PLM Downstream – Sent from my iPad?

August 6, 2010
I had a chance to read “Sent from my iPad”  on VEKTORRM last week. Dave Angelotti discussed an option to use iPad as a field device. It seems interesting. It made me think about lots of un-realized options for PLM innovation in downstream. Last year, I wrote – PLM content downstream usage, Googlenomic and Futuristic Search. Looking now on this post it seems to me much less futuristic. iPad experience helps… I decided to put few “downstream scenarios” and hope to get more ideas from you.

PLM Downstream Scenarios

(1) Sales. I can see many scenarios where sales-people will be able to have an access to configured catalog of products to facilitate sales. This is a dumb simple scenario. However, the complexity of the scenario is to have it well integrated with other systems.

(2) Manufacturing Shopfloor. In my view, there is an opportunity to use it to replace printed documents on the shopfloor. Do you think it may work? I talked to few people about this option last week. They told that iPad screen size is probably too small. Or maybe we need to wait for iBoard (you can take a look on the following joke about iPhone-iPad-iBoard-iMat)?

(3) Maintenance Operation. This is another similar to manufacturing shopfloor situation. The accessibility of the device may play a key role in getting an access to the right information during maintenance procedures.

The Missing Part of Puzzle?

Do you think device is important? My bet is yes. Sometime, innovative ideas have a very long path to people. To make them possible the unique combination of events needs to happen. It might be cost of components, environment or just device or available technology. The ultimate goal is to get rid of paper from downstream. This is a real innovative goal, in my view. It makes a lot of sense from various standpoints – information access, ecology, etc. Don’t you think iPad is the missing part of Puzzle to make it happen?

What is my conclusion? From my experience, the following three iPad characteristics ultimately help to iPad proliferation in downstream – (1) Lightweight; (2) Connectivity; (3) Power consumption. I think iPad creates a significant option for PLM (and BIM) innovation in the downstream applications- sales, manufacturing facilities, field operations, etc. What I like in iPad is an ability to create a platform for lots of powerful and focused applications. Not a big PLM show, focus matters!

Best, Oleg

How to Manage ECO without paying $1’500 per seat?

June 17, 2010

I had chance to read Buzz message thread about ECO management, initiated by Josh Mings. I found it worth reading. One of the questions stick in my memory, and I decided to put it in the title of my blog post today. How to manage ECO without paying $1’500 per seat? I think the point was made in a very clear way. Changes is a real life of engineering and manufacturing company. However, cost/value seems to be problematic for solutions we have available today.

Please, take a look on Microshare definition in Wikipedia.

To microshare is to offer access to a select piece or set of digital content by a specific group of invited or otherwise privileged guests in a controlled and secure manner. In contrast to public sharing of content, microsharing enables a more private or intimate level of making content accessible by others. Microsharing access can be secured via uniquely encoded urls or by password protection.

Let me take an example from Josh’s stream and translate it in microshare-like ECO-message-burst.

–>ECR#123 is submitted from customer services @servicecounter;
–>@servicecounter Looking on this ECR#123… Seems like a problem. Hold shipments;
–>Moved ECR#123 to engineering @engineeringhero;
–>@engineeringhero ECR#123 requires analyzes by #allengineeringgeeks;
–>@topgeek solution for ECR#123 is to disable radio switch off function;
–>@servicecounter hold shipments until ECR#123 fixed by @engineeringhero;

I hope you should get my hint now. In the end, I see collaboration as a message sharing in the organization. In before-computers-era, papers functioned as a message transferring mechanism. Then we invented databases, PDM, PLM…

PLM View on ECO Management
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is a database and SQL, you just need to translate all your problems in database and SQL forms. This is the way we have been working for the last 15-20 years. If we got a problem, we need to create a model, keep data in a database, retrieve it, save it, manipulate and, in the end, yikes! – we have a solution. What is the problem here? This is a long way that creates lots of complexities – manage a database, agree about model, implement, agree about how maintain changes, create a user interface, teach everybody how to use it and, finally also to fix bugs. This is a way we are doing PDM/PLM today.

Should Be A Simpler Way?
What if? What if we invented enough technologies that can help us to the same job in a much simpler way? If all we are interesting is related to a particular ECO#123, I can keep reference to these messages without inventing SQL Table Grandiose? I can just record it and want to be alerted, when something happens to this particular ECO. If you are doing something related to this ECO, you can put a message into microshare storage about that. Somebody, who is responsible for shipment need to see if there are any of messages or info that prevents shipment. You can subscribe to messages via something like RSS and get a single channel of messages coming to your mobile device. I know it sounds crazy to any straightforward database and/or IT guy. But, in my view it may work and simplify the life of many engineers in the organization. The infrastructure for microshare and RSS is much cheaper, compared to the development of data models, tables, UIs etc.

What is my conclusion? I think, we came to the point where everybody in the organization is looking how to work differently. It is not only about how much to spend on the particular software package. It is about how to organize work better and simpler. I’m taking “microshare” as an option. Yesterday, on Enterprise 2.0 conference, one of the presenters asked a question – How many user guides did you read in the last year? The answer was ZERO. This is a time to think about a simpler way. I want to credit Evan Yares blog for the picture, I put in this blog post. I think it is very valid these days.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg


PLM Usability Notes or Don’t Make Me Think

June 7, 2010

One of my favorite books about usability in designing of User Interfaces and Web Sites is “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug. In my view, enterprises software is sick by complexity and you need to think every single moment you work with systems in the engineering and manufacturing domain. Despite the high demand from users, not much has been done to make systems simpler. There are few reasons for that – natural complexity of product development, bloody competition on features and creation of long history of training and services businesses.

I understand that enterprise software in general and specifically PLM software is different from web site design. Nevertheless, I’m getting back to this book on a regular basis.  Today I wanted to figure out few ideas, that in my view, can simplify PLM systems. This is not a recipe with step-by-step instructions how to do that, rather than a list of patterns that helps to create a simpler engineering and product data management with simplify DNA.

1. Contextual Identification
This is a very fundamental, in my view. Context is a very interesting aspect of work. Specifically, it is important when you think about what you can do. If you can clearly identify where are you, in terms of application module, data structure and step in the process, you can reduce time you spent in understanding what to do.

2. Simple Navigation
After applying contextual identification, you need to think how to move around. Navigation is set of rules that can help you to move between elements of your application. Think about navigation as about change of context. All possible ways to change your contextual states can be clearly presented. You need to understand how to move to another module and browse through data. Create helping elements in your software to help user to find where and how to move.

3. Action Driven Environment
In most of the cases, you start application to accomplish some tasks. Orientation on action needs to help you to identify what are possible actions you can accomplish in every contextually defined step. You need to limit actions and create a set of step with actions to guide users. User needs to find them in a very quick way. If you expect an “action” from users, make it clear and always allow one single step in a time.

4. Less Clicks
By a combination of context, navigation and actions you can create an easy to follow application flow. It will help to follow one more  principle – how to make fewer clicks to accomplish a task. Gather list of tasks and calculate the number of clicks you need to make them. Then try to reduce it at least by 50%. It will make your system much less complicated.

5. Less Options
You need to see only what you need to see. Think about how to eliminate everything – information you don’t need, commands that you’ll use rarely, visualization that can make user’s operation cumbersome. Many things in our UI can be easy eliminated.

What is my conclusion? Making things simple is hard. It is so easy to overwhelm users with the huge amount of features, options, complexity of forms, windows, rich content and information. However, if you will be able to clean up this mess, you can gain some respect from your users, in my view. 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


The Role of Augment Reality In PLM

May 19, 2010

Few days ago, I had chance to write about new types of user experience. In my view, enterprise systems in general and PLM needs to find new ways to communicate with customers. The impact of consumer oriented application will be significant in coming years. One of them is Augment Reality. For me, the very interesting aspect of Augment reality is in the ability to link virtual and physical world. If I’m thinking about PLM as an information model of product development, the potential to connect this information model to manufacturing processes and to the real objects in the world can provide huge value. I’m thinking about few possible directions and use cases.

Virtual Identification

One of the interesting products in this space is Google Googled. Started with vision of Visual Search, this product is migrating to become a tool that helps you to combine virtual information (map, places) with real physical location.

What is interesting is that one of the first times, examples of augment reality in manufacturing shop floor were presented by this futuristic Microsoft’s video (you can use this link to get directly to the specific place in this video).

Virtual Design

Another direction in application of augment reality is actually design field. The ability of combination of the outside world (interior, car or airplane compartment or any other) with virtually designed elements can give a significant improvement in the way we can design things.


One of the possible implications of augment reality on simulation can be an ability to combine external input and virtual simulated environment. The potential problem of simulation is in identification of environment and parameters required for simulation. The ability to capture environment simultaneously with performing simulation can be one of the possible next steps in this direction.

What is my conclusion? Augment reality brings a lot of excitement. I think, within a short period of time, of time we’ll see more application of such tools to the real scenarios in engineering and manufacturing. From the technological standpoint, it will require a significant changes in the underline enterprise software architecture related to openness of existing system in the enterprise. I’m watching this space with huge interest.

Best, Oleg


PLM and One Big Spreadsheet

May 12, 2010

Everybody in the engineering and manufacturing loves MS Excel. I had chance to write about it multiple times before. You can take a look on few of my previous talks about MS Excel and PLM- Why do I like my PLM Spreadsheets? and PLM Excel Spreadsheets: From Odes to Woes. The reaction of customers on using spreadsheets in PLM is always positive. In my view, there are few aspects why Excel is welcome in the engineering communities- flexibility, granularity and ownership. You can always define what you want, format it in the way you want and what is the most important piece – own it! Nobody will take your Excel file. You can keep it everywhere, you can access it anytime, and you can do with this everything. There is no special licenses, no training needed. However, the biggest disadvantage of such a way is NO collaboration. Yes, you can send your Excels back and forth via email, but this is not what I’d call collaboration in the modern world.

Real Time Collaboration and Spreadsheets
Google and Microsoft are two companies that understand the power of spreadsheets very well. These days both companies are working to take Excel and spreadsheets to the next level of collaboration. You can see recent announcement of last version of Google docs is presenting ability to work collaboratively on Google Docs. Together with new features that closing some of the gaps with MS Excel, you can see Google Spreadsheets as a decent tool to take care of PLM data.

In parallel, coming announcement of Microsoft SharePoint 2010 later this week will introduce new set of the functionality a-la Excel related to data handling in the spreadsheet and collaboration. Microsoft Excel Services is a very interesting technology started in SharePoint 2007 and getting many enhancements in the new version of SharePoint

PLM Big Spreadsheet
I see spreadsheet as a way to innovate in PLM. In the end, if this is the best way to collaborate between people in design, engineering and manufacturing, we can take it as a lowest possible denominator in our PLM applications. I found multiple time during meeting with customers, the capabilities of PDM/PLM products compared with capabilities of Excel or spreadsheets. Think about mapping all PLM data you have to a single big spreadsheet and give it to users.

What is my conclusion? In my view, PLM needs to shift strategies in achievement of sophisticated features. Low gear… The next PLM sophistication can come from the side of simplicity. Make all requirements, documents, BOMs, manufacturing plans available in Excel-like format and give it to customers. This will be One Big PLM Spreedsheet. I think it will be cool. What is your take on this?

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg


PLM and Mobile Options

May 11, 2010

I think, mobile becomes more and more important every day. The amount of mobile devices surrounding us is growing. Today’s mobile devices are a powerful unit that can help us to handle many tasks when we are out of our desk. In my view, the decade of 2010s will change a lot in terms of mobile devices, environment, applications. I had chance to read a very summary by Lou Gallo about Mobile Engineering tools. Mobile revolution is going in two main directions – cool devices and services that available for multiple devices. I’m going to explore different options and opportunities, we have in this space.

Mobile Devices
You cannot be mobile without appropriated device. Recent introduction of Apple iPad is a game changer. Until now, mobile screen was a show stopper for many of us. I think it finally changed. I’m expecting new devices to come very soon. The connectivity, touch user interface and screen real estate will move innovation in this space.

Virtual Environments
It sounds like not completely related to “mobile” space. However, I see it an option to create my virtual environment and be connected to this virtual environment from every place. I see multiple directions of virtual environments. One of them is to replicate the overall environment you are running on your desktop to another desktop or mobile device. Another one is to make a granular access to the specific applications. The following video is an interesting demo of how possible to share multiple apps and use them remotely from iPad.

Cloud Applications
Cloud has a significant implication on the mobile option. Since application is not connected to the specific desktop environment, it opens the opportunity to use them everywhere. The simplest one is about sharing of your files and the content. I use the following two apps every day – Evernote and Dropbox. The idea is simple – you can use it every place and every device. Another example is the cloud application you can run on multiple devices. The best example is Google Apps or Microsoft Office apps online. The killer apps, in my view, for the engineering space will be Excel-like application.

PLM applications
I’m trying to figure out the right use cases for a mobile option in PLM. I think, granularity is a key here. In my view, we need to split our big systems into small pieces of services we can use when we need it. And mobility will be one of the drivers behind this process. I see multiple areas where PLM applications can be useful on different mobile devices – viewers, reporting applications, business process agents.

What is my conclusion today? Mobile options are growing. In my view, mobile is not about mobile phone or device. For me, the key point of a mobile option is about “deviceless”. We need to disconnect our applications from the particular devices and make it ubiquitous. The key problem I see with most of PLM modern PLM software is that granular access to the specific action actions and tasks is not always possible. We need to re-think our PLM apps in this dimension.

I’m looking forward to you sharing your mobile options and examples of PLM and engineering applications.
Best, Oleg



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