How to re-think activity streams for enterprise?

July 23, 2014

controlled-collaboration

These days manufacturing businesses are more connected than ever before. Every manufacturing company (even smallest startup) has a tremendous need for collaboration – help multiple engineers to get involved into the design process, communication with suppliers, plan manufacturing processes, etc. Social networks and open web inspired many companies to develop collaboration software that mimic consumer social software. One of the main attribute of every social software (Facebook, G+, twitter and others) is so called "activity stream" or "news feed". The trend was strong and produced lots of copycats. The successful and lucky ones got acquired. Many of less successful died.

The idea of activity stream is very powerful. It allows you easy share and consume information. However, here is a thing – it is not protected from "noise vs. signal" problem. The more people you follow – more information will flow into your activity stream(s). You end up with messy stream of information you cannot keep up with. It is probably okay for public news or even for executives in a company interested to keep up with what is going on. However, it is probably not a good experience for engineers that need to work together on the same design or discuss next engineering or manufacturing change request. Also, it is probably not a very useful as a tool to communicate between departments and suppliers. And… this is absolutely wrong model to use for process management.

All problems I mentioned above is actually making the adoption os social system for collaboration questionable. I can see many confirmations to that. CMSWire article The Problem With Yammer? People Don’t Use It speaks exactly about the problem. Here is key passage:

But what if the problem is not about difficulty or learning curves but about culture? What if the problem with Yammer has nothing to do with the product itself and nothing to with usability, but rather with the fact that enterprise workers are holding onto email for dear life and are not prepared to give it up? Microsoft itself appears to be aware of this. The addition of complimentary Yammer for the new Office 365 plans appears to speak to that. However, if Microsoft’s updated offerings are a step in the right direction, they won’t solve the problem of social and collaboration in the enterprise.

Another interesting example – Facebook. Clearly the king of social networks recently introduced simple and very effective feature to get out of noise of your information stream – Save. It can quickly remind you old and well-known list of favorites. Navigate to TNW article – Facebook introduces Save, a new bookmarking feature to help tame your News Feed. Sounds like a simple feature, but it allows you to keep specific post out of noisy channel and focus on them later in a more controlled way.

These and many other examples made me think about what is needed to provide a better way to collaborate. My hunch is that "controlled list of topics" can better serve the need of engineers and other people to work together. How to make it? This is probably more tricky question. I can see it as the next logical step from email that still one of the most favorited tools to communicate. It also reminded me my post Why PLM shouldn’t miss next email move earlier this week.

What is my conclusion? Activity stream is a good way to present flow of information. However, the type of experience it creates is way too open and subject to be affected by information noise. I believe engineering tools should provide more tight way to communicate, exchange information and share data for collaboration purposes. This is main reason people are holding onto email as a best tool. New ways to collaborate is not here… yet. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM implementations: nuts and bolts of data silos

July 22, 2014

data-silos-architecture

Data is an essential part of every PLM implementation. It all starts from data – design, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, support, etc. Enterprise systems are fragmented and representing individual silos of enterprise organization. To manage product data located in multiple enterprise data silos is a challenge for every PLM implementation.

To "demolish enterprise data silos" is a popular topic in PLM strategies and deployments. The idea of having one single point of truth is always in mind of PLM developers. Some of my latest notes about that here – PLM One Big Silo.

MCADCafe article – Developing Better Products is a “Piece of Cake” by Scott Reedy also speaks about how PLM implementation can help to aggregate all product development information scattered in multiple places into single PLM system. The picture from the article presents the problem:

product-data-silos

The following passage is the most important, in my view:

Without a PLM system, companies often end up with disconnected silos of information. These silos inhibit the ability to control the entire product record and employees waste unnecessary time searching for the correct revision of the product design. As companies outsource design or manufacturing, it becomes even harder to ensure the right configuration of the product is leveraged by external partners.

Whether your company makes medical devices, industrial equipment, laptops, cell phones or other consumer products – PLM provides a secure, centralized database to manage the entire product record into a “Single Record of the Truth”… With a centralized product record, it is easy to propose and submit changes to the product design, track quality issues and collaborate with your internal teams and supply-chain partners.

The strategy of "single record of truth" is a centerpiece of each PLM implementation. However, here is the thing… if you look on the picture above you can certainly see some key enterprise systems – ERP, CRM, MES, Project and program management, etc. PLM system can contain scattered data about product design, CAD files, Part data, ECO records, Bill of Materials. However, some of the data will still remain in other systems. Some of the data gets duplicated. This is what happens in real world.

It made me think about 3 important data architecture aspects of every PLM implementation: data management, data reporting and data consistency.

Data management layer is focusing on what system is controlling data and providing master source of information. Data cannot be mastered in multiple places. Implementation needs to organize logical split of information as well as ability to control "data truth". This is the most fundamental part of data architecture.

Data reporting is focusing how PLM can get data extracted from multiple sources and presented in seamless way to end user. Imagine, you need to provide an "open ECO" report. The information can reside in PLM, ERP and maybe some other sources. To get right data in a right moment of time, can be another problem to resolve.

Last, but not least - data consistency. When data located in multiple places system will rely on so-called "eventual consistency" of information. The system of events and related transactions is keeping data in sync. This is not a trivial process, but many systems are operating in such way. What is important is to have a coordinated data flow between systems supporting eventual consistency and data management and reporting tools.

What is my conclusion? To demolish silos and manage single point of truth is a very good and important strategic message. However, when it comes to nuts and bolts of implementation, an appropriate data architecture must be in place to insure you will have right data at right time. Many PLM implementations are underestimating the complexity of data architecture. It leaves them with marketing slogans, burned budgets and wrong data. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit MCADCafe article.


Cloud PDM can make file check-in and check-out obsolete

July 21, 2014

cloud-pdm-checkin-out-need-1

Management of CAD files (PDM) is heavily associated with desktop workflows. Lots of CAD files live on engineering desktops and shared company network drives. Originally, one of the main PDM functionality was to vault CAD data and manage CAD files revisions. One of the most widely used scenario to support this functionality is so-called Check-in / Check-out process. CAD files are checked-in from working folders (working space) into secured File vaults located on PDM servers. In case engineers want to make a change, you need to check-out file. The same mechanism can insure released CAD files won’t be changed without approval and prior check-out. The implementation of PDM check-in/check-out process is not simple because of CAD data complexity. File relationships and dependencies need to be taken into account if you want to make an update CAD 3D design and drawings.

Cloud is changing existing working habits. For long time, engineers were tightly connected to their desks. CAD, engineering analysis, Excel spreadsheets… this is only a short list of tools that live on engineering desks. Not anymore. These days our workflows are heavily impacted by cloud software. Web email, cloud file sharing, cloud and mobile applications. We don’t need to be at our desk to do a job in many situations. Cloud is providing new complementary workflows. However, in some cases, we can see a total replacement of existing workflows.

I’ve been discussing how cloud technologies are changing CAD file sharing, CAD data management and PDM. Navigate to my previous post – What makes cloud a good alternative for PDM system?. One of the most widely debated questions is related to the ability of cloud system to handle large size of CAD files. The capacity of public cloud systems to handle large data scale is well known. Cloud storage cost is getting down. The speed of changes is significant and the numbers from my 2 years old post – Cloud PDM and 10GB emails can make me smile today.

At the same time, a very important and critical aspect of cloud technologies is synchronization of data between cloud and desktop / local networks. Web giants like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others are working to improve sync technologies. In few of my posts, I covered some specific examples about how companies like Box, Dropbox are providing specific techniques to improve data and file sync. But CAD data is different. Not like photos, office files and even videos. To solve the same problem for highly dependent and intertwined CAD data can be a big deal. When it done, it can be a significant leapfrog for any company in the market of cloud PDM solution.

Future CAD file management trajectories can take us from the original idea to check-in/check-out files between secured PDM vault and local working folders towards different workflows. Cloud file systems can support a new way to manage CAD files and provide access to them for design tools and other services. Long term goal can be a future without CAD files. The potential file storage transformation can raise lots of question about how CAD systems will operate without local storage? All these questions are relevant for both private and public cloud solutions.

What is my conclusion? Cloud will change PDM. I can see a potential transformation in fundamental CAD/PDM scenarios – check-in/check-out. Modern cloud PDM can take an approach of seamless and transparent data synchronization and simplify PDM. New workflows can potentially exclude engineers from time consuming and complicated file retrieval between desktops and servers. New way of work will be more simple and focus on design release and approval only. I can see this approach well aligned with future cloud design systems eliminating local file storage completely. So, future cloud PDM without check-in/check-out? What do you think? These are just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why PLM shouldn’t miss next email move?

July 18, 2014

plm-email

Email is a king of communication in every company. Many companies are literally run by email. People are using it for different purposes -notification, collaboration and very often even record management. You can hear many discussions about how companies can replace or integrate email with enterprise and social collaboration tools. I captured some of them in my previous blogging: How engineers find path from emails and messages to collaboration?; PLM Workflows and Google Actionable Emails; DIY PLM and Zero Email Policy; PLM Messaging and WhatsApp Moment.

You may think email doesn’t change. I wanted to share with you two interesting examples related to changes and innovation in email that caught my attention for the last few weeks. The Verge article speaks about Gmail API announcement.

Google announced that any app could now talk to Gmail using today’s faster, more modern languages — languages that every web developer speaks. The Gmail API lets you ask Google for threads, messages, drafts, and labels three to ten times faster than with IMAP. What it can do is provide an interface for any app to interact on a small scale with your Gmail account without having to create an entire mail client. When that happens, Google won’t have replaced email — it will have actually extended it. Instead of killing email as some hoped it would, the Gmail API gives email new life.

The following video present some additional details about Gmail API usage. Take 5 minutes to watch it, especially places where video speaks about integration between Gmail and enterprise systems.

Another example comes from TNW article – Inbox launches as an open-source email platform to replace legacy protocols.

A new startup, Inbox, is launching its “next-generation email platform” as an alternative to aging protocols like IMAP and SMTP. The core of Inbox’s efforts is an Inbox Sync Engine for developers that adds a modern API on top of mail providers, including Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook.com.

As stated in the article, Inbox is a platform play. The intent of founders is to create new generation of messaging platform. And it is an open source play. The first step for Inbox is to create Sync engine that can expose existing email providers:

The core of Inbox is an open source sync engine that integrates with existing email services like Gmail, and exposes a beautiful, modern REST API. We’re pleased to announce that beginning today, you can download the Inbox engine, sync an account, and begin building on top of Inbox in your local development environment.

These articles made me think about a potential play PLM and engineering application can make by building their collaboration application tightly integrated with email services. It will allow better communication for people and ease of data integration between PLM solutions and communication platforms such as emails. You may see it as a pure technical play. Who cares how to integrate email and data? However, in my view, this is a place where differentiation in user experience and seamless data integration can become a critical to drive user adoption.

What is my conclusion? It is very hard to change people’s habits. Email is part of our every day routine. Existing systems are integrated with email, but the way it done as well as the level of data integration is very sporadic. Lots of unstructured data about customers, engineering decisions, requirements and many others stuck in the email and lost there forever. New email approach may help to have transparent and seamless integration between business applications and email. It can make a difference for users. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Will IBM and Apple open doors for mobile PLM future?

July 17, 2014

ibm-plm-apple-mobile

Enterprise software and Apple wasn’t much a success story until now. Don’t take me wrong – you can enterprise execs and even IT folks are using iPhones and other Apple devices. In my view, they do it mostly for mobile email and other cools apps. However, until now, the traction of iOS in enterprise was limited. I’ve been speculating about future of iPad for enterprise PLM in my previous writing PLM Downstream – Sent from my iPad?; iPad and Enterprise PLM; 3D/PLM and iPad: Future or Baloney? At the same time, I haven’t see many Apple devices in manufacturing companies and especially shop floor, maintenance and service departments. In many situations, IT remained a strong gatekeeper.

Some good news for iOS mobile PLM developers just came yesterday. Apple and IBM announced global partnership to transform enterprise mobility. Navigate here to read IBM press news . The amount of articles and reviews is skyrocketing. I picked few of them. PC World article – Why the Apple-IBM deal matters. My favorite passage speaks about "uniqu cloud services" for iOS.

Apple and IBM announced an “exclusive” deal on Tuesday in which IBM will build a new line of enterprise-specific apps from the ground up for Apple’s iOS, aimed at companies in retail, health care, transportation and other industries. IBM will create “unique cloud services” for iOS, including tools for security, analytics and device management. It will also resell iPhones and iPads to its corporate customers, and Apple will roll out new support services for businesses. In other words, Apple and IBM are putting a full-court press on the mobile business market. And they’re doing so in a tightly wedded fashion: The companies used the word “exclusive” four times in a statement announcing the deal.

Another article from Forbes Apple – IBM Partnership: Enough To Solve Enterprise iOS Fears? caught my attention speaking about Apple relying on enterprise partners to do heavy lifting needed to sell mobile solution to enterprise.

As enterprises increasingly look to make more use of business applications on mobile devices – for a competitive advantage in flexibility and productivity – manufacturers such as Apple will rely on enterprise partners, he notes, “to do the heavy lifting that will increasingly be required in areas such as mobile application development, lifecycle management and systems integration”. Apple is likely to seek other partners, similar to IBM, that can also provide enterprise capabilities and support.

Let’s go back to PLM vendors and mobile development. Until now, I had a mixed feeling about PLM mobile story. All PLM vendors did something for mobile and iOS. But, in my view, it was some sort of checkmark – "yes we have it". In my view, one of the mission points was absence of specific apps to solve productivity problems. Most of mobile PLM apps did the same job as non-mobile software did, but on iPad. In addition to that, 3D viewer app was very popular. Most of these application came as an overlap to existing software. At the same time, key advantage of mobile app is to provide productivity apps for situation when users are off desks on the road, workshops, manufacturing and service facilities. Some of my thoughts about that are here – Mobile PLM gold rush: did vendors miss the point?

What is my conclusion? Apple and IBM agreement could be a big deal. IBM have a very good past record in enterprise PLM deployments. Even manufacturing industry was not specifically mentioned in the press release, I’m sure it will influence decisions of many IT managers. So, sounds like an opportunity. iOS developers can start looking for jobs in PLM companies. It is also a good opportunity for startups. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why Siemens PLM can develop PaaS option

July 16, 2014

cloud-paas

PaaS is a category of cloud computing service providing platform and solution stack. This service model is including not only computing infrastructure (IaaS), but also application design, development, testing, team collaboration, integration features, database integration, scalability, security and others. In addition to that, it might provide service management capabilities such as monitoring, workflow management, etc.

As cloud market becomes mature, IT, customers and application development are looking into complete solutions. All PLM vendors are in full swing into IaaS cloud PLM option. Cloud PLM experience brings the need to dig more into nuts and bolts of cloud business. It includes understanding of cost, scale, service maintenance, application development, partnership. So, fundamental question many vendors and customers have is what is the best way to make cloud PLM efficient? Understanding of PaaS option is an important step. I shared some of my thoughts about PaaS and PLM before- Cloud PLM and PaaS dilemma, Will cloud PLM develop PaaS options?

My blogging buddy and well known PLM analyst Chad Jackson tweetstormed what he learned at Siemens PLM about furure TeamCenter platform development. While I’m still waiting for full blog post on Chad’s Lifecycle Insight, the following filtered tweetstorm can give some idea about Siemens PLM platform strategy:

chad-jackson-siemens-plm-tweetstorm

It resonated with my previous thoughts about cloud PLM and PaaS and made me think why Siemens PLM as well as any other PLM vendor can consider PaaS as a right option for their cloud PLM strategy. Here are my 3 reasons to develop PLM PaaS:

1- Agile development.

Vendors should be able to go fast in the development of applications, ability to customize existing features and supporting new opportunities. Businesses are much more dynamic these days. Everyone wants to be agile. PLM vendors too. So, to get up to speed with business, PLM vendors need to have a stable platform to build on. PLM PaaS can be one.

2- Better upgrade strategies

Let’s take marketing gloves off. Regardless on deployment options (on premise; private cloud; public cloud), you need to deal with upgrades. Databases, services, data model changes- this is only a very short list. PaaS can hide upgrades from customer and application developers by providing a stable platform layer. This layer requires less frequent upgrades.

3- Scaling factor and cost.

Cost is important. Cloud is not cheap as many of us thoughts from the beginning. Customers are demanding new business models and optimized cost. The development and customization cost is another problem. Scaling and keeping cost low is also huge challenge. Utilization of enterprise servers is still relatively low. PaaS can answer on the question how to share resources and scale with low cost.

What is my conclusion? Most of PLM vendors took IaaS option as a starting point to develop cloud business. It is okay and will provide important experience from different perspective – technologies, business, user interface. However, IaaS won’t remove fundamental enterprise PLM issues – implementation complexity, upgrade challenges, high diversity of requirements and business changes. PaaS option can become the next logical step to optimize platform and application for agile delivery. It looks like Siemens is making steps towards this direction. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why cloud engineering collaboration tools are slow to ramp up

July 15, 2014

cloud-engineering-collaboration-user-adoption

Few weeks ago I attended Boston Tech Jam and learn new buzzword – YAPSA. Which stands for Yet Another Photo Sharing Application. The amount of cloud files and data sharing applications is skyrocketing these days. It inspired many developers to re-think how to share and collaborate with engineering data. Cloud technologies made people to bring back lots of web-collaboration initiatives from earlier 2000s. Web collaboration was hard 10 years ago. IaaS initial cost and availability made deployment and hosting of collaboration tools simple. 10 years of web 2.0 and photo sharing application experience provided good foundation of open source technologies to implement basic set of features. The straightforward set of every engineering collaboration is down to 5 basic functions: upload CAD files, web/mobile viewing, versions, project organization, comments and reviews.

So, you can ask me – what is wrong here? The challenge of all cloud based tools is user adoption. The obvious dream of every vendor in this space is to make tools to scale within organizations. Here are few widely used associations and buzzwords – Dropbox for CAD, Facebook for engineers, Google Drive for collaboration. However, to make engineering organization to use these tools is not a simple task. I want to bring 3 main roadblocks. In my view, most of cloud collaboration tools ignored them in their initial and sometimes even second incarnation.

1- The ease of data upload.

What is good for photo, doesn’t work well for engineers and CAD tools. Photo is all about how to upload a single file or a folder with bunch of photos from your last vacation. CAD design contains multiple files often located in several folders with references on standard parts, etc. File/Upload function doesn’t fit here.

2- Organizational security and data access.

Every organization, even small engineering firm is taking care about file access. Integration with directory service such as LDAP is probably "must have". However, very often, access rules can go even future and integrate with security access of existing applications – PDM/PLM, ERP, CRM, etc.

3- Integration with desktop tools.

Integration inside CAD (and other desktop tools) can help people to start sharing data easier. As soon as you come close to basic PDM function of revision management, integration with desktop tool is must. To integrated with desktop tool is not simple. Many cloud collaboration tools are ignoring it from the beginning.

What is my conclusion? Cloud collaboration tools are going through the difficult time of maturity. The time when website allowed to everyone to upload CAD file(s) for free and watch it on iPad is over. To remove organizational roadblocks preventing engineers to use tool broadly in an organization as well as to provide interesting capabilities to collaborate efficiently is more important. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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