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 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


The complexity of Part Management in PDM

July 11, 2014

part-management-pdm-complexity

How to manage Parts? It sounds like a trivial and simple question. Every manufacturing companies and engineering organization is facing this problem. However, it is not as simple as you might think so. The information about Parts (aka Items) is often scattered between CAD drawings, multiple Excel files, PDM and ERP systems. One of the biggest problem is to how to manage revisions and changes for Parts. I captured this problem in some of my previous writings. Future CAD-PLM and Assembly Version Management; Why versioning is complicated in PDM?; PLM, ERP and Managing of Effectivity; Revisions in CAD/PLM/ERP: Old Problems or New Challenges?

Recent GrabCAD blog – Part Revisions: Deal or No Deal made me think again about why is so complex to manage parts in every PDM environment. The following passage explains what means Part has no revision:

Documentation can be revised, but the part itself should not. If a part changes, the revised part is issued a new part number. In the case of PMI, where the "documentation" portion is integral to the part, revisions are more esoteric. Allowable PMI revisions in that case depend on whether the documentation portion is being updated or the part model is being physically changed.

The following passage explains one of my 5 Don’ts in BOM management – Don’t use the same ID for Part Numbers and Drawing Numbers:

In many cases, the documentation is a fully dimensioned engineering drawing, though these days it might also be Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), if you’re riding the technology wave. In the case of a drawing, the documentation also carries an identifying number. While it may be tempting to make the part and drawing numbers the same, such an approach aims to misbehave. For example, a drawing is often changed for very different reasons than the part it describes, often in a fashion that has no impact on design. In addition, drawings may describe multiple parts. In other words, drawing and part life cycles are unique, so the identification number for each must also be unique.

Now, let me go back to the original question. Why is so complex to manage parts in PDM? Here are two main reasons:

1- Complexity of two lifecycles – CAD and Items

CAD documents and Part lifecycle is fundamentally different. PDM system manage CAD files revisions and dependencies between files. Parts (Items) requires Part Numbers and Effectivity to control FFF (Form, Fit and Function) also known as interchangeability rules. Revision can be applied, but it won’t be used to identify a part.

2- Disagreement about where is "master" of part information and cross system integration

Part information is scattered between PDM, ERP and supply chain management systems. Organizations are having hard time to agree WHO is controlling Part creation process. When changes happens or new parts is created, information must be synchronized between multiple systems. It raises the complexity of overall integration and data management.

What is my conclusion? Complexity of two lifecycle management is a key problem in part management in PDM. It is hard to combine part lifecycle including interchangeability rules and effectivity with proper management of CAD documents. The user workflows are getting complex and engineers are having hard time to use the system. While the reality of manufacturing is that both documents and parts need to managed in an appropriate way, PDM vendors facing real challenges to get efficient Part Management processes in place. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Will GE give a birth to a new PLM company?

July 9, 2014

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Navigate back into histories of CAD and PLM companies. You can find significant involvement of large aerospace, automotive and industrial companies. Here are few examples – Dassault Systemes with Dassault Aviation, SDRC with US Steel, UGS with McDonnell Douglas. In addition to that, involvement of large corporation as strategic customers, made significant impact on development of many CAD/PLM systems for the past two decades. Do you think we can see something similar in the future?

Inc. article GE’s Grand Plan: Build the Next Generation of Data Startups made me think about some potential strategic involvement of large industrial companies in PLM software business. The following passage can give you an idea of how startups will be organized.

A team from GE Software and GE Ventures has launched an incubator program in partnership with venture capital firm Frost Data Capital to build 30 in-house startups during the next three years that will advance the "Industrial Internet," a term GE coined. The companies will be housed in Frost’s incubator facility in Southern California.

By nurturing startups that build analytical software for machines from jet engines to wind turbines, the program, called Frost I3, aims to dramatically improve the performance of industrial products in sectors from aviation to healthcare to oil and gas. Unlike most incubator programs, GE and Frost Data are creating the companies from scratch, providing funding and access to GE’s network of 5,000 research assistants and 8,000 software professionals. The program has already launched five startups in the past 60 days.

This story connects very well to GE vision and strategy for so called Industrial Internet. The following picture can provide you some explanations of what is the vision of GE industrial cloud.

industrial-internet-applications

What is my conclusion? Industrial companies are looking for new solutions and probably ready to invest into ideas and innovative development. Money is not a problem for these companies, but time is very important. Startups is a good way to accelerate development and come with fresh ideas of new PLM systems. Strategic partnership with large company can provide resources and data to make it happen. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit of GE report.


PDM weakest link

July 8, 2014

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You’re only as strong as your weakest link. The article Are You Still Using FTP for CAD File Transfer? on Engineering.com by Scott Wertel caught my attention few days ago. The article compares FTP, cloud file sharing and cloud based PDM. Read the article and draw your opinion. I found something common between all these approaches – you need to transfer files between desktop or LAN server and some other (usually remote) locations – FTP, virtual cloud drive or similar storage used by cloud PDM. Here is my favorite passage:

Let’s look at a product development scenario. A designer has finished the preliminary design of a brand new widget. He is in a small design shop, so he keeps the files on his personal computer. He wants a rapid prototype of the design made so he emails the file to a service bureau. As the bureau is working up a quote for the prototype, the designer notices a few things and makes some tweaks. The file size is too big now, so he uploads it to his company’s FTP site and emails a notification to the bureau. But, because the project is still in development and no files have been released, the designer doesn’t change the revision on the file. It’s the same filename on the FTP site as was emailed previously to the service bureau. Now the bureau has two files downloaded to their system. Both with the same filename and both contain relatively the same time stamp caused by saving the email attachment at about the same time they downloaded the file from the FTP site. Rather than being able to quickly quote the part and begin shooting laser beams, they have to spend the time to reconcile the files, also taking up the designer’s time.

So, in my view, the need to send files between local computer and remote location is the weakest link to make that work efficient. Both PDM and any other file sharing service will face this challenge. And, forget the cloud and internet for a minute) it was the same challenge back in every PDM system developed in the past. PDM developers used different techniques to optimize file transfer, but the problem remains the same – slow connection and large files.

The move to the cloud, actually, doesn’t change much. The connection is still slow (relatively) and files are still big (or even getting bigger). As I discussed few days ago in my How to move CAD files to the cloud post, a special technology needed that will break CAD files synchronization process and make the process transparent. At the same time, user should be able to work on the same file to satisfy the scenario described in the beginning of this post. Whoever will be able to accomplish so, will take a huge advantage of knowledge about CAD files and improved user experience. Read more here – CAD companies and cloud storage strategy.

What is my conclusion? The weakest link of PDM is the ability to sync large multi-file design between local discs and cloud (server) storage. It was the problem back to PDM development in 1990s and it remains the problem today. Until now, cloud doesn’t change much, since most of cloud PDM and file-share vendors are taking CAD files with existing boundaries. To break these boundaries and develop technology to move file efficiently while allowing to user to work on the same files at the same time, can be a deal breaker and huge step to fix the weakest link. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


What PLM Architects and Developers Need to Know about NoSQL?

July 7, 2014

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People keep asking me questions about NoSQL. The buzzword "NoSQL" isn’t new. However, I found it still confusing, especially for developers mostly focusing on enterprise and business applications. For the last decade, database technology went from single decision to much higher level of diversity. Back in 1990s, the decision of PDM/PLM developers was more or less like following – "If something looks like document, use Excel and Office. Otherwise, use RDBMS". Not anymore. My quick summary of NoSQL was here – What PLM vendors need to know about NoSQL databases. You can go more deep in my presentation – PLM and Data Management in 21st century. If you feel more "geeky", and considering maybe summer development projects, I can recommend you the following book – 7 Database in 7 weeks.

John De Goes blog post The Rise (and Fall?) of NoSQL made me think how to explain the need of NoSQL for PLM implementers, architects and developers. In a nutshell, here is the way I’d explain that – NoSQL databases allow you to save variety of specific data in a much simple way, compared to SQL structured information. So, use right tool for the right job – key/value; document; graph, etc.

So, NoSQL is accelerating development of cloud and mobile apps. It became much faster since some specific NoSQL databases tuned for particular type of non-structured data:

With NoSQL: (1) Developers can stuff any kind of data into their database, not just flat, uniform, tabular data. When building apps, most developers actually use objects, which have nesting and allow non-uniform structure, and which can be stored natively in NoSQL databases. NoSQL databases fit the data model that developers already use to build applications. (2) Developers don’t have to spend months building a rigid data model that has to be carefully thought through, revised at massive cost, and deployed and maintained by a separate database team within ops.

However, everything comes with price. The important insight of the article is to point on how data can be reused for reporting and other purposes. The following passage summarizes the most visible part of what is missing in NoSQL:

It’s quite simple: analytics tooling for NoSQL databases is almost non-existent. Apps stuff a lot of data into these databases, but legacy analytics tooling based on relational technology can’t make any sense of it (because it’s not uniform, tabular data). So what usually happens is that companies extract, transform, normalize, and flatten their NoSQL data into an RDBMS, where they can slice and dice data and build reports.

PDM and PLM products are evolving these days from early stage of handling "records of metadata" about files towards something much more complicated – large amount of data, unstructured information, video, media, processes, mobile platforms, analytics. CAD/PLM vendors are pushing towards even more complicated cloud deployment. The last one is even more interesting. The need to rely on customer RDBMS and IT alignment is getting lest restrictive. So, the opportunity to choose right database technology (aka the right tool for a job) is getting more interesting.

What is my conclusion? Database technologies universe is much more complicated compared to what we had 10-15 years ago. You need to dig inside into data management needs, choose right technology or tool to be efficient. One size doesn’t fit all. If you want to develop an efficient application, you will find yourself using multiple data management technologies to handle data efficiently. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD companies and cloud storage strategy

July 7, 2014

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Cloud storage is changing fast these days. From relatively small portion of our life limited mostly by online email, cloud storage is growing into space where majority of our activities are happening these days. Email, photo storage, online documents, calendars, shopping – this is only a short list. Changes are coming to corporate world as well. New York Times article Google, Microsoft and Others Delve Deeper Into Cloud Storage for Businesses speaks about trajectories of cloud storage and business. Here is an interesting passage:

Soon, keeping your digital goods will also be the means for tech companies to understand who does what inside a business, just the way they understand consumers by watching what they do on the web. “Storage is where the stickiness is,” said Jeffrey Mann, vice president for research at Gartner. “It’s how they hold a customer. If they store your stuff, they get to know you better.”

So, you may think the strategy is to hold data and keep customers as hostages for storage. It might sounds like a strategy for short term. However, web giants don’t see storage as something that will hold companies strategically. The following passage can give you a feeling of direction:

“Cloud storage is a temporary market,” said Scott Johnston, director for product management for Drive, Google’s online storage, document creation and collaboration business. “In the future it will be about elevating productivity: How do we look for patterns? What does it mean if a document is read by 10 percent of the company? What does it mean if you haven’t read it yet?" It’s a strategy that Microsoft is also pursuing with its OneDrive product. Dropbox, a storage site popular with consumers, and Box, a storage and collaboration site specifically for business, are both also working on ways to turn data storage into something that provides greater insight into how people are working. Dropbox started a business offering last year.

This point of view made me think about what can be a potential strategy of CAD companies related to cloud storage and operations of CAD systems. The majority of CAD business today is not in the cloud. CAD files and related information is stored on desktop computers and local area networks. How big this data and how easy and transparently companies can move this data to the cloud (private and public) and make it available for collaboration? The demand for better collaboration is huge. CAD vendors are working on cloud CAD systems. But this work is just in the beginning. Cloud storage of CAD files and seamless access by existing desktop CAD systems can be a short term CAD file management strategy. The most interesting part is coming next. If I will follow Google’s logic, companies can make analysis of massive amount of CAD data and use it for future product design improvement and better work organization.

What is my conclusion? Data is a fuel for future growth. Whoever will capture CAD data these days will have an ability to run analytic work and make that data part of future design strategy. In most of cases today, companies have very limited capability to re-use design, make analysis and predict future improvements. Cloud storage can be a first step towards future data-driven design. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to move CAD files to the cloud? Transparently…

July 2, 2014

cad-files-cloud-sync

I’d like to continue the topic I started yesterday related to CAD File Management Trajectories. The opportunity to use the power of cloud computing infrastructure to get control of CAD data and facilitate data share and exchange is getting more prominent these days. Think about typical manufacturing company or engineering organization. To implement cloud based CAD file management , you need to get all files up to the cloud and keep syncing them as changes happens. The initial sync can be a difficult tasks, but not as impossible as you might think of.

My attention caught by Wired article. How Facebook Moved 20 Billion Instagram Photos Without You Noticing. I found it quite interesting, especially in the part speaking about details of data transformation between Amazon EC2, Amazon VPC and Facebook private cloud. Here is my favorite snippet:

The Instagram switch was the live migration of an enormous—and enormously popular—operation. “The service couldn’t take any disruption,” says Facebook engineer George Cabrera. Facebook won’t say how many virtual machines were needed to run Instagram on Amazon, but it was in “the thousands.” And the service now stores over 20 billion digitals photos. For Instagram, the move was a way of more effectively plugging into a wide range of computing tools that have long helped drive Facebook’s vast online empire. And for the engineers overseeing Facebook’s worldwide network of data centers, it’s a template for merging their operation with applications the company may acquire in the years to come. “We were patient zero,” Krieger says. But the “Instagration” also provides a lesson or two for the broader tech community as it builds more and more apps atop cloud computing services like Amazon—apps they might one day migrate to private data centers. The key to the migration was a specialized Amazon service known as the Virtual Private Cloud.

So, here is the thing. It sounds like an interesting undertaking to try moving CAD files to the cloud (private or public) without customers taking notice. As users, you can still drive the same "car" or in other words using your favorite CAD packages from your favorite CAD vendor. However, your files will be moving to the cloud transparently and getting under management and control of Cloud CAD file management tool.

What is my conclusion? It is really important to understand the power and capability of cloud infrastructure today. 20 billion files is a huge number. I’m sure some of CAD projects and company data can scale beyond that point. However, mainstream engineering organization, the amount data scale between 10s to 100s GB. My hunch, we are going to see more companies interested how to jump towards some sort of cloud solution in the near future. They key is to make it transparent and painless for end users. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Future CAD file management trajectories

July 1, 2014

cad-file-management

CAD data is a core and one of the most fundamental parts of every manufacturing design. It all starts and dies from how your product looks and feels. In the past, 3D CAD was most focused on mechanical elements of design. Today, CAD systems are meshing into a complex conglomerate of data about shape, assembly, simulation and many other aspects of product design. Thinking even more broadly, CAD files are representing a significant part of engineering and product knowledge.

Despite overall significance, many manufacturing companies and engineering organization are missing the point of CAD files management. It is not unusual to hear that 60-70% of companies manage CAD files on shared network drives. Engineering.com article – The Risks of Manually Managing CAD Files speaks about what is a danger of keeping your CAD files not managed. The following passage makes it very clear:

Perhaps the most common way to manage CAD files is on a shared drive with a directory structure and file naming conventions. That can work in some situations, but it carries significant risks and limitations. "It was easy when it was just me, but when we added a second person it was difficult to have the same file structure," recalls Andy Homyk, the lead mechanical engineer at medical device company HemoSonics. "It was hard to get updates from his computer onto mine and ensure I had the right revision."

These manual approaches are better than nothing, but in all but the simplest scenarios lead to errors. As complexity and number of engineers increase, unmanaged approaches fall apart. Relying on individuals to consistently follow manual rules eventually leads to problems. This approach frequently results in the errors discussed earlier, specifically overwriting each other’s work, using the wrong version of a file, multiple people working on the same file, and lost productivity.

Article references e-Book written by Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity with more detailed discussion about how to choose write level of available CAD file management solution – from keeping CAD files on shared drives and up to full PDM system. Jim mentioned possible solution in between, which is CAD file sharing on the cloud. The article and e-book made me think about potential trajectories of future CAD file management solutions.

1- Cloud File Systems.

Quite a few companies these days are trying to virtualize file system and make transparent between on-premise and cloud storage. If it turns into reliable, fast and cost effective solution, engineers can just use this cloud file system to save files. I can see a good opportunity for cloud file systems to support revision history. So, it is almost PDM and these companies can start eating PDM lunch.

2- PDM with cloud file storage

The complexity of CAD data can make option #1 not very reliable. In that case, we can see a next turn in the evolution of existing PDM system – turn them to the cloud via IaaS and / or cloud hosting. Technologically, these solutions can be very similar to any existing PDM system. It might require some tuning to work with low latency and cloud file storage. But underlining idea will remain the same.

3- Engineering data platforms

This is one of the most interesting trajectory for me. Somebody would like to re-think the way engineering data (include CAD data) stored and managed in the cloud. The process of re-thinking can touch also technological aspects (databases and storage) as well as logical and functional aspects related to collaborative design and engineering and more.

What is my conclusion? One of the biggest challenges these days is how to leverage cloud system advantages on top of massive amount of CAD files. Every engineering organization is struggling to find an efficient solution to manage engineering data accumulated on desktops and network drives. Security, cost and scale – these are three most important elements every manufacturing company will be assessing to find an appropriate CAD file management solution. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Will Yammerized Office help to shape CAD/PLM social future?

June 17, 2014

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To connect relevant pieces of information is one of the long time dreams developed by many PLM vendors. The pieces of data in design, engineering, manufacturing are intertwined. However, in many situations they are managed by different systems and/or located in different places. Communication behaviors are applied on top of these pieces of information. Lots of communication behaviors and data sharing was captured by social networks these days.

I’ve been following what Microsoft is doing with social systems earlier in early versions of SharePoint and later with Yammer acquisition. Take a look on some of my earlier write ups here – Will Microsoft Yammer Kill Social PLM… Not yet. I’ve been reading CRN article Microsoft Deepens Yammer Integration With SharePoint Online, OneDrive For Business during the past weekend. The article speaks about an interesting feature – Document Conversation. The following passage explains that:

Microsoft Tuesday unveiled a new feature called Document Conversations, which adds Yammer conversations to more than 30 different file types, including Office documents, images and videos. When a user opens a document, image or video file in their browser from SharePoint Online or OneDrive for Business, a contextual Yammer conversation pops up. From there, users can talk with other colleagues to get more insight about the file…

You can get more details in the Office blog article. The following video shows a little preview how it supposed to work.

Office/Yammer document conversation feature made think again about how important to have the ability to add contextual features applied to a specific content. By doing that, you have the ability to step down on the more granular level of communication between people. In the past, I’ve seen similar features applied in CAD and 3D model viewers tools as well. Navigate to one of my previous posts – From design collaboration to CAD social tools shows similar functionality in AutoCAD 360, Dassault UC tools and Vuuch design discussion.

One of the most important element of discussion is to have the ability to apply it to a specific “context” in the document / file / 3D model. It will make collaboration more precise and efficient.

What is my conclusion? The idea to make a contextual conversation applied to a specific content is the one that will allow to user to have a better, granular way to communicate. In the past world CAD/PDM/PLM world, “file” was the most granular communication medium. It is clearly not enough these days. To apply “document level” discussion and having the ability to identify granular context is the key. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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