PDM & PLM UI Makeup: new trend in user experience

November 12, 2014

old-UI

User experience is in focus these days. Slowly, but surely enterprise software companies are coming to the point of understanding how important is that. It is not about changing of colors and making buttons nicer. It is about how to get a major revamp in behavior of software or how often we call these days – user experience. I’ve been following this trend since my very early posts. I want to mention few of them you may consider to review again – PUI: Not PLM UI. Future User Experience and 5 NOs to make PLM usable. I want also to refer you to the article in UX MagazineOverhauling a UI Without Upsetting Current Users. My favorite passage is related to differences between aesthetic and functional improvements.

A redesigned UI that looks pretty but fails to deliver new value will not only disappoint new users but will also alienate existing, previously satisfied users, and the news of this failure will spread rapidly. Never make the mistake of thinking that a product’s aesthetic is the same as the product’s actual experience.

My attention was caught by SolidWorks blog speaking about redesigned web client for widely popular SolidWorks Enterprise PDM.

Web2 for SOLIDWORKS Enterprise PDM is a brand new web client for both desktop and mobile platforms. This new web client enables fast file searching and browsing, easy navigation, and access to all common functions like Where Used, Contains, Check-in and Check-out, and Change State. It is also easy to upload and download files for remote workers to interact with the vault and your design projects.

SolidWorks blog made think about actually a whole trend of UI redesigns for PDM / PLM products for the last year. I’ve made few Google searches and want to come with examples.

Autodesk Vault Thin (web) client’s new look was delivered as part of Autodesk Vault Professional 2014. Navigate here to get more info. The following description and video can give you an idea of that.

The new Autodesk Vault Thin Client 2014 has been completely redesigned to provide a superior experience when accessing a Vault through a web browser. The redesign includes Enhanced user interfaces, Customizable view functionalities, New BOM interface, and Enhanced report printing.

Earlier this year, Aras Corp came with new Aras Innovator 10 version delivering long awaited new web client. Navigate to the following link to get more information and read Aras press release. Here is a short snippet to summary UI changes.

The latest open release provides a new level of PLM platform scalability for enterprises with global supply chains, and introduces an HTML5 browser interface which redefines usability making PLM more accessible for business users. Aras Innovator 10 introduces an HTML5 browser interface with a clean, modern design. The release is technology focused with Firefox browser support, the item on our Roadmap that has received the most votes ever, and includes inputs from ECCO, GE, MAN and others.

Aras-10-UI

Another example came from recently announced update of Autodesk PLM360. Design & Motion blog post by Scott Moyse does a great job outlining UI changes:

When PLM 360 was launch in late February 2012, the web technology used within the user interface was circa 2008 & 2009. In web terms that’s quite old, although nothing like the 20-30 year old technology used by some of their competitors. As a result the Autodesk team believed they could do a lot better to redefine the User Experience. With these upcoming changes, the development team have leveraged the most modern HTML 5 & AngularJS web frameworks, to provide a rich speedy interface. The website now behaves much more like a desktop application with respect to response times from user interaction.

plm360-html5-UI

What is my conclusion? I guess nobody wants to work with application like you can see on the first picture above. PDM and PLM vendors are clearly recognized the trend towards improvements of user experience and user interface. It confirmed by multiple projects in that space and acknowledged by many customers. New generation of users is coming and the demand to deliver modern consumer level user experience in enterprise software tool is the reality of today. The danger here is to come with polished user interface without re-thinking actual product experience for end user. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit.


Cloud PDM hack with Google Drive and other tools

November 6, 2014

google-drive-app-launch

Earlier this week I talked about future of ubiquitous CAD cloud drives. My hunch CAD and other engineering software companies will be trying to use new cloud technologies to improve the way people collaborate on design. The question what tool to use for CAD file collaboration is not simple. I discussed it last year – Top 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool.

Engineering software vendors are trying to bring values such as collaborative viewing, redlining and even project collaboration. At the same time, companies focused on generic file sharing and collaboration are in a full swing to improve their mainstream solutions as well.

Some interesting news came from Google yesterday. Read Google blog post – Launch desktop applications from Google Drive in Chrome. The story is quite simple – Google is chasing Dropbox in the way how to make Google Drive even more transparent to work with desktop tools.

But here’s the catch: when it comes to browsers and installed applications working well together, they aren’t quite on the same page. To change that, today we’re launching a new extension for Chrome that lets you open files from Google Drive directly into a compatible application installed on your computer. This includes apps like advanced image and video editing software, accounting and tax programs, or 3D animation and design tools. So, no matter what you keep in Drive, using the web to access and manage files doesn’t mean you’re limited to using applications that only work in your browser.

Unfortunately, CAD files are not in the list of supported file types. I guess, it may change in the future. A transparent sync of files between cloud and local file storage can open a new opportunity and hack the way to simplify future cloud PDM solutions. Still, majority of tools used by engineers today are desktop tools.

One of the biggest challenge I can see here is speed of synchronization and work with multiple dependent files. It can create an opportunity for cloud PDM vendors to innovate. Some of these problems can be solved by software technologies – cloud PDM and Dropbox Streaming Sync. CAD vendors are looking how to innovate in cloud PDM as well. Example – Autodesk adds PDM functionality to PLM360. Alternatively, I can see some potential in hardware solutions to create virtual cloud file system. Here is one possible example of such solution – Panzura Global File System.

What is my conclusion? Cloud to desktop transparency is a big deal. There is no magic. If you want to use desktop tool you need to sync files. However, technology that can make it transparent can simplify user experience and make users unaware about actual location of files and the way files are going to be synchronized. It will allow to use existing CAD tools but and manage and collaborate using cloud. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Files Detox

October 21, 2014

zero-files-no-CAD-files

The digital life around us is changing. It was a time when everything we did was running around desktop computer. You do your job, Save As… and, yes(!) put it in a file that can give you control over the result of your job. That’s the reason why engineers are in love with CAD files and Excel spreadsheets – it gives them full control of what they do. Excels are getting messy within time, but we can start a new file or open a new Excel spreadsheet.

Rob Cohee of Autodesk reminded me how much engineers are in love with files in his LinkedIn article – My Name is Rob, and I’m Addicted to Files. I captured few passages from Rob’s article before. He brilliantly explains the full engineering enjoyment of control over design and related information.

It started out small with a .DWG here, a .DOC, there with a sprinkle of .XLS files in between.

I had the freedom to create all this data, and the power is nothing short of addicting. Critical design requirements, tolerance, specification, and performance requirements, assembly instructions, a digital folder of file after file containing all of this critical information. I was the Michelangelo of AutoCAD R13 C4, the DWG was my canvas, safety was my muse.

The drawing file became everything. It was my design, requirements document, revision control, my parts list, my BOM, my supplier and procurement instructions, my cut list, my everything. All that data, all in one place locked away in my CAD file that only I had access to make modifications. The control was dizzying, euphoric at times. Any change to the drawing file had to go through me and me alone.

Rob’s article reminded me some of my old posts – The future of CAD without files. I still like very much a diagram I placed there from O’Reilly Radar article – Why files need to die. Here is my conclusion back into 2011.

The fundamentals of CAD and design systems are files. We use them to store assemblies, parts, drawings. In addition to that, we use them as a reference in many places. Do think “file” paradigm will live with CAD and other design systems forever? The movement of CAD vendors seems to me the obvious application of modern web principles to the world of design and engineering. The initial signals are here. CATIA V6 pushed the limits and eliminated files by connecting CATIA system directly to Enovia back-end. Autodesk cloud experiments with systems like AutoCAD WS made existence of files on the disc obsolete. PTC introduced Creo Apps. It will be interesting to see if PTC will come with the future idea of eliminating files. I think the computing and information paradigms are shifting from file-oriented to data (and web) oriented. The initial signs are here. The speed of this movement is questionable. Manufacturing is slow changing environment and engineers are very reluctant to changes.

PDM (Product Data Management) was a solution to end CAD file mess. PDM systems came to hunt for CAD and other files. The intent was to bring files into order, manage revisions, share data and… after some time, to eliminate files. We can see it started to happen now in some high-end systems such as CATIA V6. So, why PDM failed to detox engineers from files? Here is the thing… PDM was invented to help engineers to manage and control data. It sounds like engineers should like PDM, since it helps them to control files. But it didn’t go according to the plan. PDM added "frictions" into engineering freedom to create data in the way engineers want. Name control, check-in/out, approvals, etc. As a result of that, PDM failed to become a friend and turned to be engineers’ nightmare. Engineers don’t like PDM and in many situations engineers were forced to use PDM.

Working environment is changing fast. We are getting disconnected from files in our digital life. Our everyday workflows are getting distributed, mobile, disconnected from desktops and… files. We want to get access to data and not to files. To make this process successful, we need to think how to remove frictions. When you go to engineering school, you learn about importance of frictions. But software is different. Especially these days. Frictions can slow down the process of software adoption.

What is my conclusion? Engineering and manufacturing is slow changing environment. Engineers are conservative and design minded. Therefore, many PLM tools failed to become a favorite engineering data management and collaboration tool. Large teams accepted PDM tools because they had no choice. I believe, the future won’t belong to files. We are going to see more data-driven environment around us. To establish such environment is one of the main challenges for PLM companies today. To make it happen, PLM vendors must think how to remove frictions between users and PLM tools. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Kenesto revamp: does it change cloud PLM game?

October 17, 2014

kenesto-edm

It has been more than two years since I was reviewing Kenesto – an outfit founded by Mike Payne with the a strong vision to simplify process management. Navigate to the following article PLM, Kenesto and process experience to refresh your memories.

Steve Bodnar of Kenesto put comments on my blog about Google Drive and 3rd party apps with hints about some Kenesto functionality around file synchronization and cloud data management. It was a good alert that Kenesto is preparing some refresh. The following Kenesto press release caught my attention yesterday – Kenesto Extends Engineering Collaboration with New Vaulting and State-of-the-art Desktop File Synchronization. I found it interesting, since it moved Kenesto from process management cloud tool into something bigger – data management and vaulting. Back in 2012, I thought, that ability to handle engineering data is a big differentiation between traditional PLM system and cloud process management tool like Kenesto. The following passage from Kenesto press release can give a short description of the shift Kenesto made – it moved into data and file management space.

Kenesto today announced the full availability of its latest innovations – file vaulting and a pioneering file synchronization service – to enable mainstream design and engineering firms to more easily and effectively collaborate and manage their data. Kenesto’s latest capabilities also work well in conjunction with such design tools as Creo®, SolidEdge®, SolidWorks®, and Spaceclaim® for manufacturing customers and also Revit® for AEC customers, to enable file management and sharing across design workflows. This is all done while also ensuring proper handling of updates to component and assembly models connected to items and bills-of-material, for example.

I made a trip into Kenesto website. It presents a broad range of solutions – engineering design management, change management, procurement and supplier collaboration, program and project management. These are traditional PLM suspects. However, some of solutions are clearly outside of typical PLM domain – management of marketing program, PR and advertising, idea management.

Kenesto features are covering wide range of capabilities – projects, dashboard, reporting, document management, vaulting, web viewing, workflow and task management. My special attention caught Enterprise-class File Synchronization. This is an interesting feature and it made me think about cloud PDM functionality and cloud file sharing. My blog- Cloud PDM ban lifted. What next? speaks about growing interest of PLM and other vendors to apply cloud technologies to PDM – space that traditionally tried to avoid cloud-touch. So, Kenesto just joined the cloud of cloud PDM vendors and I need to add Kenesto in the list of companies open for cloud PDM competition.

kenestoDesktopSync

What is my conclusion? It looks like Kenesto decided to change the trajectory of Kenesto technologies and moved from process and workflow management to a full scope of product data management and lifecycle solutions. I guess Kenesto prefers not to use traditional PDM, PLM buzzwords. However, Engineering Data Management (EDM) acronym made me feel a bit nostalgia… At the same time, cloud sync and in-browser office files editing tools can provide an interesting differentiation in cloud-era. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: Kenesto didn’t sponsor and didn’t influence content of this blog post.


Cloud PDM ban lifted. What next?

September 24, 2014

cloud-pdm-pivoting

Once upon a time "cloud" was a taboo word in PLM domain. It was hard to believe manufacturing companies will share product information and manage processes using cloud tools. The situation is different today. For the last two years all major PLM vendors announced their support for cloud and developed their own cloud strategies. Some of my previous posts outlined my take on diversity of cloud PLM strategies: Autodesk enters PLM. Everything changed…; Why Siemens can develop PaaS option; Dassault is going to support all PLM cloud option by 2015+; PLM cloud switch and PTC final click. Some of CAD and PLM companies are mentioned on the top 500 cloud apps vendor list.

At the same time, one aspect of cloud and PLM was long time undeniable. It will be very hard (or even impossible) to think about using cloud system to manage CAD data. In other words, cloud PDM possibility was questionable. In the early days of On-demand (or SaaS) software, development of CAD integration between desktop CAD systems and web (on-demand) PLM tools was quite complicated. Several companies tried to do so, but results were questionable. Most of cloud collaboration and PLM tools developed for the last few years avoided management of CAD files and limited their functionality to publishing of CAD data mostly in CAD-neutral formats.

GrabCAD was first company eager to market cloud PDM solutions. GrabCAD Workbench was introduced earlier this year and focused on providing simple CAD data management solution to engineers in GrabCAD community and other companies.

grabcad-workbench-2

grabcad-workbench-1

You can read one of my takes on how GrabCAD wants to disrupt CAD file management few months ago.

Last week, at Autodesk PLM360 customer event in Boston, Autodesk’s Brian Roepke made an early preview of cloud (PDM) document management capabilities. Navigate to my blog from last week to learn more. Below you can see few pictures from demonstration.

plm360-cloud-pdm-2

plm360-cloud-pdm-1

By introducing PLM360 CAD data management capabilities such as versioning, relationships and embedded viewing, PLM360 is going to provide an alternative to traditional PDM systems. One of biggest challenges of the cloud is connection speed and ability to work with large files. Autodesk provided some hints on how the problem of large CAD files transfer will be solved. Trademarked as "Transfer Avoidance (TM)", this technology will optimize data transfer between desktop and cloud servers.

For long period of time, CAD and PDM integration was a very boring place. All PDM/PLM vendors developed their versions of CAD integrations. Competition was mainly focused on how to access CAD APIs in a timely manner as well as to support right versions and features of new CAD packages. I covered challenges of CAD/PDM integrations few months ago – How to re-invent CAD/PDM integration? After long period of time, GrabCAD was a first company introduced new concept of CAD integration. In my view, PLM360 document management capabilities open a new page in CAD/PDM innovation including new technological solution to optimize data transfer.

What is my conclusion? You cannot stop innovation. It was only matter of time for CAD/PLM companies to discover how to leverage cloud to improve CAD/PDM integration. My hunch, it is just a beginning of "cloud PDM" revolution. Cloud PDM ban lifted. Both GrabCAD and Autodesk are pioneers in this domain. I have no doubt, sooner than later, we are going to see what other PLM vendors will develop. There is a certain advantages to be "first mover". However, coming later to the game will allow to other PLM companies to learn from mistakes. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m Autodesk employee. However, the views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions – expressed or implied – of my employer.


Engineers and email workhorse

August 27, 2014

email-workhorse-plm

We love and hate email at the same time. Since early beginning (back in 1962) email remains one of the fundamental ways of electronic communication. One of the major email transformation back in 1990s was influence of internet and significant expansion of email content and functionality.

In the world of software vendors banking on collaboration, the death of email was predicted long time ago. Engineering software (CAD and PLM) vendors are part of that group. The need to transfer large CAD files was on of the most critical reasons used by companies developing PDM/PLM software against email in communication and collaboration.

Nevertheless, despite all predictions, email is alive and transforming. I’ve been reading Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet. Article explains why email will never die and provides a very good set of arguments to support that statement. Here is my favorite passage:

You can’t kill email! It’s the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing. Email is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built. In that way, email represents a different model from the closed ecosystems we see proliferating across our computers and devices. Email is a refugee from the open, interoperable, less-controlled "web we lost." It’s an exciting landscape of freedom amidst the walled gardens of social networking and messaging services.

Speaking about email transformation, I want to mention (again) the strategy of "unbundling" of email. The article brings few interesting examples of email unbundling – newsfeed, identification platform, direct social communication, digital package delivery service, business and work communication, etc. However, one of the key issues related to remaining popularity of email is the role email plays as a communication platform. The main point here is how to make communication smarter. Here is an interesting explanation from the same article:

This change might be accelerated by services like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, which sorts mail neatly (and automatically) into categories, or Unroll.me, which allows users to bundle incoming impersonal communications like newsletters and commercial offers into one easy custom publication. That is to say, our inboxes are getting smarter and smarter. Serious tools are being built to help us direct and manage what was once just a chronological flow, which people dammed with inadequate organization systems hoping to survive the flood. (Remember all the folders in desktop email clients!)

I found the topic of "smart communication" interesting. This is can be a refreshing idea. At the end of the day, engineers are looking how to make communication easy and smart. At the same time, the adoption of new communication tools can be hard and limited if you need to communicate across multiple organizations and individual networks. I was discussing some aspects of unbundling in the field of 3D, CAD and PLM. Email or let’s call it engineering communication platform can be another "unbundled" service.

What is my conclusion? Efficient collaboration and communication is a key. PDM/PLM vendors are trying to find a new innovative way to re-invent collaboration. Internet, cloud, social… we’ve heard many names and buzzwords for the last few years. To re-invent communication leveraging email communication platform by making your email inbox smarter can be a refreshing approach. What do you think? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How much cost to build PLM software?

August 21, 2014

plm-startup-cost

The new normal – we need less money to build software these days. My attention caught Andreessen Horowitz article The Happy Demise of the 10X Engineer. In a nutshell, we live in the era when infrastructure cost is going down and the cost of software engineers is going up. The following passage is important:

As the leverage of the individual software engineer increases, the barriers to becoming a code creator are falling fast. The same software foundation (open source software, development tools like Github, infrastructure as a service provided by the likes of Digital Ocean, and more) that allowed Whatsapp and Imgur to scale, means that experience and skill writing software become less important. An individual can now scale a web app to millions of users with Digital Ocean, Heroku and AWS (perhaps coordinated by Mesosphere). It no longer requires a sophisticated understanding of MySQL parameters to scale a database on Google App Engine, just as it no longer requires a knowledge of the CPU chip it’s all chugging away on.

Nowadays, the open source software foundation, Amazon (AWS) and web distribution allows you to build software and ship it initially without significant upfront expense. Another article by ReadWriteWeb – You Don’t Need To Be An Engineering Genius To Start A Billion-Dollar Company compares the cost of hardware and storage with the cost of engineers between 1998 and 2013.

infra-vs-eng-cost-plm-software

In 1985, storage was a key expense, running $100,000 per gigabyte, while a developer could expect to get paid $28,000 per year. By 2013, things had changed considerably. Now storage is cheap, costing $0.05 per GB. Developers, on the other hand, are expensive $90,000 per year.

Both articles made me think about what is the cost of building PDM and PLM software today. Does new normal rule of building web and mobile startups apply to the world of engineering and manufacturing software? The world of enterprise software is probably different from web and mobile. At the same time, changes I mentioned above in development eco-system and infrastructure cost apply to PLM world as well. So, the answer is far from yes or no. Here is more structured answer related to building of PDM/PLM software.

1. Foundation and Development Infrastructure

Web and open source eco-system created a huge software foundation stack. As a new company, you have a huge opportunity for re-use. This stack wasn’t available 10 years ago. In the past, enterprise companies didn’t tolerate open source software. The situation is completely different today. From that standpoint you can build new software with near to zero development infrastructure cost.

2. Private vs. public cloud

Public cloud is the best world for web startups. Most of them can run in production on AWS or similar public cloud hosting services and scale as usage will increasing. However, many manufacturing companies are still sitting on the fence of private vs. public cloud decision. So, you need to choose. You can either cut your potential customer audience or will be required to incur an additional cost of private cloud configurations, data centers and infrastructure.

3. Domain expertise

You need to get your hands dirty into engineering and manufacturing business. It is different from web photo sharing, messaging and mobile games. There are less people available in this field, which will obviously bump your cost up compared to some other industries.

4. Distribution and sales

To go viral is one of the most desired way to distribute web and mobile software. You go viral or die. The applicability of "viral model" for PLM is questionable. Speak to enterprise sales people and they will explain you the difference between software that needs to be sold vs. software that can be bought. Sales and marketing expenses in enterprise space can be huge.

What is my conclusion? It is easy to build technology and product. However, it is very hard to build business. The technology is getting cheaper. The best part of this trend – it allows you to experiment without significant investment to find product-market fit. PLM industry has its own domain ecosystem and specific rules. Engineers need to be familiar with use cases, existing software, tools and environment to succeed. The last one can push engineering cost of building PLM software even higher than average. The last and the most critical part is distribution and sales. Be prepared to pay huge cost for that. The good news – you don’t need to do it upfront. Enterprise software space is changing dramatically these days. So, I’d agree with Excite founder Joe Kraus and his 2005 article"There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur because it’s never been cheaper to be one". Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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