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…