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


Existing data prevents companies to improve Part Numbers?

August 15, 2014

historical-part-numbers

Part Numbers is a fascinating topic. I’m coming back to blog about what is the best approach to manage Part Numbers. My last post about it was – Part Numbers are hard. How to think about data first? was just few weeks ago. In that article, I outlined few principles how to keep PN separate from surrounding data focusing on different aspects of parts – description, classification, configurations, suppliers, etc.

Yesterday, my attention was caught by ThomasNet article – Are Part Numbers Too Smart for Their Own Good? The article nailed down a key issue why companies are still having difficulties with management of Part Numbers. Nothing works from scratch in engineering companies. Complexity of characteristics and history of existing Part Numbers and products are making real difficulties to adopt new PN management concepts. The following passage explains the problem:

Another problem with descriptive numbering is that the description can become out of date and irrelevant over time. Individual parts can have their own life cycles; if a part has been identified according to the product, what happens if that product is discontinued but the part continues to be used in a newer product? Or what if a manufacturer changes vendors and the part number contains the name of the vendor that originally provided the piece?

Gilhooley admits that some Ultra Consultants clients have decided that switching from descriptive to auto-generated numbering would require too much organizational change. Some companies stick with old systems, and some opt for hybrid systems that perhaps retain descriptive numbers for existing parts but use auto-generated numbers for new parts.

It looks like there is no single solution or best practice to solve the problem. The "traditional" engineering approach to keep options to manage a diverse set company configuration looks like the only possible way to solve this problem in existing PLM/ERP systems.

What is my conclusion? History keeps customers from moving forward. There are two aspects of complexity in Part Numbers: 1/ complexity of definition and data classification; 2/ historical records of PN in every company including catalogs and existing products. Together, they create a block to make any changes in existing PN schema and prevent companies from migration towards new approaches. New data modeling technologies must be invented to handle existing data as well as supporting customers to migrate into modern PLM and ERP solutions. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why now is the right time to reinvent PDM?

August 15, 2014

re0invent-pdm-now

Product Data Management (PDM) isn’t a new domain. The first PDM systems were invented 20-30 years ago with a simple objective – to manage product data. The scope of PDM was heavily debated and included design, engineering BOMs, ECO and even supply chain. However, the most widely accepted role of PDM is to manage CAD files and their revisions.

For long time, PDM was recognized as somewhat you only need to consider if a size of your engineering department is large enough. Even starting price to implement PDM solution went down significantly for the last 20 years, my hunch average PDM solution starting cost for engineering organization with 10-15 people will be about $30-50K. Cost and implementation complexity made PDM business limited to larger companies and was mostly handled by resellers with special skills and knowledge. Most of them associated with a specific CAD vendor channel.

CAD vendors recognized the need and complexity of PDM. For most of vendors the answer on PDM demand was to develop (or acquire) a dedicated PDM system bundled with their CAD software. As a result of that, most of PDM players were acquired. Most of existing (remaining) PDM vendors are either focusing on a specific geographical niche or developed additional solutions usually branded with "PLM" buzzword and strategy.

My hunch is that until last year, PDM market was somewhat stalled and focusing on replacing of outdated versions of PDM software as well as support of new CAD software releases. Then something happens… For the last months, I can see an increased interested in PDM software. I noticed few focused researches and articles in the field of PDM – Expert Guide to the Next Generation of PDM; TechClarity Expert Guide for Basic CAD management and few others.

Also I want to mention few activities by vendors focusing on basic PDM functionality. It started from more traditional OOTB approach made by PTC Windchill PDM Essentials, SolidEdge SP focusing on SharePoint platform leverage and GrabCAD Workbench using "cloud platform" as a differentiation strategy.

Consilia Vector published CAMScore report for GrabCAD Workbench where CAMS stands for Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social. In my view, these major trends are making a renaissance in the space of PDM.

As I mentioned before, because of cost and complexity, PDM software was out of reach for many smaller companies and engineering departments. DIY (Do it yourself) PDM approach combining network file share, Excel files and FTP is a solution for probably 60-70% of market. For many years, to share files using network and USB drives was "good enough solution". But the era of file sharing changed forever with coming trend of social networks, mobile and cloud. So called YAPSA (Yet Another Photo Sharing Apps) became widely available in our everyday life. The question why PDM is so complex and why we cannot manage and access CAD data similar to what we do with photos and videos brings PDM solution back to the innovation room.

What is my conclusion? Cloud, web and social technologies in consumer space reached the level of maturity. It comes to the point where new tech and awareness of cloud and social approach are going to challenge a traditional PDM space. In addition to that, looks like an existing approach to use network drives and file sharing to manage CAD files is coming to logical end. People will be looking how to copy YAPSA approach into PDM space. So, it is time for PDM to change. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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