PLM, BOM, Excel – How To Make It Right?

July 30, 2010

The following blog article caught my attention last week – “Four recommendations for better Excel BOMs” in Arena Solutions blog by Jennifer Bomze. I found it interesting. Arena Solution is a PLM outfit that started about ten years ago as a company named After few years, was re-branded and expanded to provide PLM on demand solution. I remember I was impressed by what Arena was doing with their web-based Bill Of Material product. I was following Arena activities over the past few years. They grew up in their functional PLM scope. However, my hunch is that the main competition is going between PLM offering and plain Microsoft Excel product.

PLM vs. Excel: Apple-to-Apple?
I had chance to write about PLM and Excel multiple times in the past. You can track my previous articles on my blog. Few of them are here:
Do we need chief excel officer to manage BOM?
Why Do I like my PLM Excel Spreadsheet?
PLM Excel Spreadsheet: From odes to woes.

Of course, Excel cannot be compared to PLM. Nevertheless, I guess, MS Excel is successfully outperforming PLM systems from the simplicity, implementation cost and data openness. So, even if you will never see PLM vendors comparing their product portfolios with Excel, they are struggling with Excel competition.

How To Make Excel In a Right Way?
Despite the fact Excel cannot replace broad set of PLM system functionality, I can see PLM companies are thinking more and more into “Excel-friendship” direction. To confirm this you can see multiple expanded MS Office and Microsoft SharePoint offerings coming from TeamCenter and Windchill. However, current proposal by Arena make it even more interesting. You can take a look on the full article here. In short, what Arena proposes – 4 recommendations how to use Excel if you decided NOT to purchase PLM system, for the moment:

  1. Be consistent. Use the same columns in the same order in every Excel bill of materials. Use a standard format for part numbers, manufacturer names, file titles and other types of data.
  2. Use standard templates. Get in the habit of hiding (not deleting) columns that aren’t needed in a particular BOM and creating separate spreadsheets for doing analyses that require additional columns. Give each column a single purpose, and label every piece of data in your Excel BOM spreadsheet.
  3. Have part numbering and part naming conventions – and a single location to store them. Develop and document a standard way to number and name ALL parts, and then manage those part numbers and names in a single location, like an item master or master parts list.
  4. Minimize repeated data. Include only as much data as is needed for each BOM to perform its core function of capturing the relationships between parts and assemblies. Store additional part data in the item master instead of multiple Excel BOMs, so updates only need to be made in one place.

In addition to that, Arena proposed free Excel templates to manage Bill of Materials.

PLM Excel Trojan Horse?
I can see where Excel PLM templates may be going in the future. By helping customers to optimize their Excels, PLM creates the foundation of a future PLM expansion. Of course, there is a danger in helping customer to keep going with Excel. However, there is a chance for being able to connect Excel data to Arena PLM and to import excel-based data into Arena PLM. It seems to me a step in the right direction.

What is my conclusion today? I think, MS Excel is a big deal for PLM companies. Customers are voting for Excels. PLM vendors may understand that their previous “Export To Excel” strategy was wrong, and they need to change it now. The competition with Excel will be growing as much as PLM vendors will be trying to expand their solutions to be used by more people in companies. So, give away some Excel templates can be a very good idea.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg

PS. Freebie. Arena Solution didn’t pay me to write this post.

iPad and Enterprise PLM

July 28, 2010

iPad sales are skyrocketing. I read “Global CIO: Top 10 Reasons Steve Jobs & Apple Are The Future Of IT”. Take a look and make your opinion. My first impression was – CIO readers are those who potentially can face the end of their carrier if future Apple’s movement into enterprise organization will be so successful. A very interesting quote, in my view:

“The iPad, very surprisingly in the first quarter, during the first 90 days we already have 50% of the Fortune [100] that are deploying or testing the iPad. This is incredible” (emphasis added). Yes indeed—that is incredible,—particularly for a company that doesn’t actively court corporate business. So folks—don’t get caught way behind the trend!

The Global CIO article made me think about how enterprise PLM can solve some of their fundamental problems by leveraging iPad trends in the enterprise. Among the list of the most important enterprise PLM challenges is to make PLM systems to be available for the broad range of the users in the enterprise. PLM generally failed to achieve that because of PLM system complexity and PLM price point. Users voted to corporate emails, Microsoft Excels and lately Microsoft SharePoint to help them to deliver PLM IP to the end users beyond an engineering department. Here are my 3 points why I think iPad may help enterprise PLM to achieve their original goals.

Coolness Factor
iPad can definitely unlock “coolness factor” and help PLM to deliver their message to end users. Business management, mobile users, manufacturing shop floor – this is my short list for the first users to adopt future iPad PLM apps. Some application restructuring is required, indeed.

PLM continuously criticized for their complexity and lack of usability. Following some Apple standard may help PLM to clean their application misbehavior in this space. Everything PLM vendors need to do is just following Apple development standards. Sounds crazy, isn’t it?

Pricing Strategies
The price becomes an issue. When complexity is kicked out, the issue of commodity can become an issue. The PLM differentiation strategies will stop work to protect PLM vendors in their high-margin software model.

What is my conclusion? I can see iPad can be bootlegged into enterprise organizations much sooner and faster than we can expect. If history repeats again, it can be done in the same way PC does it in the beginning of 1980s. Is it a potential danger for existing software outfit and specifically enterprise PLM? Certainly not. Their core business is protected by data locking strategies. However, it can finally lock down their potential growth if organizations will move fast into iPad infusion rally. Time to think fast, in my view. Watching TeamCenter iPad video, I can say some of the PLM companies recognized this potential. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

3DLive, 3DHD, 3D UI and Efficiency

July 27, 2010

I read Jim Brown’s Can Siemens Make More Fun with HD-PLM? Jim is writing about the future of PLM experience. I made me think about User Experience (or User Interface) efficiency for engineers and potentially other users in the organization.

3D Navigation Trend
I think, comprehensive 3D Navigation is definitely a trend that PLM vendors developed for the last couple of years. The two most significant products for me that created this trend are DS 3DLive and Siemens 3DHD (or HD PLM – still need to figure out the difference).  Take a look on the following two video fragments.

Dassault Systems 3DLive

Siemens PLM 3D HD

User Experience and Efficiency
Both 3D Live and 3D HD user interfaces made me think about engineer’s work efficiency. One of the most significant value propositions of such user experience is the ability to bring contextual information linked to the graphical (or 3D, if you will) representation of product. I believe, the main driver behind this user experience is the need to improve the engineer’s efficiency when they work in a complex design environment.

What is my conclusion? I think, PLM vendors are trying to innovate in the space of user experience and to improve efficiency of engineering work with such a type of environments. In the end, it is all about how to keep an engineer’s focus in a single UI and bring all relevant information in the context of this user interface. The underline work is impressive. I didn’t find the answer on the question how such type of software is going to be implemented on a customer site. Both 3DLive and 3DHD provide some access to the information outside of design space. To make hand-wiring behind these UIs will be not a simple task, in my view. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM and Legacy Data

July 26, 2010

When I’m thinking about any PLM project, I can clearly see the step when data available in the organization need to be loaded into the system. This step is often underestimated from different standpoints: ability to gather and load information, availability of data definitions, availability of APIs and system performance. I had chance to write before about “legacy data import” as a one of the three major factors impacting mainstream PLM deployment.

Data Sources
I’d make a try to break down legacy data you can face during the implementation.

1. File Legacy
Existing document, drawings, CAD models, Office documents. In most of the cases, these are “un-managed data resources”, that need to be collected, analyzed, imported and stored into the system

2. Relational Databases
In today’s enterprise landscape, lots of data are located into RDBMS system. You can find lots of legacy data here – starting from early dBase tables and going up to various versions database formats and systems Connections to these systems in most of the cases is very straightforward via SQL-compliant driver or software.

3. Computer and Application Legacy
Often, you have systems that were implemented and used or continue to be used by company now. For some reasons, the access of their data storage is problematic. In this case, the only way is to access these applications via an available API or reverse engineer such data sources. Sometime, you can face old, but still functioning computer systems (mainframe is one of the best examples) that continue to operate and keep lots of valuable for organization information.

Import vs. Federation
These are two separate strategies about how to handle legacy data. You can keep the data in the original form and systems. You PLM system will be accessing the legacy data sources to get data, connect and transform it into a new form. The alternative option is to import data in a single shot into a new system. In this case, your legacy data becomes irrelevant, and you move into a new system. It is hard to say what is the best strategy. The situation needs to be estimated and assessed based on the system analyzes. However, I found legacy systems as something that very painful during implementation.

What is my conclusion? Legacy data is important. The amount of data is growing in the exponential manner. To handle legacy data and systems is a very painful task. Each time we come with new systems, the problem of legacy data comes up again. PLM needs to learn to handle foreign lifecycle data or lifecycle data produced by previous versions of PLM systems. It seems to me as a very important functionality that almost missed today. What is your opinion?

Best, Oleg

PDM vs. PLM: A Data Perspective

July 24, 2010

I want to talk about what I consider as one of the most controversial topics in the industry – PDM vs. PLM. How many times, you had a chance to hear the following question: What is the difference between PDM and PLM? I guess, the only one question can practically compete with this – question about what is PLM? So, I decided to step into this winding road to give you my perspective on that. I will try to get rid of multiple high-level pitches and TLA-oriented presentations.

The Status quo
My first shot to get the status quo is to see what Google can show me on this topic. So, the followingsearch, brings some interesting set of links. Here is what I found.

The oldest material I found is the article by Martin Day in CAD Digest – Is PLM the new PDM? . He is giving a deep perspective of PLM definition based on his conversation with Pascal Daloz, back that time VP R&D strategy in Dassault Systems. You can see their opinion about PDM to PLM race as well as the definition of how PLM is expanding PDM.

The later materials about PLM and PDM comparison are related to Solidworks white paper PLM vs. PDM: It All Starts From PDM. You can find this whitepaper on the following link. Their PDM is a subset of the overall solution called PLM. The explanations of SolidWorks PDM people are very simple and straightforward. However, they are giving you too much marketing flavor – buy PDM first and later think about your PLM.

A very interesting perspective on PDM vs. PLM topic provided by Mark J. Silvestri, CEO at Lifecycle Solutions in his video. I found it as a pretty balanced view presenting a very practical historical perspective about expansion of product data management into management a diversity set of moving pieces related to information about products.

Arena Solutions put their sponsored link with “PDM vs. PLM” label pointing on their white paper. You to register, so I did and then discover seven pages long white paper about advantages of PLM solution from Arena. There are few more links. However, they are giving you pointers to the websites of multiple PLM solution providers explaining advantages of PLM software.

PLM Confusion
In my view, the most notable confusion around PLM is related to a very different view on this from two opposite sides – vendors and customers. For the last few years, I can hear more and more customers are talking about PLM strategies, concepts and industry adoption. However, in many cases it becomes very controversial when the discussion is moving to the vendor/product side. Most of the vendors pushing “a complete PLM solution” actually missing the point that this solution probably cannot be delivered by a single vendor and customer considering it more as a strategy rather than a product. At the same time, you can see PDM movement into the “commodity space” where PDM is considered as a software to manage CAD data that, in most of the cases, need to be purchased from CAD vendor to prevent version compatibility hassles.

PLM Data Perspective
Here is my short take on the PDM vs. PLM from the data perspective. Both TLAs were born to provide a name to a solution that helps engineering and manufacturing companies to manage product data. In the early beginning, it was mostly about vaulting CAD data. However, within the time, companies in that space understood that broader strategy needs to be developed to compete with ERP behemouths that started to capture market in a very aggressive way by consolidating enterprise application around MRP and finance domains. That was the time the idea of managing broader scope of data was born. Solutions started to expand their offering to manage data about requirements, engineering and manufacturing BOMs, supply chain data. However, to sell pure data management is not an easy job. C-level people are not driven by data. They are driven by processes. So, broader data management solution for engineering and manufacturing came to the idea of “Lifecycle”. Finally, PLM was born. In my view, it stands for a broader data management solution that includes the orientation on processes that influence changes of this data as well decision management in a context of this data.

What is my conclusion? The ugly truth of enterprise software – it is all about data and the control over the data. It appears in every solution. It is all about what data you manage, how do you keep your customers accessing and processing this data?. PLM is the attempt to manage data in the much broader scope than PDM. It creates lots of benefits from the standpoint of data completeness and, at the same time, created many overlaps in data management solutions in enterprise organizations.

Just my thoughts. I’m open and looking forward to having a discussion on this topic.
Best, Oleg

PLM, Technological Choice and Open Source Revolution

July 23, 2010

The acceptance of Open Source technologies is growing. One of the latest examples of products in open source movement that caught my attention was Lucid Imagination. Lucid is built on top ofLucene and Solr – open source search libraries and enterprise search solutions. I was thinking about trajectories of Open Source solutions and found that the majority of them started their paths from a particular technological choice. It is known as LAMP Stack. So, the topic I wanted to discuss today is what is the impact of a specific technological choice on the solution.

Open Source Technological Choice
The choice of open source technologies today is become more and more dominant for the newcomers. New software companies are selecting open source software as their default technological stacks. Web, wide adoption of OSS and low cost of the solution brings a massive amount of new business in this space. I can see a significant shift in this space compared to the last decade.

OSS driven business
It is very interesting to see a route of building OSS based business. I can figure out several aspects of this build up – technology, community, product and business. The sequence of these aspects is exactly how I mentioned them. The technological choice is based on OSS projects is the core foundation of the solution. It gives the root for creation of community of people involvement into this development. The community is one of the most fundamental elements of any OSS project. This is a live indicator of the project. As much as development becomes more mature it can be turned into a deployed product. Only at this stage, this product can be converted into business either by redistributing of the certified code or by providing consultancy and service development.

OSS and Enterprise Software
For the long period of time, enterprise software, in general, and built for the enterprise PLM, was very protective about Open Source. OSS violated some very basic rules of enterprise software business related to licensing, redistribution and liabilities of the software development companies in the context of software code originality. I can see a significant change in this trend now. Multiple OSS solutions started to be much more popular in the enterprise. Just to mention – Sugar CRM, Drupal, Alfresco as examples of acceptance of open source solution in the enterprise. The latest example is Lucene/Solr and company Lucid Imagination that are taking Lucene and Solr Enterprise Search solutions for distribution in a similar way RedHat did it for Linux.

I can see a certain opportunity in Open Source PLM innovation. The first very visible company in this space was Aras. Started on the MS code-based, they are mostly focusing on a business model. The absence of OSS technological foundation and community development can provide a significant negative impact on the Aras Open Source PLM future. However, innovation role of Aras, can be considered as a very positive in the context of building industry perception related to Open Source PLM.

What is my conclusion today? I think, open source revolution will be coming to PLM too. However, to make it happen, all aspects of Open Source influence need to come into balance. I can see a significant level of dependencies between them. It starts from the technologies that drive openness and innovation. Then it creates a community of developers and users of this software. They eventually are creating the next step- open product innovation. And, finally it comes to the business model of open source in the way of reliance on free distribution, community contribution and business profit for companies that supports the development of these models. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Product Data Formats for the 21st Century

July 21, 2010

Data formats is an interesting topic in the context of engineering and manufacturing. Manufacturing is relaying on a significant amount of information that resides in the organizations. I had a chance to write in the past – 3D CAD Future: How To Liberate Data? I think, the topic is actually much wider than 3D and CAD. Engineers are using multiple applications and – CAD, CAE, Office, various databases driven applications. In addition to 3D CAD formats, organizations deal with multiple public and proprietary formats. Some of them are specific for the existing applications. However, formats like CSV are generic and used by multiple applications. I read an article Is JSON the CSV of the 21st century by Martin David on the th.inking blog. Martin is discussing what are the perspective to have JSON-like formats to have wider expansion in the next decades and replace CSV and similar formats.

I decided to put some of my thoughts about the history of product data formats and share some ideas about what may happen in the 21st century.

Technology and Interoperability
The story of data formats and interoperability is going together very often. Time ago, all application developers saved data into proprietary file formats. The interoperability was very poor. Then, the idea of relational databases invented by Edgar Codd came in to solve an interoperability problem. Everything is in relational tables and all applications supposed to use SQL. Nevertheless, multiple proprietary data models caused an interoperability problem again. Later in 1990s, XML was introduced as the next magic thing that will solve the problem of the interoperability. Since the first introduction in 1996, lots of different XML formats were developed. Some of them were developed in CAD, PDM and PLM space. However, the problem of interoperability is still with us.

Product data formats make their origins in hundreds and thousands of applications developed for engineering and manufacturing space. From the technological standpoint, I can classify them in the three groups: design related, database oriented and office applications.

Design related applications (CAD, CAM and CAE) are impacted by the development of major CAD systems. CAD applications are continuing to be very protective with regards to the formats. However, the adoption of geometrical kernels (Parasolid, ACIS and others) maintain today’s status quo in this space. Many “integration service” companies are dealing with multiple translation of all possible and impossible CAD data formats.

Office tools became part of engineering application and continue to make a significant influence on the product data because of wide adoption of MS Excel. Excel files are everywhere and you can find complete data management systems developed on top of the Excel and corresponded to the Excel data formats. Whatever will happen in the future, Excel legacy will continue to dominate for a very long period of time in everything related to product data formats.

The majority of engineering and product data related application is using database technology. This is what we have today in the industry. Relational databases and SQL-driven data development continues to dominate in this space. These applications created a huge amount of legacy data in engineering and manufacturing organizations. In most of the situations, companies continue to use data in relational databases even after application themselves becomes useless.

Product data format in CAD and other applications are tightly related to the issue of standards. My favorite association related to standards is tooth brush. We, obviously, need them. However, everybody wants to use their own tooth brushes. During the last 25 years, there are multiple attempts to create standards for CAD, PDM, PLM and other engineering applications. Some of them were more successful and adopted such as STEP and IGES. Some of the vendors related standards succeed on the level of visibility that can make them very close to become de-facto industry standards.

Product Data Ownership
The question of data ownership is an important one. Many organizations are using software to create various types of product data. It resides in application files and databases. Who owns these data? The reasonable answer – data belongs to the people and organizations that created these files. However, an absence of agreed and open standards created the situation when organizations are dependent on applications to access data.

Product data Format in the 21st Century
So, what will happen with product data formats in the visible future? I think, industry will need to find an answer on this question. The situation we have today was created by the business strategies of software vendors, existing technologies and specific application dominance. In my view, there is no “silver bullet” solution that can solve the problem of product data format in the short term. However, introduction of new web technologies, data standards and product data ownership can create a demand for the future innovation in this space.

These are just my thoughts.. I’m interested to know what is your take on the product data formats?
I’m looking forward to having a discussion around this topic.

Best, Oleg


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