Do We Need Engineering Note App?

March 27, 2014

engineering-notes-app

Yesterday’s post about how engineers can collaborate in the office, made me think about another aspect of collaboration – taking notes. You may argue… Taking notes isn’t specifically collaborative activity. However, I can see it very tightly coupled with our ability to communicate and collaborate.

There are lots of applications for notes taking these days. Just to mention few of them – Evernote, OneNote, Word processing applications such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs. You can see a comparison of some popular applications here. Mobile is another interesting platform today for notes taking and it created a separate niche. Take a look here – Five best mobile note taking apps. Expanding even more, Evernote is transforming into platform and allows to other development specific note taking apps – The Best Evernote Apps for Organizing Even More of Your Life.

Do you think engineers are taking notes? I think, they do. I have to admit that I do… I also know few other engineers that taking notes. Now think about engineers using CAD systems and many other engineering and manufacturing applications. Do they need a special application to take notes? Maybe CAD should develop "note function"? Maybe new social collaboration tools will provide it? I don’t know. Nevertheless, I want to outline some specific functional requirements for engineering notes app:

1- Engineering context support. When you take notes, you want to be able to capture snippet of a specific content coming from CAD and maybe other engineering content creation tools (analysis, bill of materials, etc.)

2- Integrated camera for 3D, photo, voice and video capturing. It is very important to be able to capture real world content. Engineers can take this app to field trips or use it at shop floor. Ability to take photo, video or even capturing 3D model is extremely useful.

3 – Integrated measurement tools. Measurement is another aspect of engineering activity. To have ability to take measurement in the field or check dimensions can be extremely important.

What is my conclusion? There are lots of general purpose application for taking notes. Nevertheless, I think, customization is important. To have note taking app tailored for the needs of engineers can be an interesting option. Especially, if this app will support a specific engineering context. If you know one, please let me know. I didn’t find it yet. How to make this app? This is a tricky question. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Not an evil PDM can save engineer’s memory

December 15, 2013

pdm-memory-saver

PDM is not a new domain in enterprise, engineering and manufacturing software. It might sounds like PDM functions are clearly defined. Navigate to Tech-clarity blog – PDM buyer’s guide and you will have a good "shopping list" for PDM system and functions. Unfortunately, engineers are not appreciating PDM. Even more, if you ask engineers, the majority of them will tell you that PDM is actually in many aspects makes their lives more complicated and slow working process. Most of PDM values and functions are more appreciated by managers rather than by engineers and designers. These days, industry and technology around PDM are quite disruptive. It comes from different dimensions – cloud file storage (like Google drive and Dropbox), immersive file sharing services and social networks.

Earlier during weekend, I was reading New York Times article – An App That Will Never Forget a File. The article speaks about Evernote – application you might be using already in your everyday life. The interesting spin NYT article takes is by presenting Evernote as a lifesaver for people in their everyday work with files and other contents (e.g. photos, notes and many others). Here is an interesting passage I captured:

Evernote provides a comprehensive single archive of your digital life, giving you one location to store and find practically everything saved on a computer or phone. And the files are automatically backed up on Evernote’s servers. It even makes sharing things with others far easier than emailing attachments around — but it will do that, too.

At first, Evernote may seem redundant to existing tools like email and iCloud, but the service is hard to give up after a week’s use. You won’t want to return to a life of running from device to device for your files. If you start to use the program frequently, you’ll probably find that the premium upgrade makes a lot of sense. With the upgrade, you will have a hard time reaching the storage limit unless you are saving a lot of video. Second, it allows you to search within documents, which can come in incredibly handy. Third, it will let you store copies of important items on your computer or phone, an inevitable lifesaver for anyone who travels without reliable Internet access.

Article about Evernote made me think about how to spin off future PDM capabilities to make PDM appreciated by engineers. Let think about engineer’s memory. To remember what are you doing during design iteration is very complicated. When it happens in collaborative environment with many engineers involved, it can be next to impossible. However, if you will think about possible merge of design iteration, people can think you are dreamer. Now, let’s make another steps towards the future and imagine this functionality will come to engineers with no extra effort (similar to Evernote and Google Docs revisions support). That’s can make a clear difference with today’s PDM environment.

What is my conclusion? Shakeout is needed in PDM. To keep developing similar functions we did for the last 10-15 years won’t create a difference for engineers and designers. We need to have "not an evil PDM concept". The new generation of PDM will capture engineer’s activity seamlessly from multiple devices and in any place (think about Evernote strategy). It will allow to engineers to free their memory and focus on design and innovation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM, Engineers and Collective Memory

January 24, 2013

Many years ago, one of my mentors told me that "the worst pencil is better than the best memory". I liked it. Since than, I have no trust in remembering things. I started to take notes. I switched to be completely paperless 4-5 years ago. The biggest problem on my way to become completely paperless was the ability to capture information at the time you need it coming from multiple sources. Finally, iPhone and combination of apps allowed me to create an environment where I can keep track of my activities and get access to this at any time.

Engineering people are bad organized (please, don’t take it personally). Processes and work planning are not going well with engineers designing and creating new products. Companies tried to create innovation process management software, but in my view it was very unsuccessful. At the same time, I can see a need of engineers to capture information alongside their everyday activities.

One of the products I’m using to capture the information on a daily basis is Evernote. It supports many ways to capture notes using web and mobile versions including capturing of videos, pictures, website links and many others. Combined with search function, it helps to keep things organized. Evernote is not alone in this market. Two additional notable companies in this space – Clipboard and Snip.it. The last one was snatched by Yahoo few days ago. Watch the following two videos if you are not using similar products in your life.

From Personal to Collective Memory

I found a total absence of tools that can help engineers to capture their everyday working activities. Of course, engineers are not prohibited from usage of Evernote, Google and many other tools. At the same time, one of the key elements in capturing the activity is contextual relationships to information. In case of Evernote, it is photo, voice memos, videos, etc. To make engineering and design context capturing can be an interesting opportunity, in my view. They key element is efficiency. Engineers won’t tolerate even additional 30 secs of their working time. However, to memorize design idea, concept or decision can be extremely powerful.

The next interesting step can come with the ability to provide information around a particular item, drawing, product, customer, etc. collected by different people in organization. Such type of clipboards can become a sort of collective memories. The potential value can be significant – lost ideas, forgotten decisions, potential customer problems and many others.

What is my conclusion? Our memory is not efficient. To be able to capture information around engineering and design activity is still very untapped place. Usability is a key. Vendors can learn from tools like Evernote and others how to create a tool you can use in your everyday life in any environment. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of [keattikorn] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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