PDM: Rightsize, Wrongsize, Overkill?

April 23, 2013

I want to talk about PDM today. Product Data Management is not a new topic. Companies are using PDM many years. However, here is a deal – after many years of PDM deployment, customers are still trying to avoid to implement PDM. You may think it is mostly small and medium companies, but it is not true. I’ve seen many large companies that are using files and folders structure to manage their design files and revisions.

You may think PDM overkill? The issue of "sizing" of PDM and PLM isn’t new as well. Navigate to one of my previous posts about that – PLM: Rightsizing vs. Wrongsizing Debates. My conclusion there – size doesn’t matter. Two major aspects of PDM/PLM deployment – user experience and cost of ownership. PLM needs to focus on these sooner than later.

I wasn’t alone in the discussion about PDM for SMB and rightsizing. My industry friends Chad Jackson and Jim Brown captured this topic in their regular talk show – Tech4PD. Navigate to this link to read more – Is Product Data Management Overkill for Small Design Teams? If you have few minutes watch the video.

The discussion made me think about two significant issues where PDM brings overkill to engineers. First and most important – nobody likes data management. If you are in a big company and your boss will tell you to use PDM, you do. However, if you have even a chance not to use PDM, you won’t miss that opportunity. Design is cool, but data management is boring stuff. So, if it is an absolute need, then you agree to use it. However, here is where the second question is coming – cost! The issue of cost is coming faster than you expected. It is not a cheap job to deploy PDM even for small company with 5-10 users.

What is my conclusion? Last 15 years of PDM didn’t solve the problem of user experience and cost for PDM. We still see high cost of PDM systems and user experience coming from last century. Customers are demanding new type of tools even going beyond what mainstream PDMs (eg. SolidWorks Enterprise PDM and Autodesk Vault) are capable to provide. The time for innovation is coming. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


“PLM journey” and thoughts about technology

April 3, 2013

PLM implementations are complex. How many times have you heard about that? I think a lot. Last 15-20 years of PDM/PLM business demonstrated that PLM and ease of implementations are not coming together. If, in addition to that, you ask for low cost, people might be thinking you are joking. I’ve been sharing my thoughts about PLM implementations and improvement of PLM adoptions earlier. The core problem that exists in PDM/PLM is complexity. Navigate to my old blog – Complexity Kills or Three Ways to Improve PLM Adoption to read more. In addition to that, I outlined 3 main factors impacting fast PLM adoption – massive customization, legacy data and integration with ERP. Read more here - 3 main factors of mainstream PLM adoption. PLM implementations are big, expensive and take long time. I called it "big mono-PLM projects". Customers are implementing PLM products that become legacy faster than an implementation ends. The investment made into this system deployment keeps them with old technologies and products and preventing customers from moving forward. Read the following article – PLM Implementation Lifecycle Challenges to get more confirmations and data points.

One of the opinions about PLM implementations is related to so-called "PLM business transformation". My blogging buddy Jos Voskuil refered it as "PLM journey" in his co-named blog post PLM is a journey. According to Jos, PLM requires significant effort including promoting PLM values to the minds of management in companies. Here is the passage, which explains it -

You would assume that the value PLM brings would make it a no-brainer. However for successful implementing PLM there is no standard approach (and definition). Often people believe PLM as an IT-solution. And the common sense is that you buy an IT-solution, you implement it and continue working in a better mode. That’s where the implementation fails as PLM is different. So let’s start our journey

Another aspect mentioned by Jos is related to the role of IT in PLM implementation. Because PLM, according to Jos, is a business transformation, IT cannot successfully manage this project. At the same time, it is hard to get people from specific functional units to be focused on the overall product development process improvements. This is how Jos explains that -

But when it comes to implementation, there is usually only one cross-disciplines unit that can accomplish this assignment: the IT-department. And here is the crucial mistake discovered time after time where PLM implementations fail. PLM is a business transformation, not an IT-system implementation. Business should lead this transformation, but it is very rare you find the right people that have the full overview, skills and availability to implement this transformation across departments. People from the business side will be primarily focused on their (small) part of the full process, leaving at the end the project to be done to IT.

PLM technological challenges

I would like to provide an alternative view on why PLM adoption is slow. It is a technological fault. The technology to solve complicated multi-domain data management problems and cross functional process improvements are not good enough and not ready to mainstream deployments. It requires extra effort and extra understanding how to deploy it successfully. Implementation take long time and, automatically, making technology outdated. Significant investment made by companies in long lifecycle technological products is not allowing to make agile improvements going up to speed with technological changes.

Most of PDM/PLM technologies and products these days were developed 10-15 years ago and it is not reflecting modern state of development coming out of new platforms, web, open source technologies, cloud and many others. It reminded me the initial phase of tablet computer development. Do you remember the early tablet computers? Refresh your memories by navigating to the following wikipedia link. I think some of your might remember this clunky device which require some extra effort to operate as a table and even touch using specially supplied pen interface.

It took time, effort and technological shift to deliver a modern generation of tablet computer – iPad. The spec of iPad was significantly different from early tablet laptop combos. The discussion about iPad limitation back almost 3 years ago reminds me some conversation about modern PLM technologies.

What is my conclusion? The realities of PLM implementations today are high cost, extensive need of services and expensive implementation. Which can be solved by hiring an army of consulting people to take a company through the "PLM transformation" period. That would be a "PLM journey" as we know it now. A potential alternative it to bring new level of technology that will provide new user experience, device independence as well as plug-n-play technology that eliminate needs to people to be involved into long implementations . Do you think it is a dream? I don’t think so… just my thoughts.

Best, Oleg


PLM Simplification: What to give up?

February 26, 2013

Simplification is a trending topic these days. Finally, everybody wants to simplify everything. Vendors are crying to simplify portfolios, developers are crying to simplify user experience, etc. I’ve been reading an interesting writeup about simplification – Simplicity: Fewer steps and Fewer options? by John Evans. I found the following passage the most important to me:

I asked engineers what they thought about simplification of their favorite software. The response was unanimous. “I like the idea, but what would I have to give up? I mean if I had to give up some of the tools that I use everyday, that would probably be a deal killer.”

In the past, I posted about PLM simplification - PLM Simplification: first drop PLM word. My idea back one year was that PLM needs to drop PLM word since it brings a lot of complexity to people. The question of what to give up is the most important when it comes to product development and PLM. Since, we are not talking about mobile phone, digital camera and even not automobile, the question of giving up features is probably less relevant. In my view, it is all about perception and how things can be visible to end users and developers. It made me think about two aspects – visibility of features and perception of complexity.

We like features. Remember old Windows toolbar era with zillion buttons and options. Still, many UIs of older enterprise systems have the same disease. How many of them are you using on daily basis? Not much. Think about MS World? How many of features in this application are you using? The second issue is connected. PLM software is heavily rooted to engineering world. Therefore to show complexity was important. Engineers like engineering toys and these toys need to be complex and powerful. However, when it comes to users in a whole company, the same "visible features and options" become a showstoppers to mass adoptions.

What is my conclusion? Answering on the question "what to give up?", I think PLM needs to give up on visible complexity. Don’t take me wrong and don’t get back to "OOTB PLM" circa 2000s. We need flexible and powerful software. However, we need to figure out how to make it simple and usable for 80% of users that needs it on everyday basis. This is where the science of nice user experience will come into the play. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to prevent PLM cloud from buying experience complexity?

December 17, 2012

Experience is one of the most popular words in tech these days. CAD and PLM vendors are part of this journey as well. I would like to talk about "buying experience". For many customers, enterprise software experience is actually starts from the moment company needs to make a decision what product (software) configuration to buy. PLM and other enterprise software price lists are well known by the complexity. Many products, options, configurations. In many cases, the final decision about the desired configuration of software package can be taken after the evaluation and pilot implementation. Very often, consulting and/or service company needs to be hired to help in software configuration choice.

Opposite to enterprise on premise software, cloud or SaaS software is coming with the model that supposed to simplify the decision process. Especially, when it comes to the buying decision. For many SaaS software companies, the simplification of buying process is one of the most critical elements to success. The configuration of SaaS product is combined from few options like the following one for Salesforce.com. I’m sure you can come with more examples like that.

Over the weekend, my attention was caught by the following article in ReadWriteWeb Enterprise – Cloud Complexity Clouts Enterprise Customers. Author speaks about complication of Amazon Web Service cloud – experience gathered from recent re:Invent conference. One of the sessions of the conference was completely dedicated to… billing. I found the following passage quite interesting:

The billing session came as a bit of a shock. One Apache OpenCloud committer who did not wish to be identified summed it up best: "If you have to have a session on billing, you’re doing it wrong."… It’s a valid argument, because while one should rightfully expect all levels of interest to be addressed at a trade show’s first run, it seems that something like billing for cloud services should be pretty simple and not in need of tutoring. This kind of complexity raises serious questions about the real value of using a public vs. private cloud in the enterprise.

I see the potential of PLM cloud to get infected with the "complexity disease". It can be easy inherited from on-premise PLM portfolios. It can also come from some examples of cloud complexity like the one above. This is a very dangerous trajectory. In my view, cloud software is all about easy experience – buying, starting to use, expanding. Vendors need to be focus how to get customers involved and make a decision fast. Renewal of the service is another key element of success. Complex buying experience and complex paying experience (including billing) won’t help cloud solutions to expand their positions in organizations.

What is my conclusion? The simplification is one of the most strongest trends today. It goes everywhere. Buying experience is one of the most critical elements, since it is one of the first interaction with vendor and software customer may have when he starts adopting a service. It is also critical from the standpoint of understanding software ROI. If you cannot understand your software bill, you most probably will have a problem to calculate ROI too. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of [pakorn] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


SharePoint got infected with PLM disease

September 19, 2012

I was long time I didn’t write anything about SharePoint. I’ve been tracking SharePoint for the last 5-7 years very closely. These days I can hear lots of talks about coming SharePoint 2013. Many of the customers I know are using SharePoint. Back in 2006-2007, the success of SharePoint comes from the ability to provide an easy starting solution to collaborate on files in folders. The technology was easy, came together with Windows server and was free as soon as you have paid Windows server license. It was easy to start and put you hands-on something that gives you value immediately.

Fast-forward to 2012. The situation is different in my view. SharePoint has an established ecosystem of developers, system integrators and support. At the same time, I’m learning that SharePoint became much more complicated. It is not easy to start using SharePoint and it certainly requires time and effort to install and configure SharePoint-based solution.

The following article came to my attention few days ago – Why SharePoint 2013 Isn’t for You. Have a read and make an opinion. I found the following passage important:

SharePoint is not an app that gets upgraded every month as part of an update cycle. It is a development platform for providing business solutions. Large clients who rolled out SharePoint 2010 in the past two years are going to find it hard to justify moving on to 2013 in the near future, unless they can find a business justification for spending the time and money it will take to make the transition.

With this state of mind, SharePoint finally can be qualified with PLM disease you’re familiar. It is hard to install, it requires business strategy and money to configure and support. Bottom line – it is a perfect vehicle to get service organization to earn money. However, the question is how many users will continue to use it and what will happen with SharePoint ecosystem as we move forward.

What is my conclusion? The demand of customers today is how to simplify things. It is certainly true for consumer-oriented software, it comes fast to enterprise as well. I can see many examples here of companies in ERP, CRM and other fields. So, I can see how enterprise software companies are moving towards making things easy. I’d be concerned if the software I use gets complicated and requires more effort to install and configure. PLM was and still there. Most of traditional PLM products are struggling of PLM disease of complicated installation, long implementation cycle and need for support and maintenance on site. Just my thoughts.. Are you using SharePoint and PLM today? What is your take?

Best, Oleg

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


PLM and the death of complexity

April 24, 2012

The complexity of engineering and manufacturing software is a well-known fact. The topic isn’t really new. For the last couple of years the complexity topic came to me in different context and various forms. Two weeks ago, I was writing about that in my blog – PLM: Data, Search and Future User Experience. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, please take a look.

One of my working hypotheses these days is that consumer market and consumer software provides a significant injection of ideas for user experience. In parallel consumer behaviors of web and other software are changing state of mind of many end users. I was reading an article outline from Gartner about consumer trends that impact technology. I found this write up quite interesting. Navigate your browser to the following link to read it – Gartner Outlines 10 Consumer Macro Trends to Impact Technology, Media and Service Providers for Next 10 Years and have a read. This passage is my favorite one.

Market Trend No. 9 — The Death of Complexity

The consumer market is becoming progressively less tolerant of complexity. Although consumers tend to buy products with ever-richer features, they often prefer those that are simple and intuitive. The ability to provide appealing and intuitive user interfaces has become a critical point of differentiation among competing technology providers. As technology becomes more complex, vendors need to invest more in keeping the user interface simple and intuitive. T&SPs therefore need to focus on simplifying technology, pricing, brand messaging, and feedback and interaction, and consider offering chargeable help services for consumers challenged by installing and configuring new equipment and services in their homes.

It made me think that fighting complexity will be one of the most critical elements of the future CAD/PLM vendor strategies. I was looking on what CAD/PLM companies are doing these days. I can summarize it in the following 3 directions:

1- Leverage OS user experience.

This direction was very popular in the past. In the world of Microsoft Windows dominance, to adopt OS user experience and make your application transparent is an interesting decision. It started from leveraging File Explorer UI and continue towards deeper integration with Microsoft Office, SharePoint and other systems. The examples are SolidWorks EPDM, PTC Windchill and few others.

2- Mimic successful web application in consumer market

Web is the source of inspiration for many startup companies and well established brands in CAD / PLM. The most popular elements of use experience that companies have tried to use were – Google search and Social Networking. The experiments presented by Siemens PLM as Active Workspace is one of the examples. Dassault came with Exalead search SBA, but I have never seen something that was delivered in this space by Exalead after DS acquisition.

3- 3D and Gaming

Because design content in CAD is visual and in many cases is 3D, companies have tried to use gaming analogies to develop the next successful user experience in this space. 3DLive from Dassault was clearly pioneering in this space by delivering their 3DLive. These days, I want to mention Siemens PLM Active Workspace. It is another interesting experience of mixing of 3D and search experience.

What is my conclusion? The death of the complexity is here. PLM and other software vendors in the manufacturing and engineering space need to take a note. The user experience will not be set by enterprise monsters. New generation of people will not tolerate the complex PLM software. This is a time to rest the expectations. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM User Experience and The Evil of Folders?

May 24, 2011

Ask people about usability of PLM and other enterprise data management systems. From my experience, the answer is simple – it is way too complex. Very few PDM systems in the past were recognized as simple and easy to use. It made me think about Folders.

Folders: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A long time ago, folders were invented to organize files in the operation system. The idea of folders and files did proliferate and became the major paradigm for information organization almost everywhere. It was so easy to place files into folders, so office people started to use this organization to store and classify the information. Wide expansion of Windows platforms just helped to spread the idea of folders even more. At the same time, the simplicity of folders has many drawbacks. One of them is the need to duplicate information between folders. The introduction of "shortcuts’ in Windows didn’t solve the problem. In many situations, people will prefer to copy files between folders and not to create a "shortcut" to another folder. Another drawback of folders is inability to find information in an easy way.

CAD / PDM – starting from simple folders

Starting from the early beginning, CAD systems relied on files and folders to save information in computer systems. CAD files spread out on workstations and, later, on PC/Windows computers. The complexity of folder structures introduced various problems related to location of files, references and version management.

Developers of data management solutions for engineers (TDM, EDM, PDM) are heavily inherited and relied on the idea of folder data organizations. It was well understood by people and easy. Many data management systems in the past implant the idea of folder organization and made their solution simple to use. At the same time, in my view, using the same folder paradigm was a problem with increased complexity of data. As a consequence of this, many systems that were initially clear, but system got very complicated with the time.

PLM – Usability Sucks

PLM concepts requires significant expansion of data management scope in the organization. The amount of data and complexity are growing. At the same time, the concept of "folders" was kept by the developers of many PLM systems for capturing and management information structures. It caused a significant complication in data organizations and the overall user experience. Navigating between folders and hierarchical structures became complex and not efficient. File folders, Projects, Requirements, Bill of Materials, Suppliers, Requirements – this is only a short list of various elements of data that need to be organized by PLM.

Possible Solutions

The obvious question asked by many PLM developers was how to improve PLM user experience. Recently, PLM vendors came with several innovations related to that. Some of them moved to enhanced visualization and immersive usage of 3D. Some of them moved to SharePoint as a solution to solve usability issues. However, "folders concept" is still there. Do you think "Folder" is ultimate evil? The discussion is under way, and I don’t see a final point. With the development of some web user interface, we started to see some new and fresh ideas are coming from that side – search, web 2.0, tags and other solutions are proliferating, and we started to see some ideas how to simplify things. At the same time, the conservatism of users pushes it back to something known and even convenient (at least from the beginning).

What is my conclusion? The usability of PLM and other systems related to the data is far away from being optimized. This is not a secret. People demands these days to get it as clean and as simple as possible. The last recognizable effort to change the status quo, was to present Microsoft SharePoint as a universal hammer to solve the usability problem in the enterprise. This is a place where innovation will continuously happen in a near future.

Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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