Why PDM stuck in non-web age?

July 27, 2013

Web as a platform. You can hear many conversations about that nowadays. Started as cloud talks, it comes more to the point where we can see the discussion about how “world wide web” is changing user experience and computing paradigms. One of the strongest trends coming on top of massive shift towards web paradigm is consumerization trend in enterprise. Lots of technologies, applications and paradigms were proven during past decade with “consumer space”. These techs are trying to find their paths towards our working places.

Thinking about engineering and manufacturing software these days, I can see a significant shift towards web (and cloud) computing and software. Autodesk joined web race by introducing many cloud products over the past 2-3 years (Autodesk 360, PLM 360, Fusion 360, CAM 360, etc.) After yesterday announcement made by Dassault System about new cloud based portfolio, I need to revisit my 2 years old blog – PLM Cloud: differentiation or “anti-cloud rant”?

I want to speak today about PDM (product data management) or EDM (Engineering Data Management) in early days. The PDM discipline is around since mid 80s. Few days ago, GrabCAD published an interesting blog post covering some historical PDM roots. Nevertheless, despite all changes, look back 10 years and now. Not much changes you can find. I still can see massive amount of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets flying around in and out engineering desktops and manufacturing facilities. The spreadsheets is one of the main evidence of the fact engineers are stuck on their desktops.

I was reading an interesting interview by Scott Moyse – Synergis Adept Trumps Windows File Management. This is a journey of the company implementing product data management this year. What struck me the most is how deep PDM philosophy is connected to folders/files hierarchy paradigm. Here is an interesting passage I captured:

SM: What system did you use to manage your documentation prior to purchasing Adept? RH: Pretty much Windows Explorer (file manager). We had secure drives and it was divided into folders and file names. People would search the servers to find drawings, and if they didn’t have AutoCAD they opened them with DWG Trueview.

SM: Have you maintained that folder structure for Adept? RH: Pretty much, I would say we still have same folder structure that we put into Adept’s database. Using Adept’s Library Browser, we can still see the folder structure and drill down to a specific file. Now we search for our files with Adept’s Library card. We just type in whatever information we want in a search field and the file comes up. But the Windows file structure is still there because Adept doesn’t scramble or move the files.

Thinking more about that, I came to my top 5 reasons why I think engineers love their files and folders. It also explains why PDM “stuck on the desktop”:

1- Majority of engineering stuff lives on the desktop or shared network drives these days. These are large files and perception that moving these files to web environment is complicated, painful and not necessarily needed.

2- Most of engineers are convinced that they can collaborate using “file exchange paradigm”, so they don’t think how to make a change. CAD file viewers are probably the only one mainstream web technologies came to engineering space that takes files from desktop and file servers to outside of engineering space.

3- Engineers have limited interests to share. For many years, engineering departments were treated as “black boxes”. Engineers must do design and provide the result. Manufacturing and operation can do the rest. So, it developed sort of “comfort zone” for most of engineers – don’t touch my stuff I put in my folders.

4- Many engineers are concerned about IP (Intellectual property). Especially, not very computer savvy engineers are afraid of the wild behavior of the web spreading viruses and stealing identities. So, typical engineering position – I don’t want to be responsible for potential leak of IP outside of the company.

5- There is no real Excel replacement on the web. There are many products that trying to mimic Excel. Microsoft SharePoint made lots of work converting spreadsheets into online data services. However, there is nothing online yet that can take a full flexibility of MS Excel spreadsheet and put it online.

What is my conclusion? In the world of web and social networks, engineers remain one of the most conservative group of people working entirely on the desktop. Desktop remains a comfort zone for most of engineers. How to get engineers out of this comfort zone? This is a question many CAD and other engineering software developers are thinking about. New design and collaboration tools are coming these days to make engineering to cloud transformation happen. It will come as a combination of new design tools, shifting paradigms and influence of new generation of engineers. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM and Google enterprise numeric factoids

July 25, 2013

Google is making lots of things these days. The list includes search, data centers, mobile phones, tablets, wearable devices, self driving cars and more… The question about Google and PLM is one that very often drives rumors and lots of speculations. It usually comes from the side of analyzes applied on Google enterprise business. Here is the next round of discussions. I captured this story in ArnoldIT blog – Google and Its Enterprise Push: Changes Ahead? The assessment is that Google is probably making around $1B of their revenues driving variety of enterprise programs.

Google’s enterprise business consists of productivity apps like Google Docs and Gmail and the Google Cloud Platform, which includes its App Engine platform-as-a-service and its Compute Engine infrastructure-as-a-service. One important factoid in the write up was the assertion that Google’s cloud business and its applications business was generating about $200 million in the most recent quarter. Assuming that the figure is accurate, Google is on track to generate about $1 billion from its enterprise services. If the company ends the current fiscal year in the $60 billion in revenue range, the enterprise unit will make up one minute of 60 minutes of Google revenue.

The interesting numeric comparison is that Google’s $1B of enterprise revenues is compatible with 4 top CAD/PLM companies ($1-2B). At the same time, increased investments in hardware, wearable computers, cars and other physical devices can make Google enterprise execs to pay attention on what companies in CAD/PLM area are doing.

What is my conclusion? Google was puzzling around enterprise business already few years pushing and pulling services and offering, changing prices and strategies. Are we going to see next round of Google push in the enterprise? Will Google try to leverage Microsoft management crisis to capture few additional points of enterprise apps selling. Maybe Google will decide to invest money in CAD/PLM business to make their hardware programs more efficient? Who knows… These are just rumors and my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Social PLM, Graphs and Organizational Overlap

July 24, 2013

Social tools are capturing lots of noise and making real impact these days. After initial hype of MySpace and early days of Facebook, social networks is getting down to real business, profit and smart technology. LinkedIn engineering publication earlier today speaks about some smart engineering work done by LinkedIn engineers analyzing data about people connections. Navigate to the following link to read Organizational Overlap on Social Networks and its Applications. I found some facts from this article quite interesting. One of them related to the ability of connection identification.

A basic problem in network analysis is predicting links for partially observed networks, that is, given a snapshot of connections at time t, can we predict links at time t+1. On any online social network, two members might know each other, but may not have established a connection on the site. Link prediction and recommendations help address this problem and create a more complete social graph to improve user involvement.

Another interesting use is identification of communities.

The organizational overlap model also works well for detecting communities within an organization. It is usually hard to evaluate the quality of communities because of a lack of ground truth. We used an indirect method to evaluate the quality: intuitively, the speed of information propagation should be faster within a community, so we measured the quality of detected communities by the speed of information propagation within it.

The problem of identification of communities can be interesting in the context of introducing of social network in product development organization and actually in any enterprise organization. The communication patterns in existing organization is mostly driven by emails these days. Social networks are just establishing themselves and engineering is probably not the first place where they start. However, the ability to capture communication relationships between engineers can help to identify knowledge gaps and efficiency problems.

What is my conclusion? The combination of data networks and communication network can bring lots of new opportunities in product development. At the time, companies are scratching their heads trying to understand where next cost saving will come from, the answers are probably deep in the roots of social product networks. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

How PLM will embed information in products?

July 24, 2013

Experience is a new modern hype. You can see it everywhere these days. User experience, selling experience, learning experience, total experience, etc. You can continue the list… I want to talk about "product experience" today. This is obvious and new at the same time. Manufacturers are interested to know more about their products. It related to sales, usage, problem reports and defects, maintenance, etc. It becomes almost obvious – the more information you get about usage of your product during whole product cycle – the better you can do. I like old, but famous quote by W. Edwards Deming – "You can’t manage what you can’t measure."

An interesting article by SolidSmack caught my attention earlier today – InfraStructs: Embedded ID Tags in 3D Printed Objects Eliminate Need for RFID and Barcodes. The article speaks about how to embed the information in 3D printed objects:

California event is the announcement from Microsoft Research that they are developing embedded ID tags for 3D printed objects. Titled InfraStructs, the internal tags are created from the same 3D printing process already used to create the intended, printed object; effectively generating an internal, invisible tag that can be read with a terahertz (THz) imaging scanner.

How manufacturers will use and why PLM vendors will benefit is? The premise of existing RFID technology is to use a specific tag that must be attached to product that will allow to tag manufacturing items, spare parts during whole lifecycle. The idea was good, but the implementation is a bit complicated and still costly. By direct embedding of additional information manufacturing can achieve the next level of efficiency. Here is another passage from the article.

Ultimately, the benefit of this approach for manufacturers is that they can embed unique information such as serial numbers or simple programs in coded tags by integrating the design into a pre-determined 3D printed design. In turn, this eliminates the potential need for other (and oftentimes more expensive) identification systems such a RFID tags and electronic chips that can add cost and complexity to the manufacturing, as well as the need for bar codes which can be cumbersome to work with and are vulnerable to tampering.

What is my conclusion? We are moving towards connected world, where design and engineering parts will be more connected to their physical implementations. It will allow better measurement of product experience and, as a result -better product lifecycle management. Just my thought…

Best, Oleg

How to ditch old PLM marketing and friend engineers?

July 22, 2013

There is a chasm between old and new schoolers these days in many places and industries. I wonder if PLM will be different and will keep old school formation in everything – business models, marketing, technical solutions, etc. Few months ago I posted – PLM, Viral Sales and Enterprise Old Schoolers article that generated few very open and honest conversations with some of my friends – sales professionals.

Jos Voskuil made me think about new generation of people in PLM industry after reading his article about Product Innovation Apparel conference. Navigate to this link to read Jos’ post. Here is my favorite quote:

There is so much to learn from experiences in the apparel industry. The PLM market for apparel might be immature, the people implementing are not. They have picked up the modern way of PLM thinking in the context of business, instead of a focus on IT. Combined with the fact that it is less a male-only business, it opened my eyes, and other PLM consultants should do the same.

What do you think will be the right place to start PLM transformation? Here is the idea. Let’s ditch old school PLM marketing. The one that focus on big goals of PLM to control all development processes and systems in the company. You might be shocked. The fundamentals of PLM for many years was focused on how PLM implementation can focus on setting up processes in organization and controlling product information. On the grand scale of possible transformation you can think about that as a right approach of value added sales. However, it brings so much change and disturbance in organization. Old PLM folks, you are right by showing a potential problems in organization. However, people hate you for this. And if change is hard, they will not make it happen without stick of CxO sponsoring and big organizational committees.

So, what is the alternative? Here is an idea. Let make PLM “to friend” engineers. In fact, none of them likes PDM or PLM. Most of them won’t be even able to explain what PLM suppose to do for their company. However, I’m sure engineers have problems. And one of the most complicated problem they have is communicate with rest of the company. This communication is not easy. The traditional waterfall product development approach keeps engineers behind the firewall. This firewall is making communication complex in two directions. It is hard to share information from engineering. However, it is extremely hard to get information from outside world and make it available and usable inside of PLM organization. So, new generation of PLM systems will make communication of engineers, sharing data and work on engineering BOM much easier than before and turn engineers to best friends.

What is my conclusion? Old schools value promotions are still here. However, in my view, it is very hard to make it work efficiently and drive future success in implementing PLM systems. Next gen of PLM will remove “PLM marketing” tag and come to people to help share data and communicate across organization more efficiently without barriers and complexity. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy HBR blog.

Cloud PLM and future of upgrades

July 20, 2013

Upgrades are painful. Everyone in enterprise business knows that. If you are using multiple enterprise systems, ongoing upgrades can become a major IT activity for long time, will take resources and money. Usually, it involves updates of software, updates of customization and additional related application and data.

The problem of updates is not unique for manufacturing world. Different vendors are facing this problem coming from different perspective. Venturebit article last month shows the same problem in Android and Apple market. Navigate to the following link to read – Apple finally charts iOS fragmentation, and it puts Android to shame. The picture below is self explaining. Here is my favorite quote:

Very little of this should be surprising if you’ve paid attention to the world of Android updates. The operating system is notorious for being home to countless devices with varying degrees of support from manufacturers and carriers, which don’t have the biggest incentive to offer timely updates. While Google does a good job of keeping its Nexus devices updated, the chart above shows that most Android devices are still languishing the past. And that hurts the platform as whole.

In CAD, PDM and PLM world, most of the updates are driven by versions of CAD systems and new functionality. Information about diversity of software versions is not available in public. I tried to find this information for TeamCenter, Windchill, Envoia, but failed to find public references. The information about versions of CAD, PDM and PLM software is not exposed outside. Usually, customers prefer to follow newer CAD versions. It triggers a massive chain of events that will require to update other software as well. The updates of PDM/PLM systems are expensive, since it requires company to invest in re-implementation, adjustments and training.

I’d like to make a parallel with Apple and Android market. Obviously, vendors are interested in alignment of customers to their last versions. My hunch is that vendors are not very much interested to add migration costs to the cost of implementations and upgrades. Also, in many cases, implementations are so complicated that work cannot be done with customers.

Future cloud models can change dynamics of the software upgrades. Modern multi-tenant models can change the fundamental cost structure for software vendors. Usage of single software version in production will drive the incentive of vendors to pursue support for upgrades and migration of customization.

What is my conclusion? Cloud is not only about how to move a data server from your IT basement to hosted location. It is about fundamental change in how software vendors will provide services and support customers. Incentives of vendors and interests of customers will be co-planar now. Structural cost changes of multi-tenant cloud deployment will make make it financially possible. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

How to cleanup Product Data?

July 18, 2013

There is one project in data management everybody tries to avoid: legacy data import. It’s one of the most complicated, time consuming, and painful aspects of any PDM and PLM deployment. Importing data usually lead to lots of problems – how to clean data, how to important data, how to map data to existing systems. Enterprise system developers are spending tons of money implementing different import tools.At the end, service provider and/or VAR is taking "legacy data import" project to implementations. Unfortunately, it costs money and time. Company in data management and content processing tool are paying attention to this problem too.

My attention was caught my ITProPortal – “HP Autonomy Launches Legacy Data Cleanup Software for Improved Info Governance.” Autonomy is a software outfit developing content processing, search and other data-related applications. Pay attention to software called Legacy Data Cleanup. It helps to arrange, classify and clean data. Here is an interesting passage:

“Legacy data is sometimes called ‘dark data,’ as it is effectively wasted space on limited storage, forcing organizations to buy more storage and hindering the modernizing of infrastructure and the transition to the cloud. This data includes obsolete SharePoint sites, old email stores, and a variety of other files that no longer serve any function. “The Legacy Data Cleanup solution helps businesses identify this unnecessary data and remove it responsibly, leaving an audit trail behind to meet company data retention policies. It can also help with the establishment of a records management system, which offers improved access to and more efficient legal holds on old data.”

Product data has lots of diseases – bad classification, broken references, mistyped fields, missed files and many others. Existing import tools are not very efficient and require to clean data before it can be imported. I can see an emergent trend of data tools that can help to bring data into new enterprise systems without cleaning and later to provide service that will make data available and cleaned. Some of the operations can be automated and some of them will require additional user work. However, I believe the last one can be minimized within time.

What is my conclusion? Most of manufacturing companies have data problem. Legacy data lives in many places – customer hard drives, old enterprise data management systems, Excel spreadsheets and Access databases. To be able to extract this data and move on with a new system, new data management components need to be development. First, they will scrap all data, then classify and prearrange this data for customer use. The result – lower cost, faster implementation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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