PLM SharePoint: Silver Bullet or Fierce Criticism?

September 30, 2010

It was a long time I didn’t talk about Microsoft SharePoint. I tried to recall and found that my previous significant thoughts about Microsoft SharePoint are going back almost one year ago to Microsoft SharePoint conference. Back that time, Microsoft presented their future SharePoint 2010. Few messages and publications yesterday made me think about what happens in PLM and SharePoint happy world. Aras announced Open Source PLM for SharePoint. You can read more about this in the interview with Aras CEO, Peter Shroer here. Use the following link to get directly to the solution. I’ve got a note from Jonathan Scott of Razorleaf about the same release. You can read Razorleafannouncement.

SharePoint – PLM Silver Bullet

Microsoft reported a tremendous success with SharePoint starting from version 2007. The reports presented numbers showing that SharePoint becomes “a new Windows” from the standpoint of the ability to change a current status quo in user’s mind and organizations. It caused a specific interest of PLM companies that started to see SharePoint as a vehicle that can diffuse PLM downstream in organizations. Siemens PLM reported that they have formed already long term relationships with SharePoint (i.e. TeamCenter) many years ago. On the other side, PTC introduced a complete vision of how to leverage SharePoint by introducing a whole new product line – Windchill ProductPoint. When I read PLM vendors announcement related to SharePoint and PLM, I always have been feeling of SharePoint representing a kind of “silver bullet” to solve all existing problems related to implementation and deployment of PLM. I specially liked the following passage from the blog post about recent Aras/Razorleaf SharePoint product development:

The solution enables product data assets normally contained within a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) or Product Data Management (PDM) system to be shared throughout the enterprise, as well as with its customers, suppliers, and partners globally, improving collaboration and cycle times by fostering speed to decision – visually. The Collaborative Product Development solution combines the capabilities of Actify’s DesignShare, including a new Microsoft Silverlight-based 3D viewer, and Aras’ Innovator suite, by utilizing SharePoint Server 2010 Business Connectivity Services, PerformancePoint services, workflow, and search to form an end-to-end companion for PLM and PDM.

SharePoint Fierce Criticism?

The following article drove my attention yesterday – New survey reveals dissatisfaction with SharePoint. The original survey made by Global 360. Global 360 is a company making a lot of business with SharePoint. They published a survey “How is your company using Sharepoint?”. You can download the original survey navigating your browser on the following link. You can also see survey results presented in the following slideshare presentation. Take a look on these materials and make your opinion.

Fierce Content management article made their conclusion and presented them in the following way:

[…78 percent of respondents reported that SharePoint “user experience was inadequate,” while only 17.6 percent chose that SharePoint was “great and adequately met their needs.”…]

They also made an interesting conclusion:

[…It’s hard to draw firm conclusions from a survey like this one, but it clearly shows some underlying dissatisfaction with the product even among the most faithful users. It probably bodes well for consultants and partners, but it also shows Microsoft still has a bit of work ahead, to make the SharePoint product easier to use for its enterprise audience…]

I didn’t make the absolutely similar conclusions reading this survey. However, some numbers represent criticism and problems customers are facing during SharePoint deployment and implementation.

The following numbers seem to me dangerous. 30% of users are frustrated with default SharePoint user interface.In the presentation, this number presented in the context of so called “iGoogle Effect”. My hunch, authors are trying to compare SharePoint out-of-the-box user experience with iGoogle dashboard.

So, what is my conclusion? Microsoft is showing deep interest in additional diffusion of their products to enterprise IT. From this standpoint PLM is a good vehicle with some problems in transmission that probably can be fixed by using SharePoint stove and pipes. The PLM benefits are clear too. SharePoint is a good infrastructure that will provide IT seal on a company-wide PLM deployment. Nevertheless, I have one concern that I want to mention anyway. My hunch is that tremendous effort of consulting and service companies are required to make all this stuff work. Will customers pay these bills? A very good question. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


New PLM and Digital Content

September 30, 2010

We are in the middle of a very interesting process of digitalizing our life. We are moving more and more pieces from old-fashioned-content to new , completely digital , forms. It comes as a combination technological advantages of the internet coupled together with new devices that able to produce a completely different user experience.

Books and Digital Content

I wanted to share with you the following video clip made by IDEO about the future of books. I found the user experience providing a significant potential to change the way we consume digital information.

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Efficient Content is a Key

At the same time, I want to balance this nice video with Joe Barkai of IDC – We don’t need iPads and iPhones. We need a better content. Read Joe’s post and made your opinion. I found it is very interesting. The important point is about content. We can improve devices, but without significant improvements in the content, all our device-related efforts will be useless. I liked the following passage from Joe’s post:

[…Those of us that have been in research, development and implementation of systems designed to assist technicians in maintaining complex systems know that the challenge is in creating effective task-specific content for a service technician, not the lack of a delivery platform…]

What is my conclusion? I think we are in the middle of massive introduction of new devices in the industry. However, usage of these devices automatically will not make software better. We will not solve old problems by moving existing PLM applications on new platforms. We need to see how to deliver a better content for new devices. The task-orientation, Joe is talking about, make a lot of sense to me.

Best, Oleg


PLM Philosophies Collide

September 29, 2010

Somebody asked me last week about how I see th future of PLM… Does it look like-BOM or like-Workflow? I found this question very interesting. Bill of Materials and Workflow (or process management) are fundamentally two most important pieces of PDM and PLM systems for many years. So, we have them already in place. However, thinking about the future – what will be a dominant solution? Do we need re-invent the wheel? Is there any conflict here? I want to elaborate about both to see what future PLM looks like.

Bill of Material World

BOM is considered as a foundation of design, engineering and manufacturing. You can see it everywhere – design BOM in CAD system, Engineering BOM, Manufacturing BOM, Support and Service BOM. You can follow a product lifecycle by discovering different bill of materials. You can find lots of methodologies and systems that help you to handle your Bill of Material world. These things are really complicated. Bill of Materials represents many issues related to product development and in the end of the day you can think about a virtual Bill of Material representing everything.

Workflow World

Processes (or how we can simply call them Workflows) are very important for an organization too. They are a life blood of every manufacturing organization. Organization is running business processes and making overall execution of the business. We can classify them as local and global cross-department. Local are mostly focusing on departmental processes. The more interesting and challenging thing are cross-departmental processes. These processes are connected people working in different departments. Cross-departmental processes are very important if you think about the overall product lifecycle.

PLM Philosophies Difference

So, why I put BOM world against Workflow world? You can draw your organization in terms of Bill of Material and, at the same time, in terms of organizational processes. Is it about philosophy or about real development practices? In the early days of PDM and PLM, the main focus was absolutely on files, data management, revisions, Bill of Materials. Later, PLM system discovered “process world”. This “discovery” was part of the competition between PLM and ERP world. PLM systems made an upscale to compete in the high society. The “process approach” presented organic change to fit product development processes in organizations.

What is my conclusion?

I think, this question represents one of the biggest philosophical collide in engineering and manufacturing software. What will be the winning behavior in the future? It is hard to say. In my view, the end-game solution will need to provide answers to both sides of the problem. BOM and Worklow need to be equaly included into PLM solutions. Only together they can keep an organization to manage efficiently product lifecycle. Just my thoughts. What is your take?

Best, Oleg


PLM: Open Source vs. Free?

September 27, 2010

I posted PLM and Open Source Licenses few days ago. The main trigger of this post was Google’s announcement about acceptance of all OSI licenses. However, as it sometimes happens blog post is just a trigger for another interesting discussion. Marc Lind of Aras and Yoann Maingon of Prodeos had very interesting debates about a potential role of Open Source in PLM and the role of OSS in Software industry. You can catch up on this discussion navigating your browser on the following link. There are few very interesting statements made by Marc and Yoann. You need to read it in full. However, below, my two favorite passages from this discussion:

MarcL: It has always been difficult to build a business in software and probably always will be. However, what open source does is make trying easier and less required up-front investment for the developer. Now, developers and entrepreneurs can build software products, Web sites, etc at any level of the stack without paying for the infrastructure. They can sell those applications without the customer having to buy a bunch of other products as well. OSS opens the door to leveraging much more than just code/free software, ideas are much more easily exchanged, inspiration comes faster, combining products to make full solutions is easier than ever before and more cost effective.

YoannM: I think the Sun and Dassault examples of delivering free software against commercial solution is a very important fact. Out of the software industry, that would be illegal. It’s a basic rule of capitalism used to regulate the market. If a competitor can prove that you sell a product with loss on purpose he can sue you. And i suppose it is more the case in the US than in Europe (Even if Europe made enormous progress on market regulation). The Aras case is not the same as you can prove that a Real profitable Business Model exist on this particular software.I think there should be real investigator making sure that no Open Source project is done by one company without a profitable Business Plan.

This conversation made me think more about PLM and Open Source. I’d like to come with the following conclusion. It is not only about OSS (Open Source Software). There is a third party in the room – Free. So, I decided to put some thoughts towards structuring of this conversation.

Open Source Software (OSS)

For all newcomers in the Open Source story, my recommendation is to have a look on the history of Linux software. The best starting point is Linux Wikipedia article. The history of Linux creation will give you some idea about fundamental thoughts behind Open Source, community-based development and interest of developers to have a strong and open operation system that can be used for multiple applications. One of the important points is how OSS code evolves between different versions of Linux and predecessors. UNIX as a strong predecessor of Linux played a significant role in forming of Linux community and development practices. My interim conclusion here is very simple – a potentially wide non-competing community and strong foundation are two important factors that can help to forum a successful OSS project.

Free Model

The idea of Free is not new. Business invented a free model many years ago and used it successfully in various types of businesses. If you want to be up-to-speed with ideas of free, I’d recommend you to read a book FREE: The Future of Radical Price by Chris Anderson. I’m considering this book as a modern bible of Free model. The fundamental idea of free is to re-shape business model and create an option to provide part of your product or services for free. Without making it too complex, you can decide how to make you business more attractive by providing FREE products. Free is good and we love it! Nevertheless, I can see advantages and disadvantages of a free model in B2B. What it helps is to decrease a cost of customer acquisition. You can get customers for free. However, the correct – you’ll get users for free. Then, you need to convert your free users into customers who will pay you money. This is so called "convergence rate".

What it means for PLM?

I can see few aspects of PLM that make it attractive in the context of OSS and Free models. PLM faced significant challenges when started to proliferate in implementation of the systems downstream from big OEMs like Boeing and Toyota to smaller companies. It caused by what I call "One Size Doesn’t Fit All" problems. Massive need for customization and long deployment activities created a perception of long ROI for PLM and complex implementation practices. In parallel to that, PLM deployments faced difficulties in spreading out to more people in an organization. I can see two main reasons – too complex UI and high cost of licenses. All these factors created a good basement for innovating in order to improve a situation. Aras’ business model innovation that removes up-front fees, as it was mentioned by Marc Lind, is one of the important drivers helps Aras Innovator to acquire new customers and get all people using PLM system in an organization. In addition, community effort allows to customers, partners and other interested parties to be involved into development solutions to answer on "one size doesn’t fit all" problems.

What is my conclusion? Both "free" and "open source" can create an interesting innovation trend and change today’s status quo. However, I don’t think it is a silver bullet. Businesses have a lot of concerns about "free model", since everybody understands that, in the end, TCO is important. On the other side, free can make PLM systems widely adopted and not limit to organizations that can pay for PLM licenses. Open Source is a separate story. To have a broad community is one of the main questions to be answered to understand the potential viability of PLM Open Source. Just my thoughts… I’m looking to your comments, opinions and discussion.

Best, Oleg


PLM Basics: Reference Designator and Find Numbers

September 24, 2010

Some time ago, one of my readers wrote me a comment with the question about Reference Designators and Find Numbers. With all our interest to talk about modern technological trends, mobile, social software, understanding and clarification of basics is very important too. In the past, I wrote few posts tagged PLM Basics. If you haven’t seen it before, navigate your brower to the following link.

Online Reference Information
You are pretty much out of lack if you are trying to find this information online. Here is short info from Wikipedia.

A reference designator unambiguously identifies a component in an electrical schematic (circuit diagram) or on a printed circuitboard (PCB). The reference designator usually consists of one or two letters followed by a number, e.g. R13, C1002. Thenumber is sometimes followed by a letter, indicating that components are grouped or matched with each other, e.g. R17A, R17B.

Another source of information, which is probably less known – PLMPedia. This is an online project of created byLEDAS. Unfortunately, PLMPedia has no information about what is a reference designator.

Reference Designator (RD)
RD is normally a text field that belongs to Component in Bill of Material, that helps you to specify what this component does and how to find this component. In most cases, used when more than one component with the same Part Number need to appear in BOM. Reference designators can be used in various reports and Bill of Material views. The most of Reference Designator usages is to simplify your access to a specific Component / Part Number. The usage of Reference designators can be different between various systems in the industry. Normally, the information about Reference Designator usage belongs to BOM module.

Find Number (FN)
FN is a number that usualy set by Bill of Material management module when create line item in BOM. For most cases, I’ve seen, Find Number usually set automatically or manually as the incremental number for every row in Bill of Material. Find Number is a simple way to search, sort and organize lines in Bill of Material module.

I found usage of Reference Designator sometimes overlaps with usage of Find Number. I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience and common practices. I didn’t find much online information about terms and practices in product development and engineering. The usage of Reference Designators can be different in electronic industry compared to mechanical engineering.

Best, Oleg

*** photo in this blog post was imported from Flickr user Dano. The original file is located here.


PLM and Open Source Licenses

September 23, 2010

I want to talk about licenses. The topic I’d normally prefer to avoid. Deelip Menezes made a good post about Sales and Licensing of software. However, I want to talk about specific part of licenses – Open Source and Free Licenses. I don’t understand the subtle differences about various types of Open Source Licenses. The discussion about licenses usually lead to long conversations with legal eagles and I feel myself very unsafe in these conversations. The following article cough my attention – Google Code accepts all OSI licenses. I recommend you to have a read an interview with Chris DiBona.

Google has announced its Google Code developer site will now host open-source projects using any license approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Previously, as part of its longstanding protest against "license proliferation," the web giant only allowed projects using a small subset of OSI licenses. Google still doesn’t like license proliferation, but it’s embracing more licenses, nonetheless. "We think we’ve made our point [about license proliferation] and that this new way of doing things is a better fit to our goal of supporting open source software developers," reads a blog post from Google open-source guru Chris DiBona.

Few years ago, Open Source was absolutely not an option for enterprise organizations. However, life changed these days. Open source is discussed and many people are trying to innovate in this space in order to find the right answers from various standpoints – technical, product, portfolio and legal. So, I decide to spend some time talking with you about what could be an appropriate open source licensing option for PLM world.

Free and Open Source Licenses

This is a good read about the history and background about the comparison between various available Free Software Licenses and Open Source Licenses. There are two organizations related to this matter – Open Source Initiative (OSI) and Free Software Foundation (FSF). There is some overlap between them. You may take a look on the comparison of Free Software licenses by navigating on the link.

Open Source Initiatives

Navigate your browser on the following link. You can see available open source licenses approved by Open Source Initiative. What was interesting to me is to see categories of licenses such as Popular, Redundant and non-Categorized. The last contains quite many licenses. Also, there is also a category for non-reusable license. Website contains information about OSI license review process. I recommend you to spend some time on this site.

Free and Open in PLM World

Aras is the only one company I know in PLM world promoting the ideas of Open Source and Free licenses. Aras introducing their way for Open Source – Aras Enterprise Open Source. This is the explanation I found on Aras’ website.

…Our [Aras] approach was to combine multiple software formats, OSI-compliant open source, community sourceand commercial platforms, in a mixed source structure to provide the assurance necessary for business-critical solutions while delivering the flexibility for collaborative innovation. We [Aras] call it enterprise open source.

It is interesting that I didn’t find any reference to Aras on the Enterprise Open Source directory website. According to the information provided here, the website contains about 140’000 references on enterprise open source projects.

What is my conclusion? The Open Sournce licensing story is damn complicated. However, with a growing interest and influence, understanding of available open source and fee software licenses will be crucial. I’d be interested to hear about your experience and to know your opinion about that.

Best, Oleg


The Future of TLA in Engineering Software?

September 22, 2010

Yesterday, I attended COFES Russia / isicad 2010 forum in Moscow. My presentation on the forum was about my view on the future of TLA (Three Letter Acronyms) in Engineering Software. You can see slides of my presentation below.

Later I run the round table about the future PLM technologies. Here are my key takeaways. Last decade was a decade of consolidation in Enterprise Software and PLM. Not much was done beyond that. Consumer software, the Internet and specially Web 2.0 applications will provide a significant impact on the future of technologies and products in Engineering and Manufacturing Software. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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