Multiple BOMs – Why Sync is so hard?

August 30, 2012

Vacation is a great time to work :). Finally, you can have time to think about variety of topics that you are missing during your workdays. Here is the one I picked today – multiple bill of materials and synchronization. For those of you in PDM / PLM space even for few years, this topic and question is not new. The traditional approach in many PDM and PLM implementation is to have multiple data representations to describe product structure and data in different phases (Design, Manufacturing, Built) as well as in various configurations. It is often called multiple bill of materials (multiple BOMs).

The problem the implementation of multiple BOMs creates is related to the fact you need to synchronize it. Think about making pictures with your digital camera these days. You can make pictures, sync it to your computer, backup for storage, convert it with different resolutions and processing techniques, sync it to your social net accounts, share with people. This process is much simpler than decide about some product with few configurations, manufacturing in multiple places. Nevertheless, I’m sure you most probably hate it. How many pictures you lost during this process? I’m sure the number is large enough, products like instagram and some others can continue to innovate in this place.

The synchronization logic is a killer

The synchronization itself is not a big problem. When it simple takes data from one place and put it in another place. Think about emails. Finally, (after many years) we succeeded to synchronize emails between online and offline locations. The logic of this synchronization is simple – yes/no + date. However, addition of devices can immediately make this problem complicated. Therefore, Apple had a disaster with and continue to struggle with iCloud. The situation with multiple BOMs is much more complicated. Product structure is not simple, the logic of transformation is complex. We end up in the process that has no chance to succeed rather than require super skills and super intelligence.

What is my conclusion? Synchronization complexity is a killer. PLM industry is probably near the dead end in our effort to improve "synchronization". The process of synchronization is painful, cumbersome and creates lots of additional "process complexities". The new methods need to follow data referencing techniques. It doesn’t mean data is located in a single place. I can synchronize it for different purposes between multiple locations. However, logic of synchronization cannot be dependent on people. It is very complex and won’t work for a long run. I didn’t talk much about actually Bill of Materials. It will be a topic for one more blog. I’m looking forward to your comments. For now, you can enjoy few photos that I successfully synced between iPhone, my computer and the cloud.

Best, Oleg

Autodesk acquires Inforbix and message to my readers.

August 29, 2012

Dear friends! I’m glad to share the news with you – Autodesk Continues Strategic Investment in Product Lifecycle Management with Acquisition of Inforbix. You probably remember my first blog about Inforibx back in 2010 – Introducing Inforbix Product Data Apps. I’m excited for Inforbix, the team and looking forward to new challenges and opportunity at Autodesk. Autodesk confirmed the strategic course to develop and expand PLM 360 and other products on the cloud. Inforbix brings technology to aggregate, fuse, search and visualize data. If you haven’t had a chance to discover it until now, you can catch up on inforbix website, which is still alive as well as Inforbix social media channels – YouTube, Twitter, Google+, Facebook. The following video fragment can give you a glimpse of what Inforbix technologies can do for PLM 360.

Autodesk and Beyond PLM

I want to say few words about my blogging activity. For the last almost five years, Beyond PLM and PLM Think Tank is sharing my opinion about engineering and manufacturing software, CAD, PDM, PLM, industry and technological trends. This activity was absolutely independent of my employment in the past and will continue to be independent now. I’m looking forward to continuing sharing new information, thoughts and opinion here. I’m sure will have an opportunity to speak more about Autodesk PLM/PDM, but it will come from Autodesk blogs.

Best, Oleg

Picture courtesy of SolidSmack blog.

PLM Think Tank Top 5 – August. Thoughts about Pink Lady Apples.

August 27, 2012

I screw up my promise to stop blogging during my vacation. I’m in Israel these days with my family. You are probably asking what this picture of Pink Lady apple does on my blog. I made yesterday evening in the hotel in Tel-Aviv where I’m staying. Of course, I appreciate the hotel for complimentary welcome service. At the same time, what struck me is that this apple was absolutely identical to the apple from local Costco store in Brookline, Mass I ate just before leaving home. Amazing example of global supply channels. What potentially can make apple made in USA travels all the way down to Middle East. I found hard to find the answer on this question. Is there a chance future PLM data services will be able to answer these questions? If you have an idea of explanation, speak your mind. Now, let me turn it back to a traditional top 5 post.

What is the right data model for PLM?

Many of the technologies used by PLM companies these days are outdated and came from the past 20-25 years. There is nothing wrong in these technologies. They are proven and successfully used for many applications. However, in order to achieve the next level of efficiency and embrace future of PLM, new horizons need to be explored. Data flexibility, openness and interoperability – these elements are absolutely important in the future of PLM. Options to use future data models coming from past 10 years of web experience need to be explored. Important.

What is the future of PLM databases?

The complexity of product lifecycle problems brings the need of new concepts in data modeling and data management. One of the main questions – how to break the boundary of a single database? This is a key question, in my view. It will solve the problem of logical scalability and provide a platform for future information discovery.

PLM Supply Chain – Go Big Data or Go Home

Big data is one of the big things PLM can use to optimize supply chain, in my view. PLM vendors need to switch gears from supply data exchange towards supply chain optimization. In order to do so, PLM vendors need to bring additional capabilities to analyze supply chain, related information. It is an important topic to for coming years.

How to Shift from Noisy PLM to Calm Technologies?

In Designing Calm Technology, Weiser and John Seely Brown describe calm technology as “that which informs but doesn’t demand our focus or attention.” I want collaborative software to stop to behave as a noisy monster and move to state of “an invisible quite servant”. I don’t think, there is a simple recipe how to do so. PLM vendors can look for examples in consumer devices, web and mobile application behaviors and other consumer-oriented technologies and companies. I see it quite possible.

Will DoD Strategy Change Cloud PLM Future?

Speaking about future cloud systems, I think the keyword “optimization” is the most important one. Everybody is looking towards efficiency these days. It is equally important to small companies and large institution. In my view, larger companies will come soon to PLM providers with questions about how PLM environment can be optimized towards cloud computing. And this is just a matter of time when it happens. PLM vendors have some time for preparation. However, not too much time.

Best, Oleg

How to prevent Social PLM from marketing fluff

August 25, 2012

I’m preparing myself for Social PLM 2012 virtual conference in 2 weeks. It is a time to re-think all what I can hear outside about "social" technologies and related topics. It was simple to say few months ago that success of social behemoths like Facebook, and some others will be magically replicated to enterprise field and solve all problems of engineering and manufacturing software has now. Well… Now it is different. I was reading Social Research Key Findings by Enterprise Irregulars. The following passage articulates the idea how social technologies improve PLM:

Social media has also made significant impacts inside the organization for communicating with and among employees. Among its benefits are, better employee feedback, greater individual participation in problem solving and greater job satisfaction.

At the same time, the same article confirms that it is still very early to say what value social technologies can bring to organizations:

It’s still an early market. The majority of companies surveyed have some experience with social media primarily through the big name social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, corporate blogs and video sharing sites like YouTube. This suggests that companies are just getting started; other data shows that reliance on these media is primarily outbound. In other words, companies are using social as a low cost way to broadcast a message but not necessarily as a means of collecting customer input that can be turned into valuable information.

I can see how analysts and bloggers are getting excited about social technologies. My blogging and tweeting buddy @PLMJim published just few days ago the following message and blog.

Reading Blog: How Will Social Media Technology Impact #PLM? The potential impact continues to increase!

— Jim McKinney (@PLMJim) August 22, 2012

Another interesting quote comes from Jim Brown @jim_techclarity from his Youtube video from PLM Analyst Roundtable ©2011 (YouTube) by Autodesk PLM 360:Manufacturing companies are using social media for service and keeping in touch with customers when products are in the field.

On the other side, vendors are trying to discover the power of social technologies by introducing tools that supposed to improve behavior of software as well user adoption by using magic of "social technologies". All these statements made me finally think about what is behind "social" marketing buzzwords. Below I summarized three elements of "social PLM" success strategy:

1. Speaking Engineer. Product development team is multi-disciplinary by definition. It means one simple thing – people need to communicate. What software helps them to do so today? Email is still kind of the road. Instant messaging improves situation a bit. However, it is still very unusual to see people doing multi-people chats and discussions. Conference calls and meetings are the only way to communicate in many multi-disciplinary organizations. This is a place where I can see a biggest promise of tools replicating social networking behavior like Chatter and others. I can see very low usage of these tools in development organizations. There are two main functions that can help to these tools to ramp up and grow in engineering organizations – open product data and easy way to publish information.

2. Open Data. The power of the web is open data. Everything is published – you can access websites, information, databases, photos, maps, videos.. The power of really open data is huge. If you follow last 15 years of internet development, you can clearly see the results. The openness of data was a fundamental behavior that enabled the web we have now. Compare it to you company – you are far-far away from the same state. Silos of information, security constraints, licenses, enterprise applications, databases. This data is a context that needed for efficient communication. Without this context, social technology will be speechless.

3. Easy Publish. This one is really important. Look on the competition between photo-sharing applications. One extra click and you are dead. The ability to publish information for communication and sharing is absolutely needed function to make social technology successful. It needed to be embedded in any tool you use to produce a piece of open data to be used as a context for communication.

What is my conclusion? The time of social PLM marketing fluff is over. To create a replica of Facebook for engineers is not enough. To solve the problem of open data and easy way to publish the context for communication – these are two absolute per-requisites to make ‘social technology’ successful. Otherwise, the idea of social PLM will become "dead man walking" very soon. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Thoughts about PLM cloud security and iPhone 5

August 23, 2012

The discussion about cloud security is storming. You can see it going wide, and everybody wants to add something about how future CAD or PLM cloud solutions will be either secured or unsecured. If you want to spot some bad predictions about the cloud and engineering software, navigate to Hey! You! Get Offa My Cloud! Dezignsuff blog. Matt Lombard mentioned recently published prediction by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak – Cloud Computing Will Cause ‘Horrible Problems In The Next Five Years. I noted the following passage:

The more widespread the cloud becomes, the more it is seen as a target, the less secure it becomes. If you put a pot of gold in the cloud, someone is going to figure out how to loot it. It’s just that simple. CAD data is a huge jackpot forcorporate espionage. Putting it in the cloud will just make it that much easier.

By co-incidence, my attention was caught by TechCrunch article – Is This Apple’s Next iPhone? Yeah, Sure, Why Not. The stories about secrecy around new Apple devices aren’t new thing. However, that time I found it quite connected to engineering and manufacturing. The likely iPhone 5 (or next iPhone) was half assembled from leaked supplier parts. I found the following quote quite interesting:

I’m far less interested in an iPhone rebuilt from scrap parts than asking how these scrap parts leaked in the first place. To be honest, I preferred an Apple that was trying to change the CE manufacturing industry by forcing accountability, control, and secrecy. Manufacturers love leaking information in an effort to pump and dump their stock. Earlier, a post in Digitimes simply hinting at an Apple partnership would usually do the trick. Now, with a new, kinder Tim Cook at the helm, it’s clear that manufacturers are far less afraid of Cupertino.

Cloud Security? Red herring…

I wanted to connect these two stories together. I agree with Matt Lombard about his "pot of gold" analogy. If you put it somewhere, most probably somebody will try to steal it. It is true for diamonds, personal information, engineering drawings and many other things. As we can see people could reconstruct iPhone from scrapped parts. You can imagine similar situation happens with any other manufacturing and engineering organization. In most of the cases, I can see people as a much weaker part of the chain than computers. USB drives, blueprints and scrapped parts – this is a short list of opportunities. At the end, using money and sex you can get what you need much faster than by cracking cloud security system.

Cloud Sustainability

The issue of cloud sustainability is actually more important. In my view, people often think about sustainability when they are afraid of cloud solutions. What will happen if "my cloud" disappears tomorrow? The sustainability of cloud companies and the ability to get your information to you is the topic I’d recommend focusing on when you talk to your potential cloud vendors. On the other hand, the same topic is relevant in the context of any CAD system. What will happen with your 3D models if you are not able to use your CAD system anymore? No difference…

What is my conclusion? There are three things that, in my view, need to stay in focus – People, Security Procedures and Cloud sustainability. You need to focus on people, because they are much bigger risk compared to the technologies. Security procedures are important. There is no security technology that protects you from USB sticks and unsecured passwords. Ask vendor real questions – how sustainable their cloud solution, how to get data in case you stop subscription and similar things. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM migrations and database wars

August 22, 2012

Migration. This is a word any IT and PDM/PLM manager is afraid to hear. In my view, it is one of the most painful things in enterprise software. The obvious reasons for migrations are related to IT infrastructure upgrades, need to move to the next PDM / PLM version and decision to switch to another vendor. The last one is not rare in the world or PDM/PLM mergers and acquisitions.

The core of any PDM/PLM system belongs to the database. Most of the systems in the market today are running on one of the available RDBS – Oracle, DB2, Microsoft SQL and maybe some others. Few days ago, I posted about PLM data models. PDM / PLM data model is part of any implementations. The way you handle it can make your migration process either smooth or nightmare. However, even the smoothest migration process is a complicated task that requires IT dedication and after-migration validation with customers. It takes time and cost money.

Recently, PLM vendors started to pay additional attention to the process of migration. Some of PLM vendors are including migration processes into their licensing terms by supporting to migrate from a previous version environment to a new one. SaaS /cloud vendors have the advantage of handling process of migration with limited exposure to end users.

The following article caught my attention few days ago – Oracle hurls MySQL at Microsoft database wobblers. Migration with a touch of Excel. The article represents an interesting perspective on database migration wars between Oracle and Microsoft. It resonated with potential migration problems customers may face when migrating between different PDM/PLM versions and/or products. The following passage emphasizes the importance of a smooth migration. It also presents the "competitive force" behind migration.

Under the latter category, Oracle is now throwing open source at Microsoft in the form of a migration tool to shift users off of Redmond’s latest database. Oracle new migration tools will move data from Microsoft SQL Server to MySQL, which Oracle bought from Sun. The tools come as part of the MySQL Workbench. Oracle claimed the migration tool would also shift database tables and data to MySQL and “quickly” convert existing apps. Oracle is also pushing its database as a back-end to Microsoft’s Excel.

What is my conclusion? The "data hostage" business is still a reality for database vendors and for many PDM / PLM providers too. I can see vendors will be more focused on how to reduce the hassle of data migration for customers. At the same time, SaaS vendors will take an additional advantage of the cloud technologies to make migration process invisible for users. The target and demand of customers are how make information available. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

How to reinvent mobile PLM spreadsheet?

August 21, 2012

As you probably know, Excel (or spreadsheets) is one of my favorite topics. Despite the multiple efforts of software vendors in PDM, PLM and other enterprise domains, Excel remains very sustainable. Back in 2009, I put my top reasons Why do I like my PLM Excel Spreadsheets? I can confirm, Excel is still the most popular and wide accepted PLM technology in the world.

I can see many changes since that time. Web and online is the next battle space for spreadsheets. Google improved their Spreadsheet application, and it is quite awesome, in my view. Microsoft responded to online competion by providing Office 365. I don’t see PLM vendors reacted much on this.

Another place where spreadsheets are moving fast is mobile applications. The importance of mobile apps is increasing every day. My impression from mobile development in PLM – most of the vendors put a check box. You can see mobile apps announcements done by almost everybody. However, two things were missed – the purpose and the experience. In my view, vendors are missing the point of mobile apps by trying to convert “PLM” to “Mobile”, which is wrong effort. I explained it here – Mobile PLM gold rush. Did vendors miss the point? The main point – mobile applications are context/task oriented. People won’t migrate to iPad and displace their desktop/laptop app. They will use both devices in the right context.

Getting back to mobile and spreadsheets, the following Tech Crunch publication few days YC-Backed Grid Reinvents The Spreadsheet For The Tablet Age. I found it is interesting actually not from the side of business application, but specifically in the context of user experience. Watch the following video for mobile spreadsheet user experience proposed by GRID.

Maestro by Binary Thumb from Josh Leong on Vimeo.

Mobile user experience becomes an important factor behind the adoption of business applications. “Checkbox” strategy won’t work here. The standards for mobile apps are set by companies making consumer software. Take a look on my previous blog for more ideas – What CAD and PLM vendors need to learn about mobile touch interface? I found some interesting examples of mobile apps in SAP mobility center and Autodesk mobile apps. If you can bring more examples, please do so. I’m looking for them.

What is my conclusion? User experience and task orientation. These are two main factors that can make a mobile effort successful. I need to have an app to get my job done. If this is an app to make engineering calculation like ForceEffect by Autodesk or application to make travel expenses approval by SAP, the key factor will be how it does help me to get my tasks done. I can see it as a change in the mind-share. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

How cloud can increase PLM flexibility

August 21, 2012

Despite hot weather and summer vacation time, I can see quite many cloud discussions trending around. I was following OSCON conference few weeks ago. The blog that caught my attention in the context of the conference, and cloud was CloudAve. If you have an interest in cloud software related business, you can have a read of the following article -Hardware, cloud and cloud washing. I noticed an interesting passage:

Having said that I am against bundling hardware with software layer and call it a cloud for the same reason I articulated in the previous paragraph. If cloud is about abstracting away all the hardware complexities underneath, I shouldn’t be forced to buy a specific hardware to run the cloud software. Well, you can always make a point that these hardware+software solution will help organizations build clouds. Yes, they do but their offerings by itself is not cloud. Period.

The question about hiding hardware complexity made me think about the flexibility of cloud software. Can bundle of software and hardware increase flexibility and why it can be helpful? I found another article Cloud – it’s about flexibility – is trying to answer precisely to this question.

cloud computing is all about taking technology solutions and delivering them in a way that allows organizations to consume them “as a service.” I’m happy with the concept of private cloud, with cloud in a box or any other permutations of “cloudiness” so long as it means that organizations can give their users the ability to enjoy the sort of flexibility that we, as consumers, enjoy with services like Gmail.

Now let’s turn to PLM software. I’d like to disconnect the idea of PLM from the historical basement of PDM and keeping the control of information. I can see many situations in the company when a specific business problem solved without going to the total product development processes coverage – design supplier exchange, engineering services, change processes.

Any of these (and many others) examples can raise a question in front of engineering IT manager – how long it will take to establish a system to manage that. The answer 6 months is the wrong one these days. The right answer is 6 weeks. This is a place where cloud PLM software can be very helpful. As an engineering IT person, I want to spin my process implementation fast without any hardware and software installation. 6 weeks needs to be spent exactly on how to leverage cloud flexibility to get things up and running.

What is my conclusion? Think about traditional IT and Amazon Elastic Cloud. The last one can give you a server up and running in minutes. The best IT still needs days to make it happen. Nowadays, we want things to go fast with the focus on business and not on how to install servers. In many situations, the only tool, you can start using in minutes is Microsoft Excel. This is why Excel is still the most popular PLM software in the world. But cloud can change it. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

What is the right data model for PLM?

August 17, 2012

I think the agreement about importance of the data model among all implementers of PDM / PLM is almost absolute. Data drives everything PDM / PLM system is doing. Therefore, to define the data model is the first step in many implementations. It sounds as something simple. However, there is implied complexity. In most cases, you will be limited by the data model capabilities of PLM system you have. This is a time, I want to take you back in history.

Spreadsheet Data Model

Historically, it became the most commonly used data model. And the reason is not only because Excel is available to everybody. In my view, it happened also, because tables (aka spreadsheets) is a simple way to think about your data. You can think about table of drawings, parts, ECOs. Since almost everything in engineering starts from Bill of Material, to think about BOM table is also very simple. The key reason why in many cases spreadsheet model became so wide-accepted are simplicity and absolute flexibility. Engineers love flexibility, and this data model became widely popular.

Relational Data Model

This data model was developed by Edgar Codd back more than 50 years ago. Database software runs on top of this model, and we got what known today as RDBMS. Until second half of the last decade, it was the solution all PDM /PLM developers were relying. First PDM systems were developed based on RDBMS. However, they had low flexibility. Because of rigorous rules of this model, making changes was considered as not a simple task. One of the innovations of late 1990s was to develop a flexible data model as an abstraction on top of RDBS. Almost all PDM/PLM systems in production today are using object abstractions developed on top of the relational data model.

The challenges of Spreadsheets and Relational Databases

Despite these technologies are proven and used by many mainstream applications, it is far from perfection. One of the product development demands is flexibility. Spreadsheet model can deliver that, but gets very costly within the time. Relational data model can combine flexibility and support manageability of data. However, it becomes to make a change in these models is costly. Identification, openness and expandability is problematic in relational data models opposite to some other web-based solutions.

Future data models – NoSQL, RDF, etc.

Thinking about what comes in the future, I want to spell to buzzwords – NoSQL and Semantic Web. I can see a growing amount of solutions trying to adopt a variety of new data platforms. NoSQL comes to the place as an alternative solution to Relational Database. If this is a first time you’re hearing this buzzword, navigate to the following Wikipedia link. NoSQL is not all the same. It combined the whole group of solutions such a key-value stores, object databases, graph databases, triple store. Semantic web is collaborative movement led by W3C. The collection of Semantic Web technologies (RDF, OWL, SKOS, SPARQL, etc.) provides an environment where application can query that data, draw inferences using vocabularies, etc. Part of these standards something called Linked Data – a collection of data set in open formats (RDF) that shared on the web.

What is my conclusion? Many of the technologies used by PLM companies these days are outdated and came from the past 20-25 years. There is nothing wrong in these technologies. They are proven and successfully used for many applications. However, in order to achieve the next level of efficiency and embrace future of PLM, new horizons need to be explored. Data flexibility, openness and interoperability – these elements are absolutely important in the future of PLM. Options to use future data models coming from past 10 years of web experience need to be explored. Important. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


New Collaboration and Data Hostage Game

August 17, 2012

Think about the most overused term in PDM/PLM software for the last decade (or even more). Collaboration. It was developed and sold in different flavors and packages. Remember CPDM – Collaborative PDM? Later it became Collaborative PLM. Moreover, don’t forget e-Collaboration and many others. If you want to refresh your memory, navigate to the following link with CIMdata article – Definition of cPDM.

Time is moving fast. Last decade of internet, consumer devices, mobile and web 2.0 changed the face of how we share information and collaborate online. At the end of the day, I need to collaborate with my family, kids, friends and I do it on-line in a very efficient way. So efficient, that the question "how I can do the same in my company?" becomes almost obvious.

Earlier today, the following paper commentary from CIMdata came to me via twitter (thanks Chad Jackson for his tweet). The article The Changing Face of Collaboration (Commentary) is speaking about how Collaboration is changing as a result of influence made by the technology, mobile and consumer based software. Here is the first important passage I captured

In many ways we are witnessing the convergence of a number of technology-driven themes that have the potential of significantly changing collaborative work processes within and outside of a company’s four walls. The first technology-driven theme can be categorized as the consumerization of information technology (IT). The second is the explosion in the availability, capability, and usability of mobile information delivery devices. And the third is the entrance of social media-savvy individuals, who’ve grown up using Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet, into the corporate workforce. This convergence is well underway and today’s companies need to prepare and implement the appropriate processes and technologies that support the new way of collaborating.

Later, author is making the conclusion about the absolute need to develop new collaborative processes, otherwise we will become dinosaurs of the previous PLM solutions. Here is another passage:

The need to define and enable new collaborative processes and enabling technologies are not optional, they are mandatory–not only for Generation Y but also for the rest of us who need to compete in this highly collaborative and connected world. Without providing the correct level of support, today’s PLM solutions will be tomorrow’s legacy systems.

Well, we have a bunch of new technologies, new Gen-Y workforce. What next? What needs to be done in order to deliver a new kind of collaborative processes? It made me think about openness again. Let think about the web and social networking. Availability of the information on the web was one of the most important prerequisites allowed companies to develop websites and apps that deliver value (starting from Google search and ending with last social nets like Pinterest).

There is a problem that does exist in all PDM / PLM systems. These systems are taking data hostages. Let me explain what I mean. Whatever they manage – files, processes, communication stays in the system. In general, almost all of them claim openness, but in practice it doesn’t mean much. You can make a test by trying to share data out of these systems using some generic infrastructure without exporting the date (for example, in Excel file). How I can share Bill of material from my PDM system in SharePoint without exporting it? How I can share preview of my CAD model on the supplier website of my company without "dance with a tambourine" and additional coding?

What is my conclusion? In order to facilitate collaboration, PDM/PLM software products need to stop taking data hostages. It means sharing of information out of these systems needs to become a first priority for product data management software. The open infrastructure of data sharing will create a new eco-system that will help people to collaborate. After this stage, we can expect many other companies and products to come with applications helping people to collaborate using openly available information. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

image credit sheelamohan /


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