PLM Simplification, Alfresco and AutoCAD Integration

May 31, 2011

One of the trends I am following constantly on my blog is the simplification. PLM is very complex and still way too expensive. However, I can see multiple evidence of changes that happen around us. Open source and IT consumerization are two interesting strategies. Normally, I’m not reading press releases. In modern social Web 2.0 environment, press releases are like dinosaurs. Even so, the following press release, made me stop for scrolling down my browser – Formtek Announces Enhanced Engineering Data Management Solution for Alfresco®, Including New EDM Connector for AutoCAD®.

Alfresco and SharePoint alternative

I’m following Alfresco for a couple of years now. In a nutshell, you can hear about Alfresco as an open source alternative for SharePoint. Dig a bit into Alfresco website – you will find the evidence of Web 2.0 DNA. The following interview with Alfresco CEO John Powel explains about what problems in content management Alfresco is pretending to solve – content complexity, solution cost, deployment complexity.

AutoCAD and Alfresco Content Management

AutoCAD content is widely available everywhere. You can hardly find a company that has no AutoCAD drawing. Therefore, to expand the content management solution to AutoCAD content is an interesting move. Microsoft and SharePoint made few steps to develop better connectivity to AutoCAD. Autodesk Vault has some modules and functionality to publish the content to SharePoint. However, publishing is complicated. It is so 95…. I’m going to learn more about Alfresco AutoCAD interface on June 8. Navigate to the following link to watch the webinar.

Formtek will demonstrate its new EDM Connector for AutoCAD®. The Formtek EDM Connector for AutoCAD provides access to Alfresco repository functionality – including browse, open, check-in, check-out, and view/edit metadata functionality – directly from within the AutoCAD application. The Connector also maintains the integrity of AutoCAD referenced drawings (XREFS), as well as other types of referenced files (DGN, PDF, raster, etc.), by automatically associating them to the current AutoCAD drawing within the Alfresco repository.

What is my conclusion? In my view, open source platforms can provide an alternative to existing data management systems. However, the integration is still a problem that needs to be solved. "To CAD or not to CAD" – this is a typical dilemma in engineering data management. Last month on ACE 2011, Aras, presented the integration strategy, which included CAD systems as well. The evidence of content management platform integration with AutoCAD is another example. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg
Freebie unlike most of the press releases.

PLM: From Work To Home via Microsoft and Open Cloud

May 30, 2011

Let’s talk about PLM software development today. Rewind pre-Web 2.0 and pre- iPhone era. Life was simlpe. After SolidWorks finally proved Windows is good enough for mechanical CAD, the majority moved to Redmond-based software. I’ve been thinking about changes that happened mostly for the last few years and what influences how we are going to develop PLM software in coming few years. There are two major trends I can identify: mix between “work” and “home” and significant influence of “open source” technologies.

The “Chat” Continues from Work To Home

These days we put fewer borders between work and home environment. Mobile technologies and cloud services allow to many people to be available during after working hours. Global development just added an additional pressure on people to be available out their normal work hours. Social marketing, custom-oriented product development and many other are additional factors changing our traditional working environment. I read Kelly Sommers’ blog Kellabyte – Continuous Client: Our multi-device dream but how do we build it?. This is my favorite passage.

Our needs for computing workflow have completely changed. Services like DropBox or Instapaper are narrow solutions to the real problem. DropBox lets us sync our data so that we can access it on multiple devices but it’s not addressing the workflow issue. DropBox doesn’t carry over the context of what we were doing when we shifted devices.I decided to count how many times I switched devices between noon and 6pm, so a 6 hour period. I switched devices 37 times.

Please take a look on the following picture from the same blog. This is a very typical scenario that may happen.

At the same time, most of the software is addressing data, but not addressing the “workflow” issue. And this is something that is really important if you think about business software like PLM. The only device-less software these days is the email. I can follow my emails on a desktop, tablet, mobile phone almost seamless. If you are lucky to use Google Apps, you can completely disconnect your life from a particular PC. At the same time, this is absolutely not happens in PLM business applications.

Microsoft Baby Steps towards Open Cloud

So, what happens with Microsoft these days. Do you think Redmond folks are sitting and waiting until Google mail will replace Microsoft Exchange and Outlook? Not at all. Recently, I wrote about Office 365. This is the “product” example. At the same time, I found some interesting trends related to the technological aspects of Microsoft-related development. Singularity is not popular and you can see Microsoft’s steps towards the technological trends we can see on the cloud. Navigate your browser to the following link and you will see how Microsoft Azure and PHP are working together – New SDK and Sample Kit demonstrates how to leverage the scalability of Windows Azure with PHP.

This Open Source SDK gives PHP developers a “speed dial” library to take full advantage of Windows Azure’s coolest features.

Spend some time, read it and make your opinion. Craig Kitterman brings multiple examples of software developed for Facebook and other cloud application by leveraging Microsoft Azure and PHP. Deal of the Today is sample application for PHP developers to learn how to take advantage of Microsoft Azure scalability.

What is my conclusion? I can smell ch… ch… change in everything that happens in people behaviors and software development these days. The traditional applications, development stacks and people expectations are moving forward. Gen-Y will be coming to business very soon, and they won’t tolerate existing environment. Everybody understands that, in my view. Is it a time to revise PLM software stacks and axioms? Just my thoughts… Speak your mind, please.

Best, Oleg

PLM Think Tank – May Top 5

May 27, 2011

What do you think about standards and PLM? For the long time, I thought about standards as toothbrushes. Everybody needs one, but nobody wants to use somebody else standard. My observation – standards in PLM are not very popular so far. STEP is one of the standards that materialized and widely used by many companies – vendors and customers. Early this week, attending Eurostep 2011 event, I was learning how standards can play a role of a cost saving factors for commercial software. To delivery some standard compliance in fundamental PLM functions such as data modeling can play a positive role in the development of future PLM solutions. Navigate to the following link to see my Eurostep 2011 presentation. Now, let’s turn to May Top 5.

Aras PLM lines up against Windchill, Enovia, and TeamCenter

Aras is definitely moving towards crossing paths with PLM like Windchill, Enovia, TeamCenter. Is it possible to displace large PLM system with Aras today? My answer – it depends. The PLM implementation scope is varied, and every implementation can be different. Therefore, I specially liked the community oriented approach of development. This is something that can make a difference. On the side of platforms and integrations – time will show if Aras will find a balance between throwing resources and effective delivery. This is a big challenge.

PLM, SharePoint and ProductPoint Lessons

Combining PLM and SharePoint raises many questions. Initially proposed as a successful combination to attract small manufacturing companies, it was discontinued by PTC. Here are my initial 5 lesson learned: (1) SharePoint is a technological platform that requires implementation and services. To use it for small manufacturing companies can be dangerous and depends on deployment configuration can be problematic. (2) Microsoft business interest is to deploy SharePoint to bigger companies, and it can be asymmetric with the interest of PLM companies to solve PLM SMB problem using SharePoint. (3) There are alternative ways to solve PLM usability problems rather than re-use SharePoint UI patterns. PTC just released new version of Windchill (10.0), which probably delivers better user experience. (4) Maintenance of multiple PLM products is probably way too complicated. (5) PLM for SMB is probably not only about better user experience and subset of functionality

Should we “pack” PLM data into 3D PDF?

To find a reliable way to make the information available downstream is critical for many organizations. 3D PDF seems to be as an option. The file-orientation paradigm helps current users to achieve their goal in an easy way. However, the “packing” a whole system into set of files seems to me problematic. The synchronization, run for updated information can become a nightmare.

Autodesk, Dassault and Free CAD Options?

I think we can see a very interesting dynamic. Both Autodesk and Dassault are playing with the power of free options on the competitor’s side. Known as a strong provider of 3D CAD (both CATIA and SolidWorks), Dassault released 2D CAD for DWG files for free to attract AutoCAD users. On the other side, the introduction of 3D CAD free downloadable 3D design tool, by Autodesk – a king of 2D draft package (AutoCAD) is another interesting step, which is probably has an intent to disrupt 3D CAD business on the low end. I hope to learn more about 123dabc as well as about future Free CAD products in 2d and 3d.

Top 3 “PLM Cloud” Killers

Cloud has a potential. However, as every new technology (and not only technology) it can be over-hyped and diminished by wrong implementations. It is important for companies experimenting with the cloud technologies not to be trapped into using “the cloud” as a marketing term as well as to apply “old software projects” under a new sauce.

Have a good weekend!

Best, Oleg

PLM Implementations and KISSASSing

May 26, 2011

Services is a significant part of every PLM implementation. According to CIMData, about 60% of cPDM revenues is coming from services. This is a huge number. Simplicity is another big issue related to PLM implementations. Keep it simple. Another important one is about to have C-level sponsor in an organization for your PLM project. To keep it simple and having C-level sponsor in your organization are, in my view, two most important elements of a successful PLM strategy.

The implementation of SharePoint always reminds me PLM implementation. It consumes a lot of energy, preparation, meeting and consulting work. The following blog post made me laugh – A new methodology for planning SharePoint Projects – how to win a tender. I learned a new buzzword or TLA (Three letter acronym): KISSASSing.

This is my favorite passage:

The problem I found with KISS is that when you pitch your design to other types of audience, for example, upper management, it tends not to be accepted. Initially, I thought it may be that management are less prone to like being called “stupid” (which is why I always phrased it “Keep it simple, silly!” – but that never improved things much), but the more I thought about it, I realized that those audiences just expect more out of a solution design than just simplicity. In other words – KISSing the upper management is not enough. This is why I decided to come up with my own new principle that extends KISS and adds the things that upper management really wants from a solution architect: Keep It Simple, Stable, Available, Scalable and Secure.

What is my conclusion? Simple, Stable, Available, Scalable, Secure. This is actually, a very good slogan for PLM marketing campaign. Not sure marketing will take it. Have some smile :)… Live is short.

Best, Oleg

Disclosure: I’m acknowledging, this is my late Aprl-1 fool post.

PLM and Control Your Home

May 26, 2011

In the old days, the focus of manufacturing companies was mostly about how to produce stuff. Most of the products were disappearing from the horizons of engineers after moving out of their manufacturing plant dock. Not anymore. Life is different now. Manufacturers need to take care about many things related to the “real life” of their product. Maintenance and Disposal are just only two simplest examples. The only “smart” device in the line of product is my car, which reports me about the need for the next car maintenance. Rather than that, very few products have a real behavior.

Let assume you are in the business of home appliance. After installing, these units are complete idiots from the standpoint, of how they behave. CNN Money declares: Google Wants to Control Your Home. The article talks about the few announcements made by Google during Google I/O conference earlier this year. Google are rolling out somewhat called Android@Home, a platform that will be able to control almost all devices in your home – electronic, appliance, etc.

Android@Home was developed as an open protocol that can be used by any connected device and controlled by any wireless device or computer — including non-Android devices (i.e. Apple iPhone and Microsoft Windows PC)… LED light manufacturer Lighting Science lined up as an early Android@Home partner and was featured prominently in Google I/O’s keynote address on Tuesday. Lighting Science is creating light fixtures with wireless transponders, which will communicate with a wireless hub. That hub will be able to connect to devices using Google’s new platform.

Now you ask me how all these things related to PLM? Here is my take… Manufacturers are looking for new ways to connect with customers via products they manufacture and sell. Assuming your thermostat is connected to Google and then to the manufacturer of a particular thermostat. It sounds like a good idea. They can optimize thermostat behavior and get various useful parameters out of there. One more… Fridge can gather the information from your local Stop-and-Shop, look on what are your favorite meals, gather some recommendation and make a buy. In case, maintenance required, the fridge can invite maintenance people to fix it. Sounds like a dream? What is your take?

Best, Oleg

What if… “PLM on the cloud” succeeds?

May 24, 2011

Push aside our fear about security and PLM on the cloud. I was reading Washington Post’s “Video Viewing on Netflix Accounts for Up to 30 Percent of Online Traffic“. The following link leads us picture comparing web traffic coming from various providers. Video is king on the web.

CAD files, visualizations and other heavy weighted stuff. It is not lightweight Twitter 140 chars status updates or Facebook low resolution picture sharing. Cloud service providers from Amazon to Google and Rackspace are building data centers to accommodate the future of cloud applications. It made me think “What if PLM on the cloud succeeds?”, what will be the cost of this solution? CAD and PLM companies are starting to offer solutions to share data on the cloud for better collaboration and data exchange. I wrote about such a type of the solutions before.

The following quote from Wash. Post article is interesting:

Last week, Cable One introduced metered prices for U.S. customers that include 50 to 100 gigabytes per month. According to its Web site, the company (owned by The Washington Post Co.) will charge customers 50 cents for each gigabyte beyond the caps, but it will continue to offer a flat-rate monthly plan also.

Beginning this month, AT&T began limiting data usage to 150 gigabytes for DSL subscribers and 250 gigabytes for its UVerse broadband customers. Users will be charged an extra $10 a month if they exceed the cap. Comcast also has a 250-gigabyte cap for its broadband users.

What is my conclusion? The PLM on the cloud conversations is always about the security and never about the price and cloud usage. I don’t know if my drawings will be stolen faster on cloud. The question what if the transfer of my drawings, models, animations and rest of the stuff on the web will be costly. It might be significantly more costly than today’s software licenses. What is your take?

Best, Oleg

PLM User Experience and The Evil of Folders?

May 24, 2011

Ask people about usability of PLM and other enterprise data management systems. From my experience, the answer is simple – it is way too complex. Very few PDM systems in the past were recognized as simple and easy to use. It made me think about Folders.

Folders: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A long time ago, folders were invented to organize files in the operation system. The idea of folders and files did proliferate and became the major paradigm for information organization almost everywhere. It was so easy to place files into folders, so office people started to use this organization to store and classify the information. Wide expansion of Windows platforms just helped to spread the idea of folders even more. At the same time, the simplicity of folders has many drawbacks. One of them is the need to duplicate information between folders. The introduction of "shortcuts’ in Windows didn’t solve the problem. In many situations, people will prefer to copy files between folders and not to create a "shortcut" to another folder. Another drawback of folders is inability to find information in an easy way.

CAD / PDM – starting from simple folders

Starting from the early beginning, CAD systems relied on files and folders to save information in computer systems. CAD files spread out on workstations and, later, on PC/Windows computers. The complexity of folder structures introduced various problems related to location of files, references and version management.

Developers of data management solutions for engineers (TDM, EDM, PDM) are heavily inherited and relied on the idea of folder data organizations. It was well understood by people and easy. Many data management systems in the past implant the idea of folder organization and made their solution simple to use. At the same time, in my view, using the same folder paradigm was a problem with increased complexity of data. As a consequence of this, many systems that were initially clear, but system got very complicated with the time.

PLM – Usability Sucks

PLM concepts requires significant expansion of data management scope in the organization. The amount of data and complexity are growing. At the same time, the concept of "folders" was kept by the developers of many PLM systems for capturing and management information structures. It caused a significant complication in data organizations and the overall user experience. Navigating between folders and hierarchical structures became complex and not efficient. File folders, Projects, Requirements, Bill of Materials, Suppliers, Requirements – this is only a short list of various elements of data that need to be organized by PLM.

Possible Solutions

The obvious question asked by many PLM developers was how to improve PLM user experience. Recently, PLM vendors came with several innovations related to that. Some of them moved to enhanced visualization and immersive usage of 3D. Some of them moved to SharePoint as a solution to solve usability issues. However, "folders concept" is still there. Do you think "Folder" is ultimate evil? The discussion is under way, and I don’t see a final point. With the development of some web user interface, we started to see some new and fresh ideas are coming from that side – search, web 2.0, tags and other solutions are proliferating, and we started to see some ideas how to simplify things. At the same time, the conservatism of users pushes it back to something known and even convenient (at least from the beginning).

What is my conclusion? The usability of PLM and other systems related to the data is far away from being optimized. This is not a secret. People demands these days to get it as clean and as simple as possible. The last recognizable effort to change the status quo, was to present Microsoft SharePoint as a universal hammer to solve the usability problem in the enterprise. This is a place where innovation will continuously happen in a near future.

Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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