The Role of Business Intelligence in PLM

October 5, 2011

Business Intelligence (BI) is a fascinating combination of words. Each time I hear about BI, I’m confused a bit. The formal definition of BI is very complex. Here is the extract from Wikipedia and, in my view, it is too long to be explained to a human. You can navigate to the following Wikipedia link to read more.

Business intelligence (BI) mainly refers to computer-based techniques used in identifying, extracting,[clarification needed] and analyzing business data, such as sales revenue by products and/or departments, or by associated costs and incomes.[1]. BI technologies provide historical, current and predictive views of business operations. Common functions of business intelligence technologies are reporting, online analytical processing, analytics, data mining, process mining, complex event processing, business performance management, benchmarking, text mining and predictivepan> analytics. Business intelligence aims to support better business decision-making. Thus a BI system can be called a decision support system (DSS).[2]

For many years, I thought about BI as a reporting mechanism or set of tools. The number of vendors in this space decreased significantly after mega acquisitions that were made in this space by Oracle (Hyperion), SAP (Business Objects) and IBM (Cognos). Few more acquisitions in this space were made, but today I don’t see a dominant pure-BI player that competes with large three I mentioned above.

Is there a role BI can play in PLM? CIMdata recently published a white paper "The strategic value of Business Intelligence in PLM". The paper sponsored by eQ BI Technology – an interesting outfit playing with BI technologies in the domain of product development. The whitepaper is available for free and you can download it from CIMData website. Navigate to the following link (note- you have to be a registered user of CIMData. It is free, but I found CIMData website user experience a bit complicated). What I can learn from CIMData pages, in a nutshell, can be summarized as following.

1. To analyze information in manufacturing company is important, and it is not a simple task.
2. Decision makers need to have various types of information reports
3. Many of the available solutions in this space are complicated and not easy to deploy and use.
4. The value of a potential solution that can bring a decision-oriented information can be significant.

Here is an interesting passage from CIMData paper:

Personnel at all levels need concise, timely information tailored to their task needs, regardless of whether they are a designer, a project management or a senior executive. To address the torrent of data that is being created by multiple business systems, companies are using business intelligence and analytics solutions that provide users the right information, in the context, for their needs. This is especially important for product development and PLM. BI solutions gather, aggregate, analyze and disseminate information with historical, current and predictive views of that information to facilitate decision making.

CIMData wasn’t the only analytic company in PLM space researching Business Intelligence topic. Jim Brown ofTechClarity discussed the value of BI in PLM in his whitepaper – Business Intelligence Extending PLM value. This paper was published back in 2009, but I found it quite relevant today. Jim is talking about multiple options of BI applications that can provide a return – connecting engineering and services, improving project timeline, identify cost saving opportunities and many others. Here is a passage from Jim’s conclusion about BI:

PLM implementations have matured to a scope and state that offer significant potential value from mining the underlying data. Accessing this information can help identify exceptions, manage and improve processes, and identify strategic trends that may uncover significant insight and value.

What is my conclusion? BI is clearly addressing the right problem. However, it seems to me, the approach of BI is a bit outdated. My hunch there is a segment of BI market that will pay big money to analyze their business data. The two companies CIMData brings in their whitepaper – Lockheed Martin and ATK Space are probably these types of companies. However, for many companies’ BI – means an expensive addition to existing ERP systems (result of Oracle, SAP and IBM acquisitions). If I will try to think about BI in simple language, I’d be still using word "reporting". eQ BI (company mentioned by CIMData) is providing reporting solution for TeamCenter. To extend reporting solutions of existing PLM tools can be a reasonable next step for BI in PLM. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Moving from PLM to PLMSocial?

March 31, 2011

Social Media and Networking are important. There are vendors in the business world that are paying attention to the importance of "social". Just think about Salesforce’s Radian6 acquisition earlier this week. I can see how business software vendors are trying to hire "social" terms to improve the business and catch attention and focus on different social features. I read InformationWeek article “ Panorama Applies Social Network to Business Intelligence.” Business intelligence is something that definitely requires improvements. Despite the catchy name, normally BI tools are not getting a significant expose in the company and limited their install base to a very small number of people with special "analytical" skills. So, to bring social into this space can be interesting and, in my view, Panorama is trying to accomplish this goal. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

The core differentiator for Necto is the organization of sets of analytic reports, charts, and graphs into workspaces. Like many other BI software vendors, Panorama has supported the concept of personalized dashboards for years, but the workspaces are part of the Necto social BI user interface, where workspaces are sort of like mini-dashboards that can be shared. When you view workspace , profile pictures of the other people who are connected to that workspace are shown across the top of the screen. You can initiate a conversation with someone about the data by dragging their icon onto the analytics screen and sending them a message, which will include a link to the item you want to share or ask a question about.

Now, how do you think it is related to PLM? Simple… PLM is talking about dashboards for years. Nothing happens. Actually, something indeed happens. For a long time, dashboard was a favorite world of PLM marketing people. In reality, dashboards ended up to become a feature that requires deep customization and tailoring of the system. I can see vendors in PLM world are experimenting with various technological innovation. To have an ability to link people’s profile and information is not a new. However, with an updated flavor of social innovation it can catch more attention. PLM vendors and new companies in this space are flirting with Ms. Social and trying to bring more clicks to their website. Dassault 3DSwYm, PTC social product development, Vuuch and maybe some others are on the run to bring "social" to explain what they do.

What is my conclusion? Do you think we are moving from PLM to PLS(Social)? I think, it is important to differentiate "technology" and "technological buzz". Social has a power. People like to watch their friends’ pictures on Facebook and thinking about new Color startup supposing to change a way in photo sharing in small communities. Do you think, the same technology will change the way people work with CAD drawing and Bill of Materials? The adoption of social networking (and associated technologies) is defined primarily by "social interests" in photo sharing and people belonging to the social net. User experience is important. That’s why Salesforce’s Chatter very similar to Facebook UI. Technology is secondary here. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Engineering and Social Dashboards

December 21, 2010

I found an interesting article in San-Francisco Gate about Dashboards- “Introducing Netvibes Dashboard Intelligence Solutions: Business Intelligence Reinvented for the Real-Time Web.” I spent some time watching Netvibies video.

The dashboard approach can simplify information consumption. This approach is interesting and you can digest a bigger amount of valuable information in a much easier way. Dashboard is a popular view in engineering software. To provide one, you usually need to spend lots of time to prepare, test, program, etc. To automate this process, can be an interesting solution.

The unique aspect of Netvibes approach is to focus on social information. These days we are overloaded with the amount of information flowing inside of organization. To be able to categorize and present it to a user is what actually needed.

Netvibes is using the technology called “SmartTagging” to process social information. An interesting aspect of this approach is how to mix automatictagging with an ability of users to add additional ones.

What is my conclusion? We produce a lot of information inside of outside of organization. How to digest it? Netvibes provide an interesting approach. Do you think a similar approach can work in other applications? I think yes. However, the process to prepare a dashboard for a particular type of data can be long and cumbersome. Not sure I agree with the approach Netvibes is taking. However, this is the place to innovate. Just my view…

Best, Oleg

What Is The Role of Business Intelligence in PLM?

December 10, 2009

Some thoughts about Business Intelligence (BI). I found it somewhat under-invested in Product Lifecycle Management field. BI considered as a more analytic domain with the ability to slice and dice data from the past. However, I believe, one of the capabilities PLM can offer to users (designers, engineers, manufactures…) is to improve decision based on past, current and future analysis.

Looking on the ERP and software/platform vendors, I figure out, each of them – SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft are heavy invested in BI capabilities. Business Objects, Hyperion, Cognos, OfficeWriter and others – all products were acquired by major vendors to improve BI capabilities.

So, what options I see for PLM software and implementation in the context of BI:

1. To establish integration with available BI tools in ERP domain.
2. To partner with a platform oriented providers like Microsoft and IBM and use their BI tools and technologies.
3. To invest into development and/or acquisition of BI capabilities as part of PLM applications and portfolios.

So, do you see Business Intelligence as important for Product Lifecycle Management? How do you see it connected to everything PLM doing today?

I’m looking forward to your comments and thoughts.
Best, Oleg

Bing, Bong, BI… where is my PLM decision?

June 24, 2009

I watched many videos and demos related to Microsoft Bing during the last few weeks. Actually, I liked the idea of a “decision engine” behind a search. So, after experimenting with different types of searches, I finally came to the conclusion that the concept of Decision Management is very close to the discussions on Business Intelligence that we had before. If you haven’t had the chance to read them, here are a few of  the previous PLMtwine previous posts.

So, here is my idea – Business Intelligence for PLM. Enterprise PLM databases are absorbing a large amount of information about how products are designed, manufactured, built, used and disposed. PLM databases can be integrated with many other sources of information systems such as ERP, Supply Chain,  and Manufacturing Execution. Having all this information already in a Product Lifecycle Management system can be a good foundation for Business Intelligence systems. Today, BI can be implemented using various database technologies. If you are running on a SQL Server, you have a full stack of MS BI services. If you are on Oracle, you can use Oracle BI.  If you are on IBM, you can use IBM BI. There are also other, more specialized vendors.

So the question is – where is Bing? Here is my point. Bing is a decision user-oriented experience that lets you get this data. In the same way Bing presents you with travel price trends, Bing can let you get your PLM Business Intelligence data and provide it to your end users…

So, to review the main points:

  1. Enterprise PLM Database is integrating Product IP information
  2. You can get Business Intelligence by indexing PLM data and extracting specific KPI and data characteristics
  3. Access PLM BI data with Bing-like user experience

Wait a minute… Where is Bong? You need to get all product information under PLM roof. A lot of data is available, but PLM systems still provide very fragmented outlook on product information.

So, what is your opinion?

How Business Intelligence Influences PLM?

May 18, 2009

At the beginning of the year, I blogged about Business Intelligence and its potential connection to Product Development and PLM . Since then, thought about BI and its possible influence on product development and the manufacturing business. Let me explain why I think that there is good potential for this connection and how we can make it happen:

Connecting Business Intelligence (BI) and PLM would provide the following benefits:

- Cost calculation and prediction.

- Better impact analyzes

- Product configuration and optimization

What are challenges? In my view, the biggest challenge is to connect PLM to BI databases and backbones. Most system architectures in this space are incompatible. In this context, the experience of SAP and some other vendors in trying to integrated and acquire BI stacks is very interesting. It is similar to ideas of operational BI.

What are the potential technological routes? Companies loaded with Microsoft technologies have an easy option to try Microsoft BI and use some of the Excel-related applications. Another option is to invest in big backbones connected PLM and BI stacks. In context of all cloud discussions, an interesting option would be to use SaaS based BI options.

I am interested in hearing your feedback and learning more about your experience in this area.

What is beyond Collaboration and Process Management in PLM?

January 21, 2009

Collaboration and Process Management is obviously a very important part of Product Lifecycle Management. But does it really target successful Product Lifecycle Management implementation?  Yes, I think that allowing people to collaborate and have this process organized and synchronized with all other processes in your organization is the ultimate goal of any PLM implementation. Assuming you have already done this… does it make you feel good about your implementation? More importantly, does it make you feel good about your company?  If you answered NO, (as I suspect), I’d like to discuss and raise questions to discover what is beyond Collaboration and Process Management.

 I think that decision making needs to be taken care of by Product Lifecycle Management very urgently. I’m not talking about the ability of the system to make decisions, rather the ability of the PLM system to take control over product data that will help people in decision making. In order to make this happen, PLM tools need to provide a decision-oriented environment, that will allow the user (engineer, analyst, manager) to make the appropriate decision about change, design, priority etc.

 In order to make this happen, PLM needs to step up from a process-oriented environment to a multi-domain, content oriented environment. PLM needs to manage multiple domains of data, allowing the users of  (PLM) systems to access Requirements, Engineering, Parts, Customers, Manufacturing, etc. By allowing this, PLM will give users the chance to control the most important decisions in the organization. I see this as the ultimate value of PLM, beyond collaboration between people and the management of processes. 

If you are planning on implementing PLM today, what should you put on your short list to achieve these goals? In my view, you need to invest in two areas – operational business intelligence and the integration of your PLM system with other enterprise systems. The first area will give you tools to present information to make the right decision. The second will integrate product data into connected multi-domain data sets (such as multiple Bill of Materials etc.). Achievements of these two goals will allow PLM systems to move beyond day-to-day collaboration and process activities.


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