Should we stop ‘engineering PLM’?

September 29, 2012

Even if PLM (as a buzzword, business strategy and software) has a relatively short history, we can talk about some historical roots. There are two main roots or directions in the historical development of PLM. One takes us to design companies, CAD, Engineering Data Management (EDM) and Product data management (PDM). Another one takes us to business systems like enterprise resource management (ERP), workflow and business process management (BPM). These two roots defined the way PLM systems were sold and implemented in many companies during the past decade. First direction used CAD and engineering foundation to establish an initial PLM implementation. ERP vendors were slow in introducing product lifecycle management solutions. Independent PLM companies were weak financially and because of traditional conflict for data-ownership lost the battle to more powerful CAD and ERP companies.

Recently, I started to hear more voices towards "a process foundation" of PLM. The combination of cost-effective platforms (open source, cloud) and increased sensitivity to ROI created the opportunity for new style of PLM implementations – faster, cheaper and… less engineering focus. The last one requires some additional explanation. For many years, the roots of PLM implementations go to engineering department. I can see many benefits in doing so. However, engineering foundation and engineering focus slower an adoption of PLM system by other departments. I’ve been reading Yoann Maingon Minerva blog called Stop starting PLM from Engineering. The main point is how to proliferate in PLM to non-engineering parts of an organization. I liked the following passage:

Start your implementation’s phase 1 out of engineering and you’ll get live much faster. These people need integrated systems and their processes are more stable then in engineering. We know that in engineering you can have very different software acceptance from one to another. You need then to have people in the company that are already supporting the project. The risk is of course to not take into account the software capabilities to support Engineer’s processes. And that’s where it is good to have IT people coming from Engineering to select the solution.

What is my conclusion? I can see lots of interesting opportunities in starting PLM from a business side and not engineering side. You can get results (and ROI) much faster. The industry matters, in my view. You can start PLM outside of engineering in companies heavily focusing on the supply chain, build to print processes, service organizations, process industries and others. I’d not be trying to start outside of engineering in companies focusing on ETO and large OEMs in automotive, defense and aerospace. Just my thoughts… What is your opinion and practices?

Best, Oleg

Does PLM require “plastic mind surgery”?

September 27, 2012

Usually I talk about technology and software related to engineering software and PLM. Today, I want to break the rule and speak about the topic that is not technological, but mostly psychological. I’ve been reading Jos Voskuil blog – Our brain blocks PLM acceptance. In this article Jos speaks about what role our brain plays in the selection of tools and approaches to implement PLM. Simply put, if you see a person in your organization that cannot follow PLM business transformation, blame his brain ;). Jos explains 8 mental flaws that can prevent organizations from a successful transformation towards PLM. Navigate to Jos article and have a read. I especially liked the following passage about anchoring:

Anchoring can be dangerous—particularly when it is a question of becoming anchored to the past. PLM has been anchored with being complex and expensive. Autodesk is trying to change the anchoring. Other PLM-like companies stop talking about PLM due to the anchoring and name what they do different: 3DExperience, Business Process Automation,

The topic of anchoring made me think about PLM and transformation. For the last 10-15 years, PLM vendors and PLM consultants spoke about transformation and PLM in a context of business transformation. It was mostly about how to change your business to apply PLM principles and… successfully implement PLM strategies and software. It becomes so obvious, that most of people involved into PLM development automatically apply it to their mental behavior. Thinking about new ways to implement PLM, disruptive cloud technologies, innovative business model and more, the traditional way of thinking appears as a blocking factor.

Have you had a chance to read about Dr. Maxwell Maltz? Don’t search for his name in the context of PLM :). Here is a short brief from Wikipedia:

Maxwell Maltz (March 10, 1899[1] – April 7, 1975[2]) was an American cosmetic surgeon and author of Psycho-Cybernetics (1960), which was a system of ideas that he claimed could improve one’s self-image. In turn, the person would lead a more successful and fulfilling life. He wrote several books, among which Psycho-Cyberneticswas a long-time bestseller — influencing many subsequent self-help teachers. His orientation towards a system of ideas that would provide self-help is considered the forerunner of the now popular self-help books.

Dr. Maltz found that though he could change his patients’ faces, often they would still feel bad about their appearance for psychological reasons; they were in need of a "psychological facelift." Maltz popularised the term "self-image" to describe this inner face.

PLM and "self-image" surgery

I’ve been discussing PLM with many people- developers, marketing people, sales. Very often, you can see how the existing "self-image" of PLM applies on everything they do. It applies to the complexity of the code they develop, assumption about how complicated to sell and implement PLM and many other aspects. Now I want to connect it to technology and innovation. We can create new technology, develop new software and create innovative business models. However, in order to make it efficient, we need to improve PLM "self-image". PLM is not about business transformation anymore. It is about how to help to business to solve their problems and what is most important, about how to help people to get their job done better.

What is my conclusion? PLM space is ready for innovation. The demand for new technologies, different user experience and new business model is high. However, before running full speed towards new goals, we need to fix ourselves first. I call it "plastic mind surgery". We need to think differently about PLM implementations. We need to develop a new "self image" for PLM as a lean business practice which includes information sharing and process optimization. In short, I call it lean PLM. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of [Salvatore Vuono] /

PLM, Stability and Managed Chaos

September 26, 2012

People are creating ‘chaos’ by the nature of our work. This is a reality in many situations. In my view, it is specifically true when it applies to engineering work. Therefore, when engineering and IT organizations are speaking about PDM/PLM deployment and implementation, the main goal is to establish a controlled environment to prevent chaos, to organize and share information. The goal is clear. However, I want to ask how PLM deployment really fulfills the goal. The main challenge I can see is that organizations are always moving forward. Changes are introduced all the time, processes tend to be customized, altered and re-configured.

I’ve been reading an 3 steps for introducing more chaos into systems (yes, that’s a good thing) ZNET article. Read the article and made your conclusion. I found the following passage interesting:

"Every organization I’ve ever been a part of has spent countless dollars and immeasurable energy striving for stability in which everything is predictable," he says. "Unfortunately, these are the organizations that recover slowest when the inevitable, unpredictable catastrophe hits." An apt comparison may be "a search-and-rescue team that sits idle for too long can become rusty under pressure without constant drilling and practice."

The article made me think about "managed chaos" as a way to run product development processes and engineering organizations in unpredictable situations or with high frequency of changes. PLM system can be a solution to provide an organization with a way to recover and make adaption of product development processes on the fly. Don’t take me wrong. I’m not calling to introduce a chaos in a way company saves and control data, manage revisions and changes. At the same time, when organization hits a request to change suppliers, fix a product problem introduced by customers and react on environmental disaster, PLM will become a system company can rely on.

What is my conclusion? The level of uncertainty in operation of manufacturing companies is growing. There are too many dependencies and too many changes. I can come across multiple examples – environmental chaos, new regulations, supply shortage, economic and regional crises. All together, these things introduce lots of unpredictable changes in organization. To have a flexible system to support organization to overcome the challenge is extremely important. PLM system is a candidate to fulfill the role. Just my thoughts… What is your take?

Best, Oleg


PLM customization and the role of SQL Data Schema

September 25, 2012

The business of PDM and PLM systems are tightly connected to data. In the early days of EDM (Engineering Data Management) and PDM, developers used variety of data-management technologies – text files for meta-data, proprietary data bases and lately relational databases (RDMBS). RDBMS became a mainstream for enterprise software 15-20 years ago and since then everybody developing some kind of data systems (PDM and PLM clearly counted in) are tightly connected to RDBMS and SQL (Structured Query Language). SQL became a mainstream in many applications – developers and application engineers are familiar with the language and use it in variety of implementations – customizing a data schema, building reports, and optimizing application for performance and workload.

Object Model Abstraction

The complexity of product and engineering applications such as PDM and PLM is related to the complexity of data. Engineering, product and lifecycle data is very semantically rich and as a result makes the development of solution complex and dependent on different factors related to customer needs. Therefore, PDM and PLM systems in late 90s and early 2000s developed object models that created logical mapping between SQL data tables and conceptual (logical) model of data. Such type of models is used almost in every PDM /PLM system. Depends on the complexity of the system and functional needs vendors created object models with a different level of complexity and flexibility.

I’ve been reading Aras blog few days ago on the topic of SQL data modeling. The name of the post has some marketing flavor – Get the Inside Scoop: CEO on Architecture Benefits. Despite that fact, the post itself is interesting and speak about flexibility of PLM solutions, data models and the mapping of object models to SQL tables. Here is the passage that speaks about the problem of object modeler and abstractions in enterprise systems and PDM/PLM systems:

Essentially, it’s been too difficult [and/or costly] to modify the software to fit your processes. It’s been even more difficult to modify that software again six months from now because your processes have evolved. And, assuming you’re able to modify the software and get it into production, with all that modification it’s now close to impossible to upgrade it. This is because legacy enterprise software technology allows customization through very "clever" abstractions of the object model vs. the relational database design. The more you customize and the larger the data set, the more these abstractions create scalability and performance issues. It’s a huge problem.

Certainly, to create an efficient abstraction level is important. I will leave the advantages of a specific vendor(s) out of this blog. I’m sure almost all PLM systems today on the market made an effort to develop an efficient abstraction level. Some of them succeeded more and some less. However, let me speak more about what future holds, in my view.

Data Web Applications and Service Abstraction

Development of object model and data abstraction is not something, specifically unique for PDM and PLM systems. Fundamentally, any software created data abstraction and uses it for application / implementation needs. As far technology develops for the last 10 years, we’ve seen many examples of data abstractions developed for web applications. The main difference is that architecture of these systems is not allowing easy exposition of database to end users and applications’ developers. As a result, most of these systems developed service oriented model that used to customize data as well as make changes. Because of web nature of application, the requirement to run it with high availability is a natural per-requisite. At the same time, it allows to engineers to hide and optimize data schema for many of these applications. It was done by many web systems started from web giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn and going down to many smaller web apps.

What is my conclusion? Data and data efficiency remains of the key topics on the table when it comes to the development of PDM and PLM applications. To make it simple and stable to updates and system customization is a priority task. I think, SQL data schema is a technique that uses by almost all PDM/PLM systems. Thinking about the future, I can see systems are moving towards something more efficient, exposing less SQL outside and keep web oriented tools to maintain data customization.

Best, Oleg


Cloud PLM and Data Liberation

September 24, 2012

The issues of data, data lock-in, interoperability usually drives lots of debates and discussions. Started early from support and conversions of CAD data formats, interoperability continued to be complicated topic for PDM and PLM systems. Companies are still investing lots of money and effort in converting and translation of data. Introduction of SaaS and cloud platforms injected new waves of discussions – what happens with our data on the cloud. What if cloud software vendors lock my data, and I will not be able to get it out? What if a cloud vendor goes out of business, and data disappears. These are all very important questions.

To look for answers I suggest to go and learn from companies that were pioneering cloud applications. Google is certainly one of them. Are you familiar with data liberation front? You probably should. Especially, if you are thinking about cloud and cloud PLM. Navigate your browser to this link to learn more. According to Wikipedia:

Google’s Data Liberation Front is an engineering team at Google whose "goal is to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products."[1] The team, which consults with other engineering teams within Google on how to "liberate" Google products, currently supports 27 products.[2] The purpose of the Data Liberation Front is to ensure that data can be migrated from Google once an individual or company stops using their services.[3]

The key product in Google’s data liberation is Google Takeout, which helps you to escape from any Google apps and take your data out. Google Takeout products available for variety of Google Apps – Docs, Google Profile, Picasa and others.

Another interesting example. Navigate to the following article – You Might Be Able To Download All Your Tweets By End Of The Year. In my view, this is another example of data liberation. Here is the passage:

Users might able to download all of their past tweets by the end of the year, according to reports from those attending Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s talk at the Online News Association conference. In response to Emily Bell, Director of Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia’s Journalism School, Costolo said he would like to see the feature “Before the end of the year,” given their engineers’ capacity. In other words, being able to download your tweets is now a priority. Update: Twitter has confirmed to TechCrunch’s report of Costolo’s talk.

What is my conclusion? Do you have your data in Google account? I’m sure, you do. Did you try to backup and/or escape from your Google cloud? Honestly, I checked how I can do it. But I never wanted. Data is accessible and stored conveniently. In my view, data liberation is a good example of how cloud software vendors need to provide for their customers the way to escape from cloud services. I believe cloud providers will open a way in liberating data by making it accessing in many easy ways. Combined with the ability to escape from these platforms, it will provide a new paradigm of openness in the industry. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Mobile PLM Development Challenges and User Experience

September 21, 2012

The topic of mobile applications drives more and more attention every day. This is true not only for consumer website and applications, but also for enterprise software vendors. Enterprise companies are playing the catch up with mobile product development. It is true for almost all segments of enterprise software – ERP, CRM, PLM and others. One of the latest splashes in this place was announcement of their Salesforce Touchplatform. For those of your interested in additional development around mobile, I recommend you to get a mobile development guide from Salesforce touch here.

The discussion about how to develop mobile applications is trending. One of the most popular topics is Native Apps vs. Mobile Optimized web sites. Earlier this year, I raised this topic in one of my blog posts. It shows some interest in mobile optimized websites. However, I think it is a good time now to get back to this topic again. If you follow Facebook, you probably had a chance to see the whole discussion about Facebook mobile app. Bad user experience of Facebook mobile became one of the clear showstoppers for Facebook future success. Forbes’s article Facebook’s HTML5 dilemma, explained put some lights on the core problem behind Facebook mobile. Read it and make your opinion. I found the following passage important:

Take hardware. Using a Dell or a Mac, you still interact with web applications in basically the same way, with a mouse or trackpad and a keyboard. Hardware variation rarely impacts basic web-browsing functionality. Now consider the differences between a Blackberry and an iPhone. Or a Samsung and a Nokia. Different screen sizes, different levels of computing power, different pixel densities, different operating systems, and very different means of interacting with each device. EachScape CEO Ludo Collin, whose company has developed mobile applications for clients like NBC and Discovery Networks, says that developing for HTML5 is “ten times more complicated than iOS” since developers need to account for such a mind-numbing degree of variation.

The situation among PLM developers is not different much. I know PLM vendors working on the HTML compliant approach (Arena, Autodesk PLM360, Kenesto, Vuuch). At the same time, I can see vendors developed applications for mobile platforms (TeamCenter, Windchill, SolidWorks, Autodesk, Inforbix, MobilePDM). Native platforms introduce challenges to development teams. However, I can see advantages of native-apps related to usability and speed. No surprise, most of the "native apps" debates are around iOS platform. The latest iPhone5 release is going to introduce another challenge by adding new screen resolution to the game. Until now, different screen resolutions were a "privilege" of Android platform only.

What is my conclusion? The demand for intuitiveness and user experience is very high. Enterprise IT and software vendors are clearly on fire to provide a new generation of solutions to match consumer applications and mobile development trends. In parallel, browser platforms introduce many additional challenges to the development of web platforms. To develop dedicated mobile apps can be a reasonable compromise. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Edutainment and Brushing Teeth with Wasabi Paste

September 20, 2012

Don’t you think enterprise software and PLM are boring stuff? I certainly agree. Take a look for all CAD, Simulation, 3D Printing and other goodies. It all looks very cool. When I’m attending trade shows and other live events, these booths usually drive most attention. Data management, PDM, PLM stuff is boring. Who wants to talk about check-in, check-out, release, workflows, processes, etc. Engineers are relying on IT and managers? On the other side, managers and IT are not interested and hope engineers will do their jobs anyway. Engineers and designers are doing cool stuff. Most of them hardly believe PDM/PLM is something they really need.

My good friends and blogging buddies Jim Brown and Chad Jackson decided to bring some controversy into PDM/PLM conversation. So they started Tech4PD show. Navigate to this link to read more about it. Here is the important passage about what is Tech4PD:

Seriously though, there are a lot of outstanding issues related to technology in product development. There are lots of executives and users out there trying to make the right decision with respect to technology, but its a very confusing place right now. We believe that the most valid points regarding a topic are the ones that stand up to scrutiny.

And here is a first episode of Tech4PD about granularity and integration.

PLM edutainment?

Edutaining is a term that was coined back in 1948 by Walt Disney Corporation. Since then it used by many organizations to present various topics such as health and teenager education. Navigate to Wikipedia link to read more. Here is the definition:

Educational entertainment is any entertainment content that is designed to educate as well as to amuse. Content with a high degree of both educational and entertainment value is known as edutainment. There also exists content that is primarily educational but has incidental entertainment value. Finally, there is content that is mostly entertaining but can be seen to have some educational value.

I can see a growing interest of software vendors in this topic. If you follow approaches like "for dummies", "in plain english" and some others, you can see some similarity here. There are lots of innovations in this place, and I’m sure we are going to see more.

What is my conclusion? Engineers like cool stuff and reject everything that bore them. In many cases, I see executives’ behavior similar to kids (seriously :)). So, we need to innovate in how to bring a message to both communities. Tech4PD edutaining approach makes sense to me. I don’t know how many people will immediately join the conversation about granularity and integration. However, I will come for sure to see how Jim (or Chad) will brush their teeth with wasabi paste. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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