How CAD collaboration can avoid competition with OneDrive?

April 15, 2014

web-services-recombination-cad-plm

Collaboration is the name of the game today for many vendors. CAD and PLM vendors are included. Cloud technology is opening many new capabilities to collaborate and it is captured by existing players and newcomers. Sometimes, it happens so fast that it even create an internal competition. Image and Data Manager article Is OneDrive for Business the SharePoint alternative? speaks about interesting transformation that happens these days around file collaboration using Microsoft family of product. We knew about SharePoint capabilities to collaborate and share content (files). However, the new born child – OneDrive is growing fast and potentially can capture some spaces occupied by SharePoint today. I liked the following passage explaining how OneDrive takes on SharePoint:

OneDrive has a very simple interface (one that has been simplified further with recent updates). So it’s easy to upload your files and share them. You can also sync to all your devices, desktop, tablet, smartphone, giving you direct access to your content when you are online or offline. You even have mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows 8 and Windows RT.

OneDrive even has this cool feature that allows you to grab a file from your PC even if you haven’t uploaded it to OneDrive. You have to turn that feature on, but it’s pretty nice to have.

SharePoint’s interface is OK, but it’s the subject of much debate. It’s not very intuitive to use and requires a fair amount of planning and organizing to get it set up in a way that’s easy for people to understand. Getting access to SharePoint on mobile devices has been spotty at best. Access via mobile (tablet or smartphone) has improved a lot with SharePoint 2013, but for those on SharePoint 2010, the story is not so good.

What I learned from this article is that file sharing, collaboration space is getting busy and competitive. Which brings me back to the discussion about specialized CAD collaboration tools. It made me think about some strategies CAD collaboration tools can use in order to avoid frontal competition with OneDrive, Dropbox and other file sharing and sync tools.

The name for this game is "layers". Creating of layered architecture will allow to CAD collaboration tools to store data using OneDrive (or other storage and share service) and, at the same time, enhance it with the data layer providing rich access to CAD specific content, viewer and other CAD data relationships. Think about it in a similar way how Google organized information from web for you. You are not necessarily store data on websites and other locations. Nevertheless Google gives you easy access to this information via different services. The basic service is search. Enhanced services can provide a specific vertical slices of information (think about Google Flight as an example).

What is my conclusion? To separate vertical application and horizontal services is getting more and more important. It was true in the past to build right enterprise architecture, but it is getting even more important in the era of cloud services. To be successful, cloud vendors will have to learn how to recombine and reuse technologies provided by different players. File Share and Synchronization is a very good examples to start with. For CAD vendors it means to learn how to share data on OneDrive or Dropbox, but at the same time to provide vertical experience specific for CAD content. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD is half pregnant by cloud

April 1, 2014

cad-cloud-pregnant

The usage of cloud is growing every day. Started as an option to simplify collaboration and data exchange, it is proliferating into spaces such as backup, computation and many others. CAD and design are remaining one of the most conservative zone of the cloud and engineering software. Commonly agreed opinion – desktop is the best place to run CAD system in terms of resources, performance and tasks designers want to accomplish.

With such CAD desktop paradigm, you might think CAD users are completely independent from cloud. Actually, it is not so true. My attention caught by Cadalyst article – Advocate for Internet Access for CAD Tools by Robert Green. According to him CAD is no longer an island and significantly depends on cloud services and public internet infrastructure. Here is the passage, which explains that

Like it or not, our CAD users are becoming more and more dependent on tools that reside outside our company’s internal network. The types of systems we use may vary, but they typically include the following: FTP access sites for file uploading and downloading, Remote access of workstations for technical support; Remote log-on sessions to run compute-intensive tasks, such as rendering or analysis, on powerful remote workstations; Enterprise data management (EDM) and product data management (PDM) systems for CAD/BIM models and files; Cloud-based services on vendor-supplied servers. Whether you use one, several, or all of these Internet-based resources in your day-to-day CAD system, the fact remains that using CAD is no longer something that you alone can control. And when you must reach out over the Internet to complete your CAD tasks, IT becomes a crucial part of your workflow.

It made me think again about future of cloud and CAD relationships. In my view, cloud won’t be introduced to CAD users as a single lifetime event. Instead of switching designers and engineers to cloud CAD overnight, companies will introduce some cloud based services to maximize cloud value proposition to existing CAD-based workflows. You can navigate to some of my earlier posts – The future of CAD without files?; A moment before CAD files cloud mess…; What “end of local storage” means for CAD?; CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems.

I can identify 3 main zones of existing CAD system enhancements that will leverage cloud eco-system to provide additional benefits to engineers:

1. Cloud based backup and file exchange. This is mainstream scenario that requires very little from CAD and other engineering software vendors. Cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and some others can provide it today without even disrupting current workflows.

2. Viewing and collaboration. This is more complicated, but still very feasible scenario. Think about services such as GrabCAD Workbench, TeamPlatform and some others. These services can solve basic revision management needs and collaborative viewing of files.

3. Computation and special engineering design services. This is the most interesting case, in my view. In this scenario, desktop CAD systems will use services running from public cloud to solve simulation, analysis, and more complicated design tasks. Some of them can leverage elastic nature of cloud and some of them can be collaborative by allowing several engineers working together.

What is my conclusion? Can you be ‘half pregnant"? Actually, you can, if you think about CAD and cloud services. In my view, existing and new design tools will be leveraging hybrid resources (from desktop and cloud) to support optimal workflow and implement best user experience in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD and Future Office Design Walls

March 26, 2014

cad-office-design-walls

Collaboration is inspiring. It is very overloaded word in engineering space. Collaboration is often used in the context of CAD, design and engineering environment to allow engineers and other people to work together when they are located remotely and disconnected from each other. This is sort of mainstream collaboration scenario – to connect people.

While, this is absolutely true and important, I want to raise another perspective on collaboration. What about people working in the same office? How team of designers located in the same office can collaborate and discuss their ideas. What can help to the team to exchange information and discuss what they do. You may think – it is not a problem. When people co-located, the collaboration is not an issue. I don’t think. Sharing information together in the same place, exchanging ideas and discussion design options can be equally hard.

I’ve been thinking about office collaboration comparing it to our home communication. Our homes are getting more and more digital these days. Think about such a popular communication as photo sharing. Everybody knows Facebook, Instagram and other social apps. I’m sure you use it a lot, but it is mostly imply to the situation when you share photos with people connected by internet. However, rules are different if you are at house or in the party. You want to exchange photos and information. Facebook is too complex and won’t provide you the way to collaborate. My attention caught by Google Photowall announcement. This application allows you to share and stream information from multiple mobile devices to Chromecast player connected to TV set. Read more here. The following video give you an idea how it can work:

Google Photowall app made me think about potential opportunity to help engineers and designers to collaborate at office. Are you familiar with the way people stick drawings on office walls for review and discuss design options? What is you can replace it with special "design wall" collaboration app that will beam drawings on the screen from multiple devices and computers? It can be scalable, easy and won’t require to print paper and stick it on the wall. To me it sounds like a good digital alternative for 21st century.

What is my conclusion? We are moving into digital life everywhere. Screen size is getting bigger. New visual experience will replace the traditional paper communication. It is fascinating to see how it will happen. It is not in the future. It is here and coming. Just my thoughts…

Oleg


How engineers find path from emails and messages to collaboration?

March 14, 2014

email-message-collaboration

We are really bad about managing ourselves. The natural people behavior is to create mess. Life is getting more dynamic these days. We are swamped into the ocean of information, data streams, social networks, emails, calls, etc. If you want me to do something, send me an email. I’m pretty sure you are familiar with such type of behavior? I’m sure you do. This is our way to get our of mess, so we can track everything. It is true for both private and business life. One of the most requested feature in all PLM workflow systems I developed was to send notifications via email. HRB article Stop using your inbox as to-do list speaks about why we should stop this bad behavior. I liked the following passage:

The reason so many of us fall into the trap of conflating email and task management is that email is inextricable from much of what we do in work and in life: many of our tasks arrive in the form of email messages, and many other tasks require reading or sending emails as part of getting that work done.

While there are those who solve this problem by simply tracking their to-dos using the task manager within Outlook (or another email platform), that approach comes at too steep a cost. Keeping your tasks in your email program means you can’t close that program (and its attendant distractions) when you want to plow through your task list. Having both activities as part of one application also means that you’ll still have to flip from one view to the other; even if you open a separate window for your task list, you risk losing sight of it in a sea of open emails. Most crucially, defaulting to the task manager that is built into your email client means you don’t get to choose the particular task manager that works best for your particular kind of work, or work style.

Email became the pile of all activities I need to do. It is a mix of emails, tasks, alerts and everything else that eventually comes to my inbox to distract me. I want to resolve this mess. At the same time we all panic when messages are starting to come into multiple channels, since we are afraid to miss them. So want both – to keep all messaging activities together and focus on what is important and what needs to be done. It is a time to come with David Allen’s Getting Things Done method. Such method and systems can work for individuals, but what happens in groups, especially when these groups are sharing common tasks? This is where we get social these days.

Social became such a buzzword for the last few years. How many times you’ve heard "Facebook for xyz" or "Twitter for abc". I guess a lot… One of the companies that comes to my mind in that context is Yammer. The idea of Yammer was simple – go viral by combining people messages in activity streams. Microsoft snapped Yammer for $1.2B few years ago. Now Microsoft is converging Yammer with SharePoint – an attempt to create social collaboration system. Mobile has very strong impact on our life these days. Does mobile+social is a future big deal? For some of people it is really big deal – especially when we speak about Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook. Companies are recognizing the importance of messaging platforms. Example in engineering and CAD space – Autodesk (disclose – my current employer) just released mobile group messaging application Autodesk Instant.

So, social chat, social messaging, social networking are good. However, where is the line that turns emails and messaging into collaboration? The difference is big. What can differentiate between social email facilitating communication and system that allows people to collaborate (work together)? I posted Will Microsoft-Yammer kill social PLM? Not yet… The topic differentiating messaging and collaboration is context (piece of data). This data is presented in a contextual form allowing people to make operations and activities together. The simplest "collaboration" is commenting on Facebook photo. In the context of engineering activity, it can be more complex. What about drawing or 3D model? This is a good context for common work. So, collaborative nature of the system is first of all to allow access and common activity on the contextual data. Technically it can be done by sending email with link to the file on FTP site. But it is so 95…

What is my conclusion? I don’t think there is a clear boarder between email,messaging and collaboration. It is blurred. However, access to contextual information and data representations such as photo, spreadsheet, drawing or 3D model is the most important thing that differentiate between any type of fancy email / messaging and collaboration. By accessing these pieces of information together people can work together and get job done in an organized form. Engineers are surrounded by huge amount of complex information. So, collaboration is clearly way to go. However, don’t underestimate simple messaging, especially for some downstream tasks. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD Collaboration & Cloud: Chat With GrabCAD’s Hardi Meybaum

March 12, 2014

hardi-oleg-collaborative-collage

I had new kind of experience yesterday. It was on demand webinar. To me it was more like live blogging conversation. In case you following my twitter closely, you probably noticed Engineering.com webinar yesterday – CAD Collaboration & the Cloud: On-Demand Webinar with GrabCAD & Beyond PLM. I had a chance to meet and talk to GrabCAD CEO Hardi Meybaum. That wasn’t our first meeting. Hardi and I had many conversations in the past. The first one was back in October 2010 when we spent couple of hours in nearby Starbucks shop speaking about what GrabCAD is up to. This is an old post with my thoughts after that conversation. I’ve been blogging about GrabCAD and related topics such as CAD files sharing, Collaboration, Cloud and others a lot. Somehow, Hardi and I developed an intensive conversation via blogs and twitter. So, yesterday webinar was a first experience to turn our online social experience into live conversation.

If you want to listen to the record of our conversation, navigate your browser to this link with webinar recording. I found myself in agreement with Hardi about many related to CAD, Collaboration and cloud. I captured top 5 things to outline my agreement with Hardi:

1- CAD collaboration is very relevant and cloud is a right way to improve the collaboration among individuals in engineering and manufacturing companies. The fundamental questions related to how people can work together are still with us.

2- Globalization create an additional need to improve collaboration. Even small companies these days are not located in one place. Engineering and manufacturing can be done in multiple places to optimize for the cost. Individuals can work from home. This is an absolutely different environment and eco-system compared to what we had 10 years ago.

3- Expectations of people about collaboration, usability and speed of communication are changing these days. The reason is a lot of technologies and products developed in consumer, social and mobile space for the last decade.

4- Engineering workflow is absolutely important. CAD collaboration tool must be focused on how to make collaborative workflow painless and simple.

5- IT and other parts of organization must be focused on how to simplify communication and collaboration and stop behave as "police force" and focus on policies and restrictions to make collaboration more complex.

One of the feedback I’ve got after webinar is that it went too peacefully. It was also final Hardi’s conclusion – we need to disagree more. So, to inspire future conversations, I wanted to bring top 5 things to outline my disagreement with Hardi:

1- Hardi: File is primary things people are working on and file will be still important.

I think by keeping "files" in focus, we’re increasing the complexity of user workflows. If you think about social tools and web today, files are getting less and less important. Think about photo sharing. It was complicated when the scenario required to download files from SD card and publish it on the website. With development of modern mobile applications, photo sharing skyrocketed. One of the reasons – the ability to bypass "file" representation and publish directly from phone/camera. So, file must disappear and software vendors must do it by deep integrating with CAD and other tools.

2- Hardi: There is no technical challenge to get CAD data to the cloud.

The challenge of getting files to the cloud is significant. CAD and engineering data is very complex. Today it is resided on PCs and corporate network drives. It is huge (in size) and complex (in terms of dependencies). To make this data available online for collaboration via slow speed connections is one of the major competitive differentiation specialized vendors can develop against mainstream collaboration tools like Dropbox, Box.net and others.

3- Hardi: Goto market & price is a challenge

Price is not a challenge- cost is a challenge! The challenge is how to keep cost of CAD collaboration services low. Despite the common perception of web as a free resource, cloud is expensive. Storage, viewing, communication, global access, etc. – this is only short list of factors that can push cost of CAD collaboration services up. Dropbox and other mainstream vendors will use scale as a factor to bring cost down. So, to succeed in CAD collaboration and compete with mainstream vendors, every vendor needs to develop technologies to keep cost of the solution down.

4- Hardi: To develop tools with good user experience sounds like an ordinary development task.

User experience is never easy. To get data to the cloud seamlessly is very complicated tasks. Most of CAD engineers today are using Windows based desktop CAD tools. Majority of people are saving data locally. Asking engineers to bring data to the cloud can be a challenge. Another challenge is how to make desktop based design tools seamless connected with cloud environment without disrupting traditional engineering CAD desktop workflow.

5- Hardi: Local PDMs are not allowing to non-engineers to use the data.

I want to defend existing PDM technologies and products. So-called "local PDMs" developed multiple tools to allow people outside of corporate firewall to stay connected with data. Most of them developed web clients or mobile apps. In SolidWorks community, e-Drawing is another successful tool to share and collaborate on CAD data. Yes, these tools are not ideal. But companies are using them a lot in production these days.

What is my conclusion? I think CAD Collaboration is very interesting and still very relevant. There are lot of challenges and lot of opportunities. Seamless communication and efficiency are clear priority for companies and individual. The demand for new business models and pricing will push company to develop cost-effective services to support it. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why and when to re-think PDM?

March 10, 2014

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PDM (Product Data Management) isn’t a new discipline. Nevertheless, I think, PDM is going through the time of disruption and renaissance. Cloud, social and mobile technologies are changing the way we’ve been working in the past. From that side, I can see companies that trying to re-invent PDM with a new meaning and technologies. I’ve been discussing it few weeks ago in my post -Do we need a new TLA for PDM? On the other side, analysts and established CAD and PLM vendors are trying to restate the values of PDM solutions.

One of PDM value proposition "restates" just came across my reading list over the weekend. PTC Creo article PDM Capabilities: The Right Fit for Small Organizations written by Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insight. Chad separates PDM into 3 distinct sets of data management capabilities: CAD Data Management, Engineering Data Management and Enterprise Data Management. I captured the following passage about CAD data management.

If a team is working simultaneously on a single design, CAD data management provides a means to control the chaos. Oftentimes, one design is dependent on another design, which can fall under the responsibility of two different designers or engineers. Without some means of tracking and controlling that change, individuals can quickly lose track of what their peers are doing.

However, I specially liked the recap:

CAD data management is a no-brainer for organizations of any size. Engineering data management is a natural fit for small organization as a means to organize the chaos of engineering. Enterprise data management, while beneficial to some organizations, is not worth the effort for smaller companies. The cost is not worth the return.

The article made me think again about current state of PDM. The challenging part of PDM for the last 20 years was to justify the cost of implementation and use of PDM combined with complex engineering workflow. Engineers don’t like data management. I was talking about it many times. For most of engineers, PDM is a software that slow their work and make their life complicated. Think about an engineer waiting until updated files is synchronized from the server in the morning or release of new 3D models is taking next 15-20 minutes. To put it gently, these examples are not very rare in CAD data management eco-system. Nevertheless, I’ve seen several PDM systems in the past 15 years that succeeded to find a decent balance of value vs. disturbance to engineers. Another aspect of PDM implementation is cost. For many (especially small) organizations, the cost of most existing PDM implementation is too high. Therefore, we still can see lots of organizations managing CAD files using shared network folders and excel spreadsheets.

I want to come to questions from the title of this post – why and when companies may decide to re-think their existing PDM strategies? I’d like to separate all options in the three groups: 1-we don’t need PDM; 2-we need PDM, but it is too costly; 3-PDM is part of larger PLM/Data management strategy.

1- We don’t need PDM.

This is a typical situation in very small engineering firms or micro-engineering departments in large companies. The status quo is okay for them. They are busy with everyday tasks and don’t want to look on new tech. What can make them to re-think PDM? In my view, it will come with the influence of external factors. Web, globalization, speed of changes and other factors can turn these companies to think about PDM values.

2- We need PDM, but it is too costly.

I can see many medium-size companies in this category. Usually, they outgrew their network/file sharing capabilities and have a pressure to make some order in data management. However, for some reasons budget restrictions and value/cost justification make them feel wrong about current PDM solutions. One possible solution for these companies is to buy PDM systems bundled with CAD system they use. It will be probably the most cost effective. For many of these companies CAD-PDM bundle will be a decent solution to solve their problems. However, another option is "to re-think" and bring new PDM solution with lower TCO and improved workflow for engineers.

3- PDM is part of larger PLM/Data management strategy.

Mostly large companies are coming into this category. For them, PDM is a part in the overall solution puzzle. These companies are looking about overall business processes, connectivity, multiple systems and global IT cost. These companies can be good partners to work for the future. Some of them can be good thinker how to re-invent PDM. However, don’t expect fast decisions here. To establish right strategy for them is an ultimate priority.

What is my conclusion? In my view, PDM is going to change. However, the speed of changes in engineering and manufacturing industry is very slow. Therefore, don’t expect everything to change tomorrow. Existing systems will keep serving us for coming years. At the same, time new systems potentially can make engineers’ life easier. The focus on improvements of engineering workflow and longevity of solutions is something you should consider when analyzing opportunity to bring new or change your existing PDMs. Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg


Will CAD / PLM companies develop DB management systems?

March 1, 2014

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The history of databases and database management systems knows many periods. Most of us developed strong association between database management systems and relational databases (RDBMS). Since 1970s, when Edgar Codd invented relational database during his work at IBM, RDBS became widely adopted. For the last 20-30 years, most of PDM / PLM developers selected RDBMS as a default choice and foundation of their solutions. Until very recently, RBDMS was a straightforward decision to manage product data in organizations. There are multiple reasons for that. One of them is compliance to the requirements of enterprise IT. Because of wide adoption of RDBMS, enterprise organizations and their IT felt comfortable to run enterprise applications on top of well known and widely adopted database back end system.

However, changes are coming to database industry too. Database and data management technology is going through cambrian explosion of different options and flavors. It is a result of massive amount of development coming from open source, web and other places. Few months ago, I spoke at TechSoft3D tech talks in Boston about PLM and future of data management in 21st century. You can find my post and link to the presentation here. The technology shifts towards usage of different database management systems or even multiple database management solutions these days. Database is a tool. When you develop complex data management solution, you may decide to have multiple databases to achieve your goal and optimize your solution. Here is a slide from my last year presentation showing pros and cons of different data management solutions.

PLM-and-database-options

Modern CAD / PLM applications are bringing new requirements and needs to database management systems. The complexity of application is skyrocketing. At the same time, customers’ demand to have systems highly flexible and configurable. Customization, high scale and transparency, new complexity of meta data management – this is only short list of challenges PLM developers are facing these days. New cloud software development paradigms created a completely new set of needs towards high availability, performance and cost. I’ve been talking about future of database technologies for CAD/PLM solutions two years ago. Navigate here to read my previous post. My conclusion back that time that PLM vendors will face the need to have new types of databases and data management solutions.

My attention was caught by GigaOM article two days ago – CAD giant Dassault leads new $14.2M investment in NuoDB. NuoDB is four years old database startup out of Cambridge, MA is promising to shift what we know about RDBMS into the next level. According to publications and press releases, NuoDB wants to re-write the rules for a 21st century database. Another GigaOM article presents 12 rules NuoDB defines to create a superset of existing RDBMS. Some interesting buzzwords you can see there – elastic scale out, single logical database, dynamic multi-tenancy, non-stop availability, etc.

Another one year old publication informs that Dassault Systems has tested NuoDB on their desktop and web applications. This fact confirms that Dassault is looking how to future develop cloud capabilities of their 3DEXPERIENCE (also known as V6 cloud platform). Here is my favorite passage:

Dassault Systemes, maker of 3D design software, has tested NuoDB on its Web and desktop applications extensively over the past year, said CTO Dave Tewksbary. In a presentation, Tewksbary went through NuoDB’s list of feature and performance claims and gave the company strong passing grades. However, Dassault focused on smaller implementations of the database during its tests, according to Tewksbary. "We haven’t gone as far as we’d like to go." Given the complexity of Dassault’s products, officials are eager to see how NuoDB performs when running on hundreds or thousands of nodes.

What is my conclusion? Cloud system development can change what we knew about databases and database management systems. The challenges of CAD and PLM companies to develop and maintain a diverse and highly scalable database management solution can turn them to be more interested in specialized cloud-oriented databases. Running from private and public cloud, enterprise software is not limited anymore to mainstream RDBMS prescribed by company IT. Even more, companies will be interested to develop and use the most efficient and cost effective database management solutions. It will help to develop future differentiation in technology and cost. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Engineers and Contextual Search Experience

February 28, 2014

engineers-context-search-plm

Web search became part of our life. We don’t search anymore, we "google" everything . The visible simplicity of Google created a feeling that magic of search can transform and simplify any software product behavior. CAD, PLM and other enterprise software companies liked the idea as well. Search is certainly getting into mainstream. Open source search libraries such as Lucene and Solr created environment for easy implementation and distribution of search products across multiple software solutions.

At the same time, not every search solution can lead to simplicity. So called "laundry list" of results can be very disappointing for customers and lead to many questions about results relevance. Data matters and data can be nasty. Especially when it comes to complex engineering design, and enterprise data management solutions. To index data located in enterprise software packages can be a tricky problem.

Even web is not a search paradise these days. Google is still web search king. Even so, the relevance of some Google results is questionable. The complexity of Web search multiplied by social networks, mobile, combined with commercial interests of web giants created complexity that can be compared to the complexity of enterprise software. In parallel, there is a clear trend is enterprise software to adopt successful ideas of social software and social collaboration.

Recent Mashable article Yahoo’s New Long Game: Contextual Search puts some lights on the innovation and possible ways to solve problem of relevance in web search results. This is my favorite passage:

When I look at things like contextual search, I get really excited," Mayer said at the conference. Contextual search seeks to take in a variety of factors aside from a simple input to generate results that are tailored to a person’s time, place and patterns. For instance, a normal search for sushi might turn up a Wikipedia page or various websites about sushi. If one were to look up sushi from a phone through a contextualized mobile search, it could conceivably return nearby sushi restaurants with review, advertisements and coupons. The reason for Mayer to get excited is twofold: Nobody has yet mastered contextual search and it has the possibility of generating a ton of revenue.

Yahoo contextual search made me think about potential of such type of advanced search option for engineers. The specifics of engineering environment characterized by number of data dependencies, connected information and complexity to calculate the relevance search results. Engineering data can generate large volume of matches that hardly can be filtered based on simple filtering mechanisms. Think about document numbers, material names, design element names. Search for "shaft", "tube" and "aluminum" can generate thousands of results that hardly can be distinguished, sorted and ordered.

This is a place where I think "contextual search" does fit in a perfect way. What can be used a context for search (query) mechanism? Actually, quite many elements of easy available data can be re-used – date, time, organization, project name, team, location, previously used assemblies, etc. Some of these elements can be captured from the environment (computer, browser, application) and some of them can be captured from directly from users via specific user interface (capturing semantic). Result – significant decrease in the number of search results and better relevance.

What is my conclusion? Search is not simple. Even Google simplicity is questionable when it comes to the reality of engineering and enterprise data. New algorithms and additional data analysis must be applied in order to improve the relevance of results. Contextual search is not completely new idea, but it can become the next big deal in improving of search and overall user experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


What metadata means in modern PDM/PLM systems

February 26, 2014

meta-data

Metadata is "data about data". If you stay long with PDM industry, you probably remember how earlier EDM/PDM software defined their role by managing of "data about CAD files" (metadata). However, it was long time ago. Wikipedia article defines two types of metadata – structural and descriptive. Here is a quote from the article:

The term is ambiguous, as it is used for two fundamentally different concepts (types). Structural metadata is about the design and specification of data structures and is more properly called "data about the containers of data"; descriptive metadata, on the other hand, is about individual instances of application data, the data content.

In my view, CAD/PDM/PLM is using both types. Since design is very structured and contains lots of rich semantic relations, metadata about CAD files stored in PDM system is structured. At the same time, descriptive metadata such as file attributes, information about people, project, organization can be applied to individual instance of CAD data (files) as well.

Since early EDM/PDM days, lots of changes happened in the definition and usage of a word metadata. Some of them are very confusing. The traditional use and definition of files (for example, in context of CAD files) is changing. Sometimes, we want to to keep "file" as a well-known abstraction, but underlining meaning is completely different and point more on "data" or "design" rather than actual files. Also, introduction of web based systems are changing physical use of files. The usage of file accessed via mobile application located in Dropbox is completely different. In many scenarios you will never get access to these physical files.

DBMS2 article Confusion about Metadata speaks about some additional aspects of metadata management that getting more relevant these days. It includes data about mobile devices usage (telephone metadata) and document data. Document data is getting more structured these days and often cannot be distinguished from structured RDBMS data. Here is interesting passage that describes the transformation of database and document based data.

[data about data structure] has a counter-intuitive consequence — all common terminology notwithstanding, relational data is less structured than document data. Reasons include: Relational databases usually just hold strings — or maybe numbers — with structural information being held elsewhere. Some document databases store structural metadata right with the document data itself. Some document databases store data in the form of (name, value) pairs. In some cases additional structure is imposed by naming conventions. Actual text documents carry the structure imposed by grammar and syntax.

Modern data management systems and especially noSQL data bases such as document and key-value databases can introduce new types of metadata or data. IoT (Internet of things) brings another level of complexity to data management. I can see many others to come.

What is my conclusion? I think, the term meta-data is getting outdated at least in the scope of design and engineering. Originally used a lot in EDM/PDM systems managing metadata about CAD files is not relevant anymore. Design data originally stored in CAD files becomes more transparent and connected to external to design world. The whole data paradigm is changing. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD, Engineers and Online Communities

February 19, 2014

cad-engineers-community

Remember our life before internet? The meaning of community was about social group that shares common values. Actually, the history of communities is longer than history of CAD software :). So called "Community Rules" were mentioned in one of the first scrolls found in Qumran Cave. Community word often explains common geography or environment. However, in human communities it is usually comes down to needs, belief, intent, risks, etc. Internet expanded borders of social groups and made possible to create virtual communities. The result – massive creation of online communities (social networks). Some of them, such as Facebook, started as a virtual continuation of physical social groups (academic organization). Social networks today represent huge segment of online internet activities.

The success of social business and social networking raised multiple questions among developers of business software. Collaboration still remains one of the biggest problem in organization. Geographical distribution is another reason why companies are looking how to improve communication. Software vendors are coming with the ideas of software to collaborate similar to social networking web sites. In addition to that, community creation is related to customer activities. This is where a potential to link collaboration in an organization and customer activities.

So, what is the secret of successful community creation? I was reading The collision of communities few days ago. Article brings some interesting perspectives on community organizations and some driving factors behind community work. Among them, article speaks about Jelly (Q&A search), Wut and Secret (anonymous status apps). These are communities too. Author compares these communities with communities companies are creating these days. Fundamentally, in order to be successful, communities are sharing the same common behavior and interest. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

Every social startup that launches hope to have a large, organic community organize around their product. They hire community managers and product managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase engagement. Jelly, Wut and Secret, each different in application, have at it core, the need to build and cultivate a vibrant community to succeed, and in order to do so, they must remember the first community rule: He shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder and truth in the midst of the members of the community, so that they shall behave decently with one another in all that has been revealed to them.

Engineering software companies are joining the bandwagon community building. Social CAD, Social PLM, Social Collaboration – for the last few years we’ve heard a lot about how community driven (social) software will change the way we do business. We can only speculate about successes and failures of social software. However, I want to bring two examples of communities related to engineering software – SolidWorks Users and GrabCAD.

SolidWorks has large and successful community. Nobody can argue. The common interests and needs among them is to share knowledge and experience of how to use SolidWorks. In my view, it was extremely important to all participants since it allowed to them (engineers) to get CAD system support. Most of SolidWorks users are working for small firms that had no budget and engineering IT to help them.

GrabCAD is an interesting example. Started few years ago as "Facebook for Engineers", it succeeded to gather about 1 million engineers to share CAD files online. Here is my pure speculation how it was done. Re-use is one of the fundamental engineering behavior. You can save a lot of time by re-using existing design even if you will modify it. Back in my university years, to have an old similar project was a huge time saving factor in every project I did. GrabCAD provided to engineers models to reuse CAD models for the best price – free. In addition to that, it helps engineers to self-promote their work.

Think about these two examples. In both cases, focus on identification of "community rule" was a key to success. It should be something that will drive common interests and benefits of all participants. Wikipedia article about organizational communication can be a good source of learning and additional information. Here are few assumptions I captured:

All we really need to understand communication in organizations is (a) observable and replicable behaviors that can be transformed into variables by some form of measurement, and (b) formally replicable syllogisms that can extend theory from observed data to other groups and settings. Organizations are mechanical things, in which the parts (including employees functioning in defined roles) are interchangeable. What works in one organization will work in another similar organization. Individual differences can be minimized or even eliminated with careful management techniques.

What is my conclusion? Ask two engineers about how to do a project – you will get 3 options. To work with engineers is like herding cats. Nevertheless, the focus should be on identification and capturing of behaviors that can help engineers in their everyday life. Be prepared to discover something different from traditional organizational goals like "improve quality" or "decrease cost". By capturing and replicating engineers’ behaviors you can find a recipe to organize a successful engineering community. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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