Data has an important place in our life. Shopping lists, calendars, emails, websites, family photos, trip videos, documents, etc. We want our data to be well organized and easy to find. Marketing folks like to use the term – data at your fingertips. However, the reality is just opposite. Data is messy. We store it in multiple places, we forget names of documents and we can hardly control it.
Everything I said above applies to manufacturing companies too. But, it gets even more complicated. Departments, contractors, suppliers, multiple locations and multiple systems. So, data lives in silos – databases, network drives, databases, multiple enterprise systems. In my article – PLM One Big Silo, I’ve been talking about organizational and application silos. The data landscape in every manufacturing company is very complex. Software vendors are trying to crush silos by introducing large platforms that can help to integrate and connect information. It takes time and huge cost to implement such system in a real world organization. Which makes it almost a dream for many companies.
In my view, openness will play a key role in the ability of system to integrate and interconnect. It will help to get access to information across the silos and it leads to one of the key problem of data sharing and identity. To manage data in silos is a complex tasks. It takes time to organize data, to figure out how to interconnect data, organize data reporting and to support data consistency. I covered it more in my PLM implementations: nuts and bolts of data silos article.
Joe Barkai’s article Design Reuse: Reusing vs. Cloning and Owning speaks about the problem of data re-use. In my view, data reuse problem is real and connected directly to the issue of data silos. I liked the following passage from Joe’s article:
If commonly used and shared parts and subsystems carry separate identities, then the ability to share lifecycle information across products and with suppliers is highly diminished, especially when products are in different phases of their lifecycle. In fact, the value of knowledge sharing can be greater when it’s done out of sync with lifecycle phase. Imagine, for example, the value of knowing the manufacturing ramp up experience of a subsystem and the engineering change orders (ECOs) that have been implemented to correct them before a new design is frozen. In an organization that practices “cloning and owning”, it’s highly likely that this kind of knowledge is common knowledge and is available outside that product line.
An effective design reuse strategy must be built upon a centralized repository of reusable objects. Each object—a part, a design, a best practice—should be associated with its lifecycle experience: quality reports, ECOs, supplier incoming inspections, reliability, warranty claims, and all other representations of organizational knowledge that is conducive and critical to making better design, manufacturing and service related decisions.
Unfortunately, the way most of companies and software vendors are solving this problem today is just data sync. Yes, data is syncing between multiple systems. Brutally. Without thinking multiple times. In the race to control information, software vendors and implementing companies are batch-syncing data between multiple databases and applications. Parts, bill of materials, documents, specifications, etc. Data is moving from engineering applications to manufacturing databases back and forth. Specifications and design information is syncing between OEM controlled databases and suppliers’ systems. This data synchronization is leading to lot of inefficiency and complexity.
It must be a better way to handle information. To allow efficient data reuse, we need to think more about how to link data together and not synchronize it between applications and databases. This is not a simple task. Industry that years was taking "sync" as a universal way to solve problem of data integration cannot shift overnight and work differently. But here is a good news. For the last two decades, web companies accumulated lot of experience related to management of huge volumes of interconnected data. The move towards cloud services is creating an opportunity to work with data differently. It will provide new technologies of data integration and data management. It also can open new ways to access data across silos. As a system that manage product data, PLM can introduce a new way of linking information and help to reuse data between applications.
What is my conclusion? There is an opportunity to move from sync to link of data. It will allow to simplify data management and will help to reuse data. It requires conceptual rethink of how problems of data integrations are solved between vendors. By providing "link to data" instead of actually "syncing data", we can help company to streamline processes and improve quality of products. Just my thoughts…