Should PLM Disconnect Data from Process?

August 27, 2010

I had a chance to read an article byebizQ related to Cordys BPM. For those who is not aware – Cordys is a relatively new outfit in the enterprise software market. The wizard name behind this company is Jan Baan. If you are a long-time citizen in the enterprise software domain, you need his first ERP company – BAAN. These days Jan Baan is very active and Cordys is one of his new babies. In his interview, Jan is discussing his long project related to decoupling of processes. The following quote seems to me interesting:

… ending the data-process dependency is easier said than done. Suppliers attempted it using extremely fat clients at one extreme and sophisticated distributed data with replication at the other.

Process Decoupling

For a very long period of time the concept of “a process needs data” were dominant. Multiple BPM vendors claimed that the only way to make BPM successful is to bring meta-data (and other data) into BPM product suites. I can agree, this strategy seems to be successful if you plan is to create integrated enterprise software suites. However, thinking more about Internet technologies and lean architectures it makes much more sense to make a disconnection of data and process.

PLM: Process vs. Data

In my view, PLM Software vendors are definitely moving towards better vertical integration. Users are asking PLM companies for a better integration between products, and PLM (and not only PLM) companies are starting to couple products and solutions together to ensure customers will spend fewer resources tailoring these solutions.

What is my conclusion? I think, enterprise software vendors can miss the dangerous point of data and process connection and interplay. When most of the enterprise companies use data to lock-in customers in their product suites, the addition of processes seems to them as a natural continuation of this strategy. The real danger of these strategies is a large complicated software products and extremely high cost of changes. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PDM vs. PLM: A Process Perspective

August 17, 2010

I want to continue the discussion started last week in my post ‘PDM vs. PLM: A Data Perspective‘. Thank you all for comments and your contribution to this conversation. I think, clarification in this space can be very beneficial for customers, vendors and other people involved in planning and operation systems for product development, engineering and manufacturing. From the data standpoint, PLM is about to cover a much broader scope of data. However, data is only one dimension, we can use to compare PDM and PLM. Another dimension is a “process”. So, today I’d like to come with a process perspective on what are differences between PDM and PLM.

Process Definition

The definition of a term “process” is very broad. Looking on the Wikipedia “process” page I found a diverse set of definitions. I’d like to take two of them as a context of this discussion.

Wikipedia – Process.
Process or processing typically describes the act of taking something through an established and usually routine set of procedures to convert it from one form to another, as a manufacturing or administrative procedure, such as processing milkcheese, or processing paperworkto grant a mortgage loan, or converting computer data from one form to another.

Wikipedia – Business Process.
A business process or business method is a collection of related, structured activities or tasksthat produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers.

I found that vendors in the space of design, engineering and manufacturing software are using the “process” word very frequently and by doing so, came to the situation where everything in their activity can be considered as a process. In my view, it created a lot of problems with explanations of what software solutions are actually doing in a context of particular organizational processes and needs.

Why PLM Is About Process?

The main reason when PLM is tightly bound with the definition of a process is actually related to the definition of a lifecycle. This is about a whole product life. Every step in this life cycle can be defined as a collection of activities / tasks that produce a result (product). Manufacturing organization activity is focused on the process of planning, engineering, development, manufacturing and supporting products. Design process, Change Management, Release Process, Sales Process… All these activities are part of the overall product lifecycle process. When you think about these steps, you can come to the definition of PLM as a software helping companies to organize and maintain product related processes.

PDM vs. PLM Processes?

Originally, PDM was created in order to maintain design and engineering data. Simply put it was about managing CAD data, related engineering files and their revisions. This type of activity normally can be localized inside of engineering organization. PDM systems are bound to the design tools (historically it was CAD) and serve engineers in their activity related to management of versions and releasing of design and engineering information to manufacturing and rest of the organization. With such a scope PDM easy becomes a software to maintain a release process. However, in real life, this design release is connected to the other product development activities. This is a situation when PLM is coming with broader process support of managing a change, supply chain, quality and other (product related) processes.

What is my conclusion? The first ugly truth coming out of the data perspective post - PLM is about to cover wider data scope. Thinking about a process perspective, I came to the conclusion of the second ugly truth – it is better to explain your software product value in association to the real organizational and product development processes. ERP first discovered a “process-secret-sauce” and started to bind their modules and expand ERP to additional organizational processes.. CAD/PDM companies came second to the spot and decided to capture a broad definition of Product Lifecycle Processes. PDM was about one simple process – Engineering Data Release. Shifting from PDM to PLM, vendors attempted to bind solutions to product development processes in an organization. However, the diversification of these processes in organizations is very high. It resulted in a very high level of complexity and growing amount of customization and software tailoring. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Processes: Flowchart vs. Rule-based?

May 20, 2010

Process management is an important aspect and activity in Product Lifecycle Management. Multiple activities in product design, engineering and manufacturing can be defined and maintained as a process. Definition of a process is an interesting problem, in my view. Different systems are using multiple techniques to define processes. Most of them are traditionally workflow-oriented. If you talk to engineers in an organization, you will discover that flowchart is widely used way to define a process. You can see below few examples of such a workflows.

We can find such definitions in all PDM/PLM systems. Definition of processes done in this way is very straightforward. However, when processes become complicated, the overall definition of a process can become a bit complicated too. You can see one of the examples below.

At the same time, definition of processes can be done verbally as a set of written rules. Such a workflow definition can be done much easier and can be easy read and interpreted by people involved into people definition. You can see a simple example of such definition created on the whiteboard.

I found both practices implemented in SharePoint Designer 2010. You can find similar implementation in other business process management systems. However, I found MS SharePoint case as a very representative one. You can create flow-based process definition using MS Visio based flowcharts.

At the same time, you can use a very interesting implementation of rule-based processes. I found such rule-based definition of processes as something that can be easier understood by users.

What is my conclusion? The ability easy to define a process is very critical. Process definition is one of the most complicated parts of PLM system implementation. To have a tool that allows you easy to understand and define processes can become an important competitive advantage for any PLM system. I think, systems are evolving and create new ways to implement processes. It will be interesting to hear what are your practices and experience in this space. I’m looking forward to you feedback and discussion.

Best, Oleg

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PLM and Social Tools: The Odd Couple?

April 13, 2010

The number of companies and products that are trying to jump into the social tools bandwagon is growing. At the time when social tools impose a significant influence on the minds of corporate decision makers, I want to discuss how potential implementation of social tools will influence the development of PLM and PLM processes management in the organization. There is no strong definition about what is “a social tool”. When I’m thinking about them, I assume the number of tools focused on the ability to provide communication and collaboration in the style development by Web 2.0 -like websites. Web 2.0 communication practices moved from the web inside of organizations. You can take a look more on this in the following wikipedia article, which, in my view, requires on going review and adjustments.

PLM and Process Management

For the last few years, PLM implementation started to focus on the practice of collaborative business process development. It was an interesting turn, since it provided a way to move out of simple data hostage with check-in/checkout/release procedures. For PLM it was a way to develop business process management practices for the organization in the area of product development and engineering.

I had chance to discuss PLM process management before. You can take a look on some of my previous posts: PLM Process Management Technologies and What is beyond Collaboration and Process Management in the organization?

Social Tools and Collaboration.

Collaboration was always in the hot spot of PLM process management discussion. Design and engineering require massive involvement of people communication and, therefore, was different from typical BPM (business process management) practices. Social tools presented a new, attractive way to collaborate between people. Web groups, online chats and instant messaging are going to convert themselves into Business Communities and Social Collaboration. It looks like a very nice marketing. What technologies are behind of that marketing buzz? Wiki, Blogs, Microblogging and Social Networking tools with modern web based user experience. These technologies emerged as a new wave of tools that might change the game of collaborative practice in the organization.

There are few very interesting examples in this space. Last week I came across the following announcement made by Chameleon Software Launches its New App on Salesforce.com’s ChatterExchange. Also, I had chance to discuss various options in the development of social tools for PLM before in the following post – Social PLM Options. There are many other examples too…

PLM Process and Social Tools Flirt
What happened to PLM Collaborative Business Processes Practices? The situation became really though, in my view. Part of PLM business process management move was to provide a valuable solution in their competition with ERP and BPM tools. However, the situation changed and social tools presented as a new attractive game changer for the enterprise organization. The obvious reaction of PLM market was to develop various offerings such as – Social Product Development, Social Innovation, etc. By doing that, PLM is trying to slide on Social Tools Wave and proliferate their offering into additional groups of users in the company. The place, which is currently occupied by Email and Microsoft Office. I see that as a nice flirt…

What is my conclusion? I think, social tools bring a new a significant wave into enterprise software development. However, I see social software entrance into PLM space as a very disruptive. PLM has a chance to lose all collaborative product development practices developed over the past 5-7 years and replace it by new technologies for social collaboration, which are basically a copy of Web 2.0 technologies transferred into enterprise. Where is the danger for PLM? Social tools and Web 2.0 practices impose a significant openness and absence of control over the content. It comes from the open web world. This is what users want. CAD/PDM/PLM considered a significant control over the content (IP) and processes. This is what IT wants. So, for me, they are looks as an odd couple. Will they be able to succeed together? This is a good question we’ll continue to ask in the coming years…

Just my thoughts..
Best, Oleg


PLM and End-To-End Business Process Myth

March 31, 2010

I was reading Arcweb SAP Insider 2010 related to the manufacturing, sustainability and product lifecycle management domains. The tag line “End-to-End Business Process Management” came to my attention, so I decided to go inside and try to understand what SAP is up to in their new PLM deliveries.

The overall document is heavy loaded with general statements about SAP and their investment into PLM program, important customer needs and problems that can be solved by SAP PLM. In the area of new product development, I found three pieces of new release achievements: 1- SAP new user interface; 2- New Project and Portfolio Management; 3- Integrated Development Environment. The last one was related to the information about end-to-end business processes I was looking for.

SAP PLM’s offerings for the Integrated Development environment.  Following the theme of end-to-end business processes, SAP PLM has focused on the need for a comprehensive product development and innovation approach.  This would involve multiple components of their PLM solution portfolio including robust CAD integration, project and portfolio management, single repository for product and process data, and a collaborative development platform that manages role-based IP protection. One of the more interesting offerings in this area is an Integrated Product Development platform for discrete industries and a companion IPD for the process industries.  IPD for the process industries included specific solutions for area like recipe management, material and task sourcing, compliance, and document management.  This follows the trend among PLM providers today to focus on specific industries with tailored solutions sets.

I think, I succeeded to get an idea of End-to-End business processes SAP is talking about. If I will translate to simple words it will contain a single repository for product and process data as well as set of tools and application to work on this data such as Project and Portfolio Management and some others. I still have few important, but not answered questions with regards to End-To-End business processes:

1. How to capture existing business processes?
2. What is the process of “solution tailoring”?
3. How IPD will be integrated with non-SAP modules and tools?

End-to-end business process management is a nice marketing slogan. In the end, there is nothing more than pieces of product and process data that need to stick together. SAP Wizards assumes that they know how to put them together to get an organizational job done by providing a specific tailored solution. Maybe they are right. However, the process to do so will contain lots of small steps related to existing business processes analyzes, integration and customization. I turned me back to one of my previous posts: PLM Best Practices Torpedo. End-To-End Business Processes are set of best practices on top of the single product and process data repository.

What is my conclusion after all? End-to-End processes sound very profound and attractive. However, it seems to me SAP was focused last three years on how to gather all definitions and implementation practices to introduce the comprehensive product portfolio making best practices for customers. The implementation of such can be bumpy and requires lots of energy, skills and the most important – time. The last becomes the most critical for manufacturers today. I’d like to quote another pace from the same write-up: “… that the number one goal for manufacturing companies was to reduce “time-to-profit” for new or changed products...”. With long PLM End-To-End business processes implementation cycles this goal will not be achievable and can easily become Dead-End.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg

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PLM, Social Silos and Information Streams

March 25, 2010

I had chance to read the following blog post on IT Business Edge – Oh No, Social Medial Creates Even More Information Silos. . It made me think about process interaction into enterprise organization. What I like very much, is a definition of social channels. This is a short quote from the article:

Social channels are repositories of siloed information just as often as traditional enterprise applications, if not more so. At least with enterprise applications, companies recognize the need to integrate different data streams, have been cracking away on the problem for years and have enlisted support from vendors. (Sure, sometimes the “support” seems like little more than lip service, but vendors largely do try to offer integration when and where it makes sense.) IT Business Edge’s Loraine Lawson last week wrote about the growing need for companies to consolidate information from various social channels in one place, perhaps on their Web sites.

This fits my view on how processes will be organized in the future. The biggest problem of process organization, as I see them is their absolute inability for self organization. I see process management as somewhat half successful in the systems like CRM and ERP. However, it becomes an absolute failure when it comes to the engineering space. Why, I think, it happens. The main problem is the very informal way of communication during product development, engineering and manufacturing. In the CRM and even ERP domains I can always identify “push event” that can trigger a process. Opposite to that, in engineering, the type of the communication is more in the “pull” mode. The most popular collaboration and communication tool in the engineering enterprise is the email. However, information and communication overflow is the biggest problem of process communication in the enterprise manufacturing organization.

Organization of Social Information Stream is an interesting idea. I came to that looking on how multiple social tools successfully promote information flowing between their members. Think about Twitter lists, for example. If you’ll “twit” from the side of various actors in your engineering organization, you probably will be able to organize your communication in a better way. In addition to that, PLM organization is pretty much siloed. It prevents PLM from the efficient organization of process and data management. Maybe social information streams using social websites collaborative approaches, is the way to go in the enterprise? If I’ll take this idea forward, my next step will be probably to define “twitting actors” in my product development. Subscription to these “actors” will allow me to flow in my product development information streams.

What is my conclusion today? The communication in the enterprise organization is not a simple task. Today, email is still the king of the road. The real advantage of email is that you can consolidate your information streams in the single place. However, you easily can get to the point where your single email stream is overflowed and become inefficient. Email is a typical “push” process model. I think tomorrow’s PLM will be using the “information stream” concepts to better organization communication. The content and context of these streams will be very important to make it useful… The future talks!

Best, Oleg

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PLM vs. ERP – Don’t Manage Innovation!

January 21, 2010

I was reading Tech Clarity insight “Evolving Role of ERP and PLM“. The topic of PLM and ERP is not new. However, I was always looking for detailed analyzes of PLM and ERP functions and roles in the organization, especially taking into account latest technological and social trends. You can find the report on this link. It provides 15 pages of analyzes, and, I think, this is the biggest publication from last time I had chance to see about PLM and ERP together.

Below my notes, emphasizing points of agreements and disagreements with Jim’s report:

Distinct roles of ERP and PLM
The roles of PLM and ERP are blurred in the organization. For the last years ERP companies successfully acquired and developed their PLM portfolio. So, their presentation of PLM as “Yet another app in ERP portfolio” was quite successful. PLM fights ERP heavily on their ability of manage product and engineering data. Unfortunately, instead of becomes an ultimate product and engineering data shop, PLM is running upstream by trying to establish themselves as “Innovation Management”… This is something that made me feel bad. Don’t try to manage innovation! You just cannot…

Design and product data management
The need for design and product data management one is clear for me.This is undervalued zone. What exist today as a mainstream PDM is only top of the big iceberg. I think PLM needs to get back to the roots and fix PDM topic. Otherwise future crash is the only question of time. PLM needs to define themselves as “product data unbreakable”. Not what happens today, in my view.

Cross functional processes.
There are no PLM or ERP processes. There are “organizational processes”. Therefore, the process’s problem cannot be resolved in PLM or ERP separately. The step toward BPMN can be good for PLM. It will set up openness to the right level and will establish a spot for process improvement in the organization.

PLM and ERP integrations
This is a hugely disappointing topic. The PLM/ERP integration reminds me ball in the air when both players are trying to keep him flying and not landing.  Demand for data integration is huge. I’d expect here some technological thinking and not process-organization. Until now, this is in complete ownership of services and smaller partners developing specific integration application.

Where does PLM stop and ERP begins?
Don’t even try to put this border. To establish this border is the same like to establish gatekeeper on the firewall between engineering and manufacturing. In my view, this is a huge mistake. We need to work toward removal of this wall by using appropriated technologies, methodology, collaboration and social application.

What is my conclusion after all? I can identify two PLM trends. (1) Cross organizational processes. By ability to connect and interplay different organizational process, PLM can be in unique role in the organization representing a product-oriented activities. (2) Future design excellence, 3D tools, consumer-oriented experience.

PLM and ERP need to stop fighting in the organization. As a first step, PLM needs to take the next level in the organization and embrace a cross-functional processes and organizational needs that cannot be served by any of existing systems.

Just my thoughts.
Best, Oleg


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