Will PLM Vendors Jump into Microsoft Cloud Window in Europe?

April 11, 2014

european-plm-cloud

Cloud is raising lots of controversy in Europe. While manufacturing companies in U.S. are generally more open towards new tech, European rivals are much more conservative. Many of my industry colleagues in Germany, France, Switzerland and other EU countries probably can confirm that. Europe is coming to cloud systems, but much slower. I’ve been posting about cloud implications and constraints in Europe. Catch up on my thoughts here – Will Europe adopt cloud PLM? and here PLM cloud and European data protection reforms. These are main cloud concerns raised by European customers – data, privacy and specific country regulation. With companies located in different places in EU, it can be a challenge.

Earlier today, I’ve heard some good news about cloud proliferation in Europe coming from Microsoft. TechCrunch article – Microsoft’s Enterprise Cloud Services Get A Privacy Thumbs Up From Europe’s Data Protection Authorities speaks about the fact Microsoft enterprise cloud service meets the standards of data privacy in several European countries. Here is a passage that can put some lights on details and what does it mean:

But today comes a piece of good news for Redmond: the data protection authorities (DPAs) of all 28 European member states have decided that Microsoft’s enterprise cloud services meet its standards for privacy. This makes Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Windows Intune the first services to get such approval. The privacy decision was made by the “Article 29 Data Protection Working Party,” which notes that this will mean that Microsoft will not have to seek approval of individual DPAs on enterprise cloud contracts. In its letter to Microsoft (embedded below), chair Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin writes, “The MS Agreement, as it will be modified by Microsoft, will be in line with Standard Contractual Clause 2010/87/EU… In practice, this will reduce the number of national authorizations required to allow the international transfer of data (depending on the national legislation).”

Majority of PDM / PLM providers are friendly with Microsoft tech stack. Some of them are completely relies on MS SQL server and other Microsoft technologies. Most of them are supporting SharePoint. Now, these PLM vendors have an additional incentive to stay with Microsoft technologies for the cloud. It can be also a good news for manufacturing companies already deployed PDM/PLM solutions on top of Microsoft technologies and developed custom solutions.

What is my conclusion? The technological landscape these days is very dynamic. The time, one platform worked for everybody is over. In light of technological disruption and future challenges tech giants will be using different strategies in order to stay relevant for customers. Will European cloud regulation keep PDM/PLM players with MS Azure and other Microsoft technologies compared to alternative cloud technological stacks? How fast will take to other players to reach the same level of compliance? These are good questions to ask vendors and service providers. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How PLM can join semantic enterprise graph?

April 10, 2014

plm-and-enterprise-graph

Connectivity is a key these days and graphs are playing key role in the development of our connectivity. It doesn’t matter what to connect – people, information, devices. Graphs are fascinating things. Actually, I came to conclusion we live in the era of fast graph development. More and more things around us are getting “connected”.

It is almost two years since I first posted about Why PLM need to learn about Google Knowledge Graph. The story of Knowledge Graph is getting more power every day. GKG is growing. It represents “things” in the knowledge base describing lots of topics – music, books, media, films, locations, businesses and many others. Part of Google Knowledge Graph is fueled by Freebase – large collaborative database of structured data. Originally Freebase was developed by Metaweb and acquired by Google in 2010. It is still not completely clear how Google Knowledge Graph built. You can read some investigations here. Nevertheless, it is hard to undervalue the power of Knowledge Graph.

Another well known and publicly developed graph is Facebook social graph. Last year I posted – Why PLM should pay attention to Facebook Graph Search. Facebook graph represents structured information captured from Facebook accounts. It allows to run quite interesting and powerful queries (also known as Facebook Graph Search).

In my opinion, we are just in the beginning of future graph discovery and expanded information connectivity. It won’t stop in social networks and public web. I can see graphs will proliferate into enterprise and will create lots of valuable opportunities related to information connectivity and efficient query processing. Semanticweb.com article Let Enterprise Graph Tell You A Story speaks about enterprise as a set of Facebook pages. It explains how we can build a graph story of enterprise communication, collaboration, people activities, related data and other things. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

Wallace relies on Hadoop and graph database technology, with network data represented as a property graph. “Property graphs are utterly, totally extensible and flexible,” she said, and “the system gets smarter as you add more data into it.” The enterprise social network data generates triple sets (that John Smith created X Document that was downloaded by Jane Doe) that get pocketed into the graph, for example, as is metadata extracted from relational databases. A general set of algorithms can find a user within the graph and calculate his or her engagement level – activities, reactions, eminence and so on. “We now have a Big Data service with a set of APIs so people can query the enterprise graph,” she set, and then run analytics on those results that can drive applications.

I found this aspect of graph development very inspiring. To collect enterprise information into graph database and run a diverse set of queries can be an interesting thing. If I think about PLM as a technological and business approach, the value of graph connecting different part of information about product and activities located in different enterprise systems can be huge. These days, PLM vendors and manufacturing companies are using a diverse strategies to manage this information – centralized databases, master data management, enterprise search and others. Graph data approach can be an interesting option, which will make enterprise looks like a web we all know today.

What is my conclusion? The growing amount of information in enterprise organizations will change existing information approaches. It doesn’t mean all existing technologies will change overnight. However, new complementary techniques will be developed to discover and use information in a new ways. Graph is clearly going to play big role. PLM strategist, developers and managemers should take a note. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit semanticweb.com


Why so hard to break PLM into components?

April 9, 2014

plm-componentizing

Product Lifecycle Management is not a software. It is business strategy and approach. One of my blog readers mentioned that in the discussion few days ago. Nevertheless, manufacturing companies are usually talking about PLM systems and platforms as something solid and unbreakable. The same picture you can see when looking on PLM online marketing materials and brochures. Despite recent changes in broad PLM acceptance and value proposition, companies still see PLM as a software mostly for engineering domain or driven by engineering IT. One of the dreams many PLM vendors developed for the last decade is how to reach the C-level management such as CIO and engineering executives. In other words, how to reach ERP level of acceptance and awareness.

Earlier today, my attention was caught by Toolbox.com article about modern ERP trends. Navigate to read ERP Trends: Shifting from Big ERP Systems to Componentized ERP Environments. Cloud is changing the face of ERP. The technology is breaking ERP into pieces. One of the results – two tiers ERP configuration. Here is the explanation I captured from the article.

Because of the coinciding innovations in cloud technology, instead of deploying and implementing traditional ERP infrastructure, organizations started adopting a two-tier, or hybrid, ERP model. Two-tier ERP is a method of integrating multiple ERP systems simultaneously. For instance, an organization may run a legacy ERP system at the corporate level while running a separate ERP system or systems, such as cloud ERP, at a subsidiary or division level for back-office processes that have different requirements. To facilitate the adoption of the two-tier methodology, vendors increasingly opened core databases and application programming interfaces and provided customization tools, thus spurring the advent of self-contained, functional ERP components or modules.

So, what does it mean for existing and future PLM strategies and products. More specifically, it made me think about the possibility to break large and heavy PLM platforms into sets of re-usable components. ERP componentizing example speaks about splitting ERP system into modules such as – supply chain, financial, management, human resources. So what potential PLM split can look like? I can see two possible ways here – business process and lifecycle. The first one is something probably we can see a lot in existing PLM platforms. Requirement management, Design Collaboration, Change Management, NPI, etc. I’ve been thinking about Lifecycle as an alternative approach to the traditional business process oriented approach. Lifeycle approach means to develop applications to serve people with their everyday tasks based on maturity of product in the development or services. Think about manufacturing assembly line. Different tools and operations are applied to manufacturing product to bring it to life. Now think about PLM and software tools. PLM components will be used to create product (actually product data and related information).

Toolbox article also speaks about difficulties of componentized approach. The main one is a potential growth of TCO because of the need to integrated data coming from different modules. Here is the passage I specially liked:

The data from the second-tier cloud ERP or modules typically require normalization to integrate with the legacy ERP system at the corporate level. Although direct cost is associated with master data management to ensure consistency and no redundancy, by extending the life of the legacy system, the intention is to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) while meeting additional needs for flexibility and functionality. However, the shorter duration of implementing and deploying a two-tier ERP model can actually lead to increased TCO if the indirect costs, such as training, hiring staff, and vendor support, are not taken into to account, as well.

The same problem will arise if we try to break PLM into components. With no solid data foundation, ability to bring and integrate various PLM components will be questionable. The integration cost will skyrocket. Compatibility between PLM components versions will make it even harder. Nevertheless, I can see growing business requirements, customers’ demand and shorter lifecycle for software products as something that will drive future PLM technological changes. Componentizing will be one of them.

What is my conclusion? To break large and heavy PLM suites into configurable and flexible components is an interesting opportunity to satisfy today’s dynamic business reality. However, two fundamental technologies are required to make it happen – scalable open data platform and reliable integration technologies. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How cloud PLM can reuse on-premise enterprise data?

April 7, 2014

plm-on-premise-data-sync

Cloud becomes more and more an obsolete additional word to call every technology we develop I hardly can image anything these days that we develop without "cloud in mind". This is absolutely true about PLM. Nowadays, it is all about how to make cloud technologies to work for you and not against you.

For cloud PLM, the question of secure data usage is one of the most critical topics. Especially, if you think about your existing large enterprise customers. These large companies started PLM adoption many years ago and developed large data assets and custom applications. For them, data is one of the most important elements that can enable use of cloud PLMs.

Networkworld article How Boeing is using the cloud caught my attention this morning. The writeup quotes Boeing chief cloud strategies David Nelson and speaks about very interesting approach Boeing is using to deploy and use on-premise data on public cloud. Here is the passage that outline the approach:

Nelson first described an application the company has developed that tracks all of the flight paths that planes take around the world. Boeing’s sales staff uses it to help sell aircraft showing how a newer, faster one could improve operations. The app incorporates both historical and real-time data, which means there are some heavy workloads. “There’s lots of detail and analysis,” he says. It takes a “boatload” of processing power to collect the data, analyze it, render it and put it into a presentable fashion.

The application started years ago by running on five laptop computers that were synced together. They got so hot running the application that measures needed to be taken to keep them cool, Nelson said. Then Nelson helped migrate the application to the cloud, but doing so took approval from internal security, legal and technology teams.

In order to protect proprietary Boeing data the company uses a process called “shred and scatter.” Using software supported by a New Zealand firm, GreenButton, Boeing takes the data it plans to put in the cloud and breaks it up into the equivalent of what Nelson called puzzle pieces. Those pieces are then encrypted and sent to Microsoft Azure’s cloud. There it is stored and processed in the cloud, but for anything actionable to be gleaned from the data, it has to be reassembled behind Boeing’s firewall.

It made me think about one of the most critical things that will define future development and success of cloud PLM technologies and products – data connectivity and on-premise/cloud data sync. Here is my take on this challenge. It is easy to deploy and start using cloud PLM these days. However, PLM system without customer data is not very helpful. Yes, you can manage processes and new projects. However, let’s state the truth – you need to get access to legacy data to fully operate your PLM software on enterprise level. Manufacturing companies are very sensitive about their data assets. So to develop kind of "shred and scatter" data sync approaches can be an interesting path to unlock cloud PLM for large enterprise customers.

What is my conclusion? I can see cloud data sync as one of the most important cloud PLM challenges these days. To retrieve data from on-premise location in a meaningful way and bring it to the cloud in a secure manner is a show stopper to start broad large enterprise adoption. By solving this problem, cloud PLM vendors will open the gate for large enterprises to leverage public cloud. It is a challenge for top enterprise PLM vendors today and clearly entrance barrier for startup companies and newcomers in PLM world. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Best Practices and Henry Ford Mass Production System

April 6, 2014

henry-ford-assembly-line

If you are in PLM business, I’m sure you are familiar with term called "best practices". The term is widely used to explain how PLM system can be deployed, how to manage data and how to organize and optimize product development processes. So, where are roots of PLM best practices and why PLM vendors like them so much? Remember, the original PLM (and even PDM) systems started as a glorified data management toolkit with elements of CAD and ERP integrations. To get such system in product was very expensive and it required lot of time and implementation services. The reason is simple – every manufacturing company is different. It takes time for service provider to understand company landscape, processes, data requirements, legacy systems and suggest a solution. Put heavy price tag next to this activity. You can think about this process as something similar to organizing mass production assembly line. It is costly and complicated. Once you’ve get it done, your objective will be simple – run it to the largest possible quantity without re-configuration (which will cost you money, again). The same happened with first large PLM implementations.

The invention of "best practices" helped to figure out how to move from heavy and complicated PLM assembly line to more configurable and flexible mechanisms of PLM deployment. Technologically, toolkit approach was a underline product foundation. PLM companies and especially service providers and PLM consultants liked the approach. To create OOTB (out-of-the-box) pre-configured environments was relatively easy based on the practices gathered from existing large customers. However, to get it to the field and implement wasn’t so simple. Marketing and sales used OOTB environments to demonstrate and make sales. However, implementations and fine tuning was failing to apply it after that. The implementation devil was in details and service teams were required to bring to production. Similar to manufacturing mass production environment, customizing and services was a straightforward answer to solve the problem of product and requirement diversity.

As we know from the history of manufacturing, mass customization won and left mass production system in a dust. What was clear innovation 100 years ago was replaced by new forms of manufacturing, customization and flexible manufacturing units. I believe this is still very hot topic in the industry and every manufacturing company. The diversity of product requirements is skyrocketing, product lifecycle is getting even shorter. To produce PLM system that will fit this type of environment is probably one of the most important innovation that might happen in engineering and manufacturing software technologies these days.

What is my conclusion? I think software companies can learn something from the history of manufacturing companies. The move from from mass product to mass customization is one of them. PLM software made a turn from from complicated preconfigured assembly lines to expensive data management toolkits that require services. Manufacturing is getting different these days. Next step can be hardly achieved by pure technology or process organization. My hunch it is going to be a hybrid of new data management technologies empowered by crowdsourcing and customer innovation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Photo source.


Why PLM stuck in PDM?

April 5, 2014

plm-stuck-pdm-round-square

I’ve been following CIMdata PLM market industry forum earlier this week on twitter. If you’re are on twitter, navigate here or search for #PLM4UM hash tag on twitter. The agenda of PLM forum is here. The following session discussed one of my favorite topics- PDM v PLM. PLM: Well Beyond Just PDM by Peter Bilello. This passage is explaining what the session is about

CIMdata’s research reveals that leading industrial companies are looking to expand beyond PDM functionality to truly enable a more complete PLM strategy. This becomes even more important in a circular economy. In this presentation, CIMdata will discuss which areas are most important, and what opportunities they create for PLM solution and service providers.

My attention was caught by the following tweets coming from this session:

According to CIMdata, leading Mfrs are now looking to move beyond PDM. #PLM4um
— ScottClemmons (@ScottClemmons) link to tweet.

Peter B / CIMdata explains that it’s hard to find a ‘real’ end-to-end #PLM implementation hat works #plm4um
— Marc Lind (@MarcL_) link to tweet.

It made me think why after so many years of PLM implementations, most of vendors are still solving mostly PDM problems for customers and it is hard to move on into broad downstream and upstream adoption of PLM beyond CAD data management functions. Here are my four points explaining in a nutshell why I think "PLM stuck in PDM".

1- Focus on design and CAD.

Most of PLM vendors historically came from CAD-related domain. Therefore, PLM business for them was the expansion of CAD, design and engineering business. As a result of that, use cases, business needs and customer focus were heavy influenced by design domain. The result – PDM focus was clear priority.

2- PLM is a glorified data management toolkit

The initial focus of many PLM systems was to provide a flexible data management system with advanced set of integration and workflow capabilities. There are many reasons for that – functionality, competition, enterprise organization politics. Flexibility was considered as one of the competitive advantages PLM can provide to satisfy the diversity of customer requirements. It resulted in complicated deployments, expensive services and high rate of implementation failures.

3- Poor integration with ERP and other enterprise systems

PLM is sitting on the bridge between engineering and manufacturing. Therefore, in order to be successful, integration with ERP systems is mandatory. However, PLM-ERP integration is never easy (even these days), which put a barrier to deploy PLM system beyond engineering department.

4- CAD oriented business model

Because of CAD and design roots, PLM sales always were heavily influenced by CAD sales. Most of PLM systems initially came to market as a extensions of CAD/PDM packages. With unclear business model, complicated VARs and service companies support, mainstream PLM deployment always focused on how not to slow CAD sales.

What is my conclusion? Heavy CAD roots and traditional orientation on engineering requirements hold existing PLM systems from expanding beyond PDM for midsize manufacturing companies. The success rate of large enterprise PLM is higher. But, it comes at high price including heavy customization and service offerings. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to make PLM UI less terrible?

April 3, 2014

handwritten-BOM

I’m coming again to this topic – User Interface. These days you can hear about it as user experience (UX). UX is more complicated thing and includes lots of factors and aspects. So, I’d like to speak first about how UI looks. Back in time when I was developing and demonstrating PDM user interfaces, the worst thing was to get in line after somebody presenting CAD and visualization software. Their UI are always looks good. It was obvious, since they can show all these cars, phones and airplanes… Opposite to that, PDM user interface is all about tables, list and values. The nature of PDM system makes this type of UI boring and not interesting. For example, take a look on the photo above. This is handwritten BOM of locomotive made almost 100 years ago (image credit) . It doesn’t look nice, but it is absolutely "must have" document in manufacturing.

To change UX concept is a complex things. It requires to make a lot of changes in the way people performing their tasks. For engineering, manufacturing and enterprise organization is a big thing. However, what about to make a change just in a way PDM / PLM UI looks like?

The following image by darkhorseanalytics caught my attention with the presentation how to make table looks less terrible. Take a look on the power of "less is more". It comes as a sequence of remove colors, remove gridlines, remove fills, remove the border, remove bolding, left align text, right align number, align titles with data, resize columns with data, put whitespace to work, use consistent precision, round the numbers, remove repetition, no more Calibri font, add back emphasize.

So, here is the table before:

table-nice-ui-before

… and here is the table with UI improvements.

table-nice-ui-after

Not sure about you, but I like the comparison and the result.

It made me think about how many places in PDM UI is actually requires clean table presentation. Think about drawing reports, bill of materials and many other things. To make them look clean and fresh will improve to visual impression about PDM product.

What is my conclusion? It is very hard to design nice and clean UI. Every company developing software applications these days must focus on how to make the UI less terrible. The ugly and annoying enterprise software UI is a thing in the past. The new UI will be designed with the a different state of mind and thinking about modern web and mobile user interface and experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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