Increasing customer demand for software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications has already convinced 50% of software vendors to deploy some of their business applications via SaaS. The approach is turning out to be a major technology challenge, as it re-opens the fundamental platform discussion. A new set of functionality in the form of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings is leading to a new software product and services category” – says Stefan Ried, Ph.D. in his research.

  What are the possible routes for PLM-related companies within this cloud-race? One route will be moving existing enterprise application architectures onto the cloud platforms. Some of IaaS/PasS providers (like Amazon EC2) allows you to run existing applications hosted on the cloud; but some of this new IaaS/PaaS development (i.e. MS Azure) assumes that you will need to adopt this to a new application development infrastructure. Another alternative is to develop services on top of established cloud platforms. In this context, I was thinking about the possible renaissance of File Explorer (yes! New Old Stuff… File Explorer is the most widely used product data management tool after MS Excel :)).

 So, the cloud-based File Explorer could be easy and cheap for companies to start moving their PDM/PLM stacks onto the cloud. On one hand, it will leverage existing user experience, which is significantly important for users. , On the other hand, it will be backed up with strong and scalable cloud data services.

 Here is an interesting product developed by CloudBerryLab for Amazon S3. I’m sure ex-users of Norton Commander are feeling some nostalgia when you look at the design of these explorer panels.

norton_commander

cloud-explorer1

cloud-explorer2

 

I’m sure we will see Cloud-based PLM services coming very soon. I will be very interested to know you’re your feelings. Perhaps, you already have some  experience in this area.


Where is PLM on Industry Cloud Map?

March 23, 2009

Continuing the cloud-zone discussion I have started for this week, I found this pretty comprehensive technological map for Cloud Computing, SaaS and PaaS industries on blog of Peter Laird and Kent Dickson. 

So, where does PLM fit into this space? There are a few service providers that have traditional server PLM applications and data services, integration services, content services and BPM services. On this map, there are a few interesting application providers such as Oracle, Netsuite, and Salesforce. Some of them such as Saleforce Force.com, are listed as PaaS vendors.

 So, there are many choices for companies to develop PLM solutions and place them on this map. Larger ISVs can find their place as providers of PaaS and Application Suites. Smaller and new ISVs can find interesting way of developing services and applications on top of data and integration services.

 http://saaslink.googlepages.com/saasindustrymap

saasmap_lairddickson_may08-full


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