PLM and SharePoint Technical Definition

April 30, 2012

I’m off to Detroit, MI this week for Aras PLM user conference – ACE 2012. Microsoft .NET and MS SQL are two important elements of Aras infrastructure. For many enterprises these days, Microsoft IT based technology is no-brainerdecision. It runs everywhere.

It is near impossible to talk about PLM and Microsoft’s technologies without talking about what potential role Microsoft SharePoint can play in establishment of scalable PLM solutions. Usually, Microsoft SharePoint and PLM are over-hyped by lots of marketing slogans. I decided to take off marketing and get down to SharePoint technical definition that can help PLM and IT managers in organization to decide about how to position PLM and SharePoint in their strategies and implementations.

The following article – Making Sense of SharePoint 2010 by Tim Anderson provides a very good foundation for my post today. Have a read and make your conclusion. The following quote is the best introduction to what is SharePoint in a nutshell:

So what is SharePoint really? Technically, it is an ASP.NET application which runs on Internet Information Services (IIS), Microsoft’s web server, and which stores most of its data in a SQL Server database. Conceptually, it is the outcome of Microsoft’s efforts over many years to create a web storage system, a document repository accessible via a web browser.

SharePoint is extremely good if you are working with Office documents. It provides a very tight integration with Microsoft Products. The majority of companies today are running Office. I was able to see some companies taking off to Open Office or Google lately, but not doubt – Office is mainstream even after of public web 2.0 disruption. The following passage explains clearly your advantages of working with Office in SharePoint – seamless integration.

SharePoint is designed to integrate with the Microsoft Office client applications such as Word and Excel . If you do not use Office, SharePoint is unlikely to be worth running. When used with Office, a key feature is that users can open a document from a SharePoint site, edit it, and save it, without being presented with a Save As dialog. This is one reason SharePoint works better than simply storing documents on a web site with download and upload features.

I want to add few words about multiple versions of SharePoint. There are three versions – Foundation, SharePoint Server 2010 and SharePoint Enterprise 2010. Here is the summary:

Foundation includes document management, discussion forums, wikis, and support for applications including workflows. SharePoint Server 2010 extends this with search, compliance features including document retention policies, server-side Microsoft Word automation, social media features including status updates, ratings and tagging, individual profiles and content sites, video and audio media support, templates for workflows, improved scalability, and more. SharePoint Enterprise 2010 adds server-side support for Access databases and Excel automation services, business intelligence integration, support for forms applications using InfoPath (part of Microsoft Office), more scalable search and more.

PLM and SharePoint

I think, the overall hype of SharePoint replacing PLM solutions is over these days. Nevertheless, SharePoint became practically ubiquitous these days if you think about enterprises. The infrastructure provided by SharePoint is well-known by IT and service organizations. As soon as it approved to be used in organization can provide a backbone for collaborative applications. You need to take into the account the cost of SharePoint.

The base Foundation product is surprisingly rich, considering that it is a free add-on. SharePoint involves licensing for three products, each with separate CALs (Client Access Licenses). These are Windows Server, which is always required; SQL Server, which is required unless you use the free SQL Server Express, and SharePoint itself, which is required for editions other than Foundation. Since SQL Server Express is limited to single-server installs and 10GB per database, some organisations which can get by with Foundation will still need SQL Server and its CALs.

You can consider SharePoint as a platform for customization.

SharePoint is an application, but it is also a platform. Since it is built on ASP.NET, code that runs on ASP.NET will generally run in SharePoint too. Office services for Word and Excel enable applications that parse, manipulate and create documents.

What is my conclusion? SharePoint is stable Microsoft based infrastructure. If your company is running on Microsoft products you can consider it as an option to develop additional applications. Check your PLM provider on how flexible PLM platform and applications can be integrated with SharePoint – you can save a lot of service money and people resources in the future by doing so. Reading from Aras website:

Our application framework is implemented on the Microsoft .NET and Microsoft SQL Server platform. And Aras technology has built in security from the ground up and a world-class professional services and support team to meet your unique design, development and infrastructure needs.

I’ll pay a close attention understanding how Aras keep following integration with SharePoint and Microsoft technological foundation. Follow my blog and twitter later. this week.

Best, Oleg

Disclosure: Aras paid my registration and traveling expenses to ACE 2012. Microsoft wasn’t involved. Both Aras and Microsoft are in no way influenced the content of this post.


PLM, Multiple BOMs and Cross Functional Teams

April 26, 2012

The ability to develop virtual conversation accorss continents and timezones is one of the most exciting parts of my blogging hobby. Earlier last week, I had a very interesting discussion about multiple Bill of Materials. It started from the discussion about BOM management and PLM 360 with John Evans here. Furthermore, it ended in almost one-hour conversation with additional twitter conversation.

The conversation about multiple bill of materials and different ways to implement it drove me to get back to one of my favorite books – Engineering Documentation Control Handbook by Frank Watts. This book is a bible. It is "a must-read book" for every CM in manufacturing company, and every product manager involved into software development for PDM/PLM. Here is the link from Amazon.

Cross-Functional Teams

The organization of cross-functional teams is one of the most important things in a modern product-development process organization. Things can go very easy if you are sort of "garage level company". Everybody speaks to everybody in this company and there is no problem in coordination and collaboration. However, as soon as a company is growing, it faces the problem of collaboration, communication and terminology. Things can go in a quite disconnected way when people from design and manufacturing are collaborating with manufacturing or production people. The following picture below (picture credit to EDC Handbook) presents the idea of cross-functional teams very nicely.

Cross-functional-team.jpg

Multiple Bill of Materials

BOM plays a fundamental role to establish communication and collaboration between teams. I see Bill of Material as a universal media in cross-functional teams. Different people contribute to this Bill of Material with a diverse set of information. You can see a picture that can illustrate this process (picture credit to EDC Handbook). The ability of software involved into product development (PDM, PLM, ERP, SCM, etc.) is to provide this level of media to collaboration across the teams.

Multiple-BOM-input.jpg

What becomes clear to me that notion of a single BOM, constantly shrinking and growing is the one I envision as the one of the most efficient ways to maintain Bill of Material in manufacturing organization. Few years ago, I had a chance to share the idea of a single BOM in my post – Seven Rules Towards Single Bill of Material.

What is my conclusion? To manage Bill of Material is one of the most complicated tasks in product development. For the last 10 years, multiple ideas and strategies were introduced in the field of BOM management. Synchronization of multiple BOM views and representations is a painful and complicated task. If future PLM software will be able to eliminate the need of synchronization of BOM across multiple systems and teams, it will be a huge pain relief to product development. To think about cross-functional teams in that context is probably a good starting point. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PS. I will continue with my "single BOM investigation" in future posts. Stay tuned…


Will Search Make PLM Cool?

April 26, 2012

search-cool-PLM.pngDisclosure: As a co-founder of Inforbix, I understand that my opinion about Search can be unintentionally biased. Nevertheless, I believe the topic itself is very important, so I decided to share my thoughts anyway.

Cool is clearly trending. First time I posted about my “FREE and COOL” theory in CAD/PLM about two years ago here. I can see many changes happened since that time. Cool stuff is not a joke any more. It went much beyond the level of geeks drinking coffee in Palo Alto downtown Starbucks. If you want to quantify the power of cool, the following numbers aboutApple 3Q financial results can be quite refreshing. Navigatehere to see that iPhone business is bigger than whole Microsoft.

In my view, the understanding of the cool trend is coming to engineering and manufacturing space as well. Accessing information in a meaningful way can be a very cool way to help engineers in their work. CAD and PLM companies are flirting with enterprise search vendors and search technologies already quite long time. You can read one of my write ups about that here – PLM Lifelike Search Injection.

I was reading a blog post by Aras Corp – Get Global Intranet Search From A9 For Aras Innovator. The sticker COOL STUFF caught my attention. Read the article, but more importantly, watch the video. A9 from Alcove9 using open source Apache Solr Search to power their capability to index Aras Innovator content.

Another video presenting Inforbix Search Tips can give you an idea how search of PLM and CAD content can come from Infobrix. Navigate to Inforbix Search Tip Video to read more. Inforbix is using semantic technologies combined with noSQL data-management approach to provide search and navigation capabilities.

What is my conclusion? Search is an interesting function. Since “Google” officially became a verb, many people consider a practical and intuitive search as absolutely important element of any system. At the same time, PLM and other engineering content are semantically rich and can provide difficulties to a traditional Google-search approaches. As we can see from both examples below, the special treatment needed to make it cool. The most important function of search is to solve noise vs. signal. Google approach works well for “lady Gaga” type of searches. PLM, Engineering and Manufacturing require some alternative approaches. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PS. Next week, I’m attending ACE 2012 conference in Detroit, MI and hope to learn more about cool stuff from Aras.


Will “cloud drive” disrupt engineering collaboration?

April 25, 2012

What is the next file system that will be available for our disposal? Cloud file system. Really? In the past few years, I’ve been writing about the future of moving CAD and engineering content to the cloud and various options that will be available to make it happen. Navigate to read some of my previous posts related to this topic – Google Cloud: Ready for CAD/PLM? or CAD, New Collaboration and Online Storage Services.

It seems to me some cool elements of “cloud dreams” started to become a reality these days. Dropbox was clearly one of the most successful pioneering cloud storage. Apple iCoud and Microsoft Sky Drive are two additional players in this space. One of the interesting events in the last few days was the introduction of Google Drive. If you haven’t had a chance to read about that, navigate to the following link to read more.

Engadet just published an interesting article comparing four different cloud storage services – Google, iCloud, Dropbox and SkyDrive. You can see prices and other features and functions. It is worth reading.

What CAD vendors are doing at this space?

My earlier prediction is that cloud will become a good place to store cloud files. One of my old posts about that was – Is Google Docs a good place to store CAD Files. Engineering and manufacturing community is actively discussing “cloud” topic. No single opinion. Read my Product Lifecycle Data and Cloud Trap Debates. At the same time, I have to say that things are starting to move, and some of the CAD / PLM vendors are running fast to introduce their support for cloud drives.

I was reading AutoCAD WS blog yesterday – AutoCAD WS launches Google Drive integration. In a nutshell, it sounds dead simple. AutoCAD WS is an application that can be used natively on Google Drive to open AutoCAD files.

CAD vendors, Cloud and competition

It is interesting to see, but it seems to me some competitive friction may happen between cloud storage vendors and CAD/PLM companies that focusing on collaboration. Products like Autodesk Cloud, SolidWorks n!Fuze and few others will have to provide visible competitive advantages compared to Google, Apple and Dropbox. CAD vendors need to take a note, in my view.

What is my conclusion? Cloud storage and discs become very powerful. The ability to keep everything in a single virtual connection(s) simplifies many questions related how to access information from disparate places by multiple people. For many years, it was one of the most complicated questions – collaboration in design environment. With the introduction of the cloud discs, we are getting an additional way to simplify the access and improve collaboration. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM and the death of complexity

April 24, 2012

The complexity of engineering and manufacturing software is a well-known fact. The topic isn’t really new. For the last couple of years the complexity topic came to me in different context and various forms. Two weeks ago, I was writing about that in my blog – PLM: Data, Search and Future User Experience. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, please take a look.

One of my working hypotheses these days is that consumer market and consumer software provides a significant injection of ideas for user experience. In parallel consumer behaviors of web and other software are changing state of mind of many end users. I was reading an article outline from Gartner about consumer trends that impact technology. I found this write up quite interesting. Navigate your browser to the following link to read it – Gartner Outlines 10 Consumer Macro Trends to Impact Technology, Media and Service Providers for Next 10 Years and have a read. This passage is my favorite one.

Market Trend No. 9 — The Death of Complexity

The consumer market is becoming progressively less tolerant of complexity. Although consumers tend to buy products with ever-richer features, they often prefer those that are simple and intuitive. The ability to provide appealing and intuitive user interfaces has become a critical point of differentiation among competing technology providers. As technology becomes more complex, vendors need to invest more in keeping the user interface simple and intuitive. T&SPs therefore need to focus on simplifying technology, pricing, brand messaging, and feedback and interaction, and consider offering chargeable help services for consumers challenged by installing and configuring new equipment and services in their homes.

It made me think that fighting complexity will be one of the most critical elements of the future CAD/PLM vendor strategies. I was looking on what CAD/PLM companies are doing these days. I can summarize it in the following 3 directions:

1- Leverage OS user experience.

This direction was very popular in the past. In the world of Microsoft Windows dominance, to adopt OS user experience and make your application transparent is an interesting decision. It started from leveraging File Explorer UI and continue towards deeper integration with Microsoft Office, SharePoint and other systems. The examples are SolidWorks EPDM, PTC Windchill and few others.

2- Mimic successful web application in consumer market

Web is the source of inspiration for many startup companies and well established brands in CAD / PLM. The most popular elements of use experience that companies have tried to use were – Google search and Social Networking. The experiments presented by Siemens PLM as Active Workspace is one of the examples. Dassault came with Exalead search SBA, but I have never seen something that was delivered in this space by Exalead after DS acquisition.

3- 3D and Gaming

Because design content in CAD is visual and in many cases is 3D, companies have tried to use gaming analogies to develop the next successful user experience in this space. 3DLive from Dassault was clearly pioneering in this space by delivering their 3DLive. These days, I want to mention Siemens PLM Active Workspace. It is another interesting experience of mixing of 3D and search experience.

What is my conclusion? The death of the complexity is here. PLM and other software vendors in the manufacturing and engineering space need to take a note. The user experience will not be set by enterprise monsters. New generation of people will not tolerate the complex PLM software. This is a time to rest the expectations. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Open Source, Cloud Trap and Product Lifecycle Data Control

April 21, 2012

The discussion around the cloud is heating up. At the time, the competition gets stronger, the debate around the cloud trap is taking to the next level. It is not unusual these days to see cloud propaganda coming from the companies beating their future on the success of the cloud as well as opposite voices of people warning about the potential disaster that can happen as a result of your IP and data moving to remotely located storage.

So, who is around to support the cloud?

The number of companies supporting cloud strategies in CAD / PLM space is growing. I decided to bring two examples here – Arena and Autodesk. Arena is a long-time SaaS / cloud player. Autodesk just jumped into the cloud bandwagon few months ago.

Arena, well-known cloud / SaaS supported just came with the newproducts – PartList, BOMControl and PDXViewer. You can read Arena announcement here. This is how Arena customers differentiate cloud and web solution from Arena: Because the architecture is web-based, we avoid any IT or administrator investment. This has allowed us to maintain a lean organization and focus on what we do best—product development.

Autodesk PLM 360, product I discussed intensively over the past few months also actively presenting the advantages of cloud solution. Autodesk highlights the value proposition of their solution. Here is the quote of Buzz Kross presenting Autodesk PLM 360 few weeks ago during the Autodesk media summit in San Francisco: "There’s 140 pre-installed apps for PLM 360… Autodesk PLM 360 is 1/20th of the costs of the traditional PLM systems. The cost benefits users get is pretty phenomenal.”

And who is on the other side of the fence to convince us the cloud is a bad thing?

Richard Stallman, long time advocate of open source, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the computer operating system GNU, warns everybody about the potential "cloud trap". Here is the passage from UK Gardianpost four years ago: Web-based programs like Google’s Gmail will force people to buy into locked, proprietary systems that will cost more and more over time, according to the free software campaigner.

According to Stallman, customer who will follow cloud path will lose control over their destiny. All their IP will be moved to the cloud and eventually lost. According to Stallman, software should be open and available for free. Here is the passage from Stallman’s article:

"One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control," he said. "It’s just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else’s web server, you’re defenceless. You’re putty in the hands of whoever developed that software."

Dave Ault on his SolidEdging blog musing about the potential danger of the cloud. In his last post Cloud Fraud for you, BIG Shopping Cart for Chinese pickup up to the topic of the unsuccessful cloud demo experiences some companies had during COFES 2012 and continue with his arguments about potential security risks of the cloud solutions. Here is the passage, I especially like mixing Iran nuclear danger and potential role of the cloud in the future atomic apocalypses (I liked usage of my name in the context):

….let us look at the situation with Iran and their nuke program. There are some governments that do not like the idea of nutty jihad kook muslim’s running around with nuke’s who think they are going to get a lot of virgins in Heaven if they use them. So they just whip up this little program called Stuxnet and deliver it to the kook’s. Now the kook nuke sites are pretty high security I suppose so the best way to deliver your package would be the web I should think. The rest is history. All major companies spend a lot of time and money on R&D. All major companies according to Mr Clark give it away as a result of putting their stuff in places where the web can access this. OK you cloud guys, Oleg and the rest, prove this man wrong. Where is your proof of security?

Well, here is my take on the debates around the cloud in the context of CAD / PLM.

I think the key question in the story is about who is controlling product lifecycle data. Today, the control is in hands of corporate ITs and software providers selling applications that can handle product data. The idea of ownership is sensitive. I’ve heard about companies that backup whole virtual computer systems to prove they can read and access data in the future. At the same time, we all know about a potential theft of data using human factor in the companies (you don’t need to put your data on the cloud to be copied to USB sticks and portable hard drives ).

Some of the cloud vendors made their case strong by providing reliable services and making their software solution very affordable. Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com – this is a short list of cloud companies. The outage of glitches in cloud software usually creates a lot of turbulence in online media. However, the main reason for that is our life dependencies on these services (gmail and hotmail are one of the best examples).

What is my conclusion today? I think we are in the early beginning of cloud hype-cycle. Cloud certainly has a potential to provide reliable and affordable solutions. However, cloud companies need to take a responsibility to be open and work on the improvements in the level of security and reliability. In case of product lifecycle management, I’d be focusing on how to develop and support mechanism for data openness and data portability. It will create another level of security for people using cloud solution and reduce criticism from the side of "anti-cloud pundits". I’m looking forward to have an open discussion. Just my thoughts…

Please speak your mind and respect other people during the discussion.

Best, Oleg

picture credit David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


PLM Cloud Switch: From CDs to AWS Marketplace

April 20, 2012

I captured an interesting news earlier today. Amazon launching AWS Marketplace. Navigate to the following article to read more. What does it mean, in a nutshell? Similar to how Amazon.com is your ultimate online hyper mall to buy everything you need from books to furniture, AWS Marketplace is a place to buy cloud software for the company. Here is how Datamation defines it:

"AWS Marketplace brings the same simple, trusted and secure online shopping experience that customers enjoy on Amazon.com’s retail Website to software built for the AWS platform, streamlining the process of doing research and purchasing software," said Amazon’s Terry Hanold. "AWS Marketplace makes it even easier to run software on AWS because you can find a wide variety of AWS ecosystem providers’ solutions, in one place, where much of the work involved in building and deploying solutions on top of AWS has already been done for you by these solutions providers."

You can watch a bit marketing-flavored, but informative video about AWS marketplace below.

Simple Cloud Delivery

You can ask me, so what? Does it really make a difference? In my view, it does. The simplicity of cloud apps deployment and management is a very interesting topic. Amazon is taking one step up towards organization of Enterprise App Store where you can buy and configure any systems and applications you want. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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