What I learned about PLM from six years of daily blogging

February 3, 2015

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Here is my personal story about blogging. I started to blog more than six years ago. The idea of blogging came to me from intensive meetings with customers that I had as Dassault SmarTeam CTO. I spent time discussing implementations and problems customers are experiencing with PLM solutions. These discussions inspired me to spend more time online. One thing I discovered immediately about PLM industry back in 2007 – the amount of online information about PLM implementations, products and technologies was very limited. Customers and vendors didn’t share much online. At the same time, outside of PLM domain, blogosphere was booming by large number of blogs sharing information about programming, web technologies and other topics.

My recent Cadalyst interview made me think again about the time I started to blog. Honestly, I almost shutdown the blog after I left Dassault in 2009. However, after speaking with some of my readers, I came to conclusion that I cannot stop it. I discovered and connected with many readers. I found how my readers are learning from my blog and I learned how to learn from them. The blog outgrew the original plan to share “one PLM topic to discuss” as Daily PLM Think Tank. I registered new domain beyondplm, which was a better reflection of what I’m writing about.

I’ve written about 1815 posts, which is probably equal to 10-15 full length books. During that time I learned a great deal about blogging and people (this is probably a topic for another blog post). What was amazing is how blogging helped me better understand customers, manufacturing and PLM business.

So, here are seven important things I learned about PLM after writing probably more than 1’000’000 words about PLM.

1. PLM is extremely conservative domain. You think engineers love new products and tech. Yes, engineers are loving to develop new products and technologies. But, it is a bit different when you speak to them about new product development tools. When it comes to adopting of new PLM tools, as a solution provider, you compete mostly with status quo – existing working processes, outdated implementations, legacy systems, Excel spreadsheets.

2. The adoption lifecycle of PLM products, ideas and technologies is much longer than you can imagine. Think about years or even decades. There are some great examples in the industry that can prove it. PLM industry first movers are competing with evolution of existing products.

3. The biggest PLM implementation challenge is customer learning process. Customer is discovering bad things about the way company is running business and managing product development processes. It is not easy for people to manage their own guilt. Somebody is actually responsible for the mess. From that point, all you need to do is to help company to understand their business and find ways PLM technologies and products can improve it.

4. Tables with data are boring. Visualization is absolutely important. Customers are asking about variety of data and processes management issues, but nothing can excite them more than 3D visualization of their own products – cars, airplane interior, engine, fashion collection, etc.

5. Cost is important. Everything customers will tell you about the fact price is not important and manufacturing companies have money to pay is a biggest illusion. Typically, you are talking to engineering IT and these people are interested how PLM technology and products can solve their problems. But, it will come down to price and must be prepared for tough cost related discussions. I think, one of the biggest reasons of PLM low adoption is high solution cost.

6- Data import and integration with other systems are two key technological challenges you need to solve to successfully accomplish PLM implementation. Customers rarely have an opportunity to start “from scratch”. Also, don’t think about import/export of Excel spreadsheets as you mainstream integration strategy. Most of PLM implementations are ending up with integration service providers hardwiring data exchange between applications.

7- You should think about ROI and how to connect to CIO. However, don’t forget to deliver one “extra feature” that will help engineers to feel proud of your PLM solution. You will become “engineering hero” and engineers will sell your PLM systems to rest of the company.

What is my conclusion? One of the best parts of blogging is that you can learn a lot. In many cases, I came back to topics I already discussed and shared what I learned to spark a conversation. Sharing knowledge is an amazing experience. PLM industry changed for the last 6 years. Companies are sharing more and it is easier to get information online. All together we can do industry better. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to transform old CAD-PDM integration paradigms

January 23, 2015

cloud-pdm-paradigm

Integration of CAD and PDM is a field with long history of battles, innovation and failures for the last 15-20 years. You can hardly undervalue the importance of integration between CAD and data management tools. For some time in the past CAD and PDM were separate systems. Engineers had to switch from CAD to PDM to perform specific tasks related to data management functions. To integrate PDM tools inside CAD was one of the greatest ideas of 1990s, which improved significantly what we call today “user experience”.

However, the complexity of data management interfaces was always something that made engineers uncomfortable. Another innovative approach that was introduced in the field of integration between CAD and PDM was to embed PDM tools into File Explorer user interface. One of the companies that did it back in 2000s was Conisio (later SolidWorks Enterprise PDM). The idea got lot of traction and allowed to engineers to work with a familiar file based interface while in fact using PDM tools.

People are hard. Especially, when it comes to adopting of new paradigms. Dassault System blog SOLIDWORKS and PLM: No Fear Required brings an interesting perspective on integration between ENOVIA PLM and SolidWorks.

3DEXPERIENCE platform offers a fresh approach to this problem. Recognizing that our existing Enterprise PDM solution has been greatly accepted by the design community, the same R&D group has designed a new product that offers the usability of EPDM but actually stores the data in a broader and more capable PLM solution. The result is the SOLIDWORKS Collaborative Innovation Connector, a product that works and acts much like a workgroup solution would but gives the designer just enough access to the PLM functionality to innovate their processes beyond what they can do today in a PDM environment.

The following video is one of the confirmation for that. You can see how ENOVIA PLM traditional web interface is morphing to provide File-Explorer user experience for SolidWorks users. What I found specifically interesting is that you can hardly distinguish between ENOVIA PLM and SolidWorks EPDM, which has very similar user experience for both file explorer and SolidWorks UI.

The video about ENOVIA SolidWorks integration made me think about what can be a new PDM paradigm as we move forward into cloud future. I’d like to bring few references to new products and companies in that space – GrabCAD, Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape.

Fusion360

At recent Autodesk University in Las Vegas, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass presented the evolution of Fusion360 and its connection with cloud services such as Autodesk A360. According to Carl Bass, you can think about Fusion is a GitHub for engineers. Combined with A360, Fusion is a full digital re-imagination of how designers and engineers will collaborate – online and social. What is important to understand is that A360 provides data and collaboration backbone for Fusion360, so engineers are not facing file-based operations like in traditional desktop CAD tools.

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Onshape

Onshape is a new company re-imagining CAD for Google era. Large group of Onshape founding team is coming from SolidWorks. Last week, Onshape started to blog. One of the things I captured from Onshape blog is their claim to rethink PDM role and appearance for cloud CAD. You can read some of my thoughts here – Future CAD won’t require PDM. Here is quote from Onshape blog:

on-shape-world-changed

We tried with traditional PDM, but fundamentally the architecture of copying files around, to and from servers and desktops, is just not a good basis for solving version control and collaboration problems. We think we have a better way to solve the problems, and no PDM system is needed.” Mac, Windows, phone or tablet. No PDM system needed. The files stay in one place. Different UI look. Now those sound like interesting and wonderful things. We’ll continue to anxiously anticipate what they have planned and what you have to say about it.

GrabCAD

GrabCAD workbench is another system that introducing a different experience by merging cloud and file-based data management operations. GrabCAD didn’t develop CAD system as it was predicted by some CAD industry insiders. However, GrabCAD Workbench is a PDM system on the cloud that can remind you some elements of Dropbox combined with CAD viewer and ability to control file revisions.

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What is my conclusion? Existing paradigms are hard to change. In my view, engineers are one of the most innovative groups of people. However, when it comes to their own tools, engineers are very conservative. You can easy expect the following vision for data management from an engineer – “I want to work with my designs (files), please leave me alone and stop selling me PDM tools”. However, here is the thing – collaboration can make a difference. The integration of data management and collaboration can provide a significant advantage to engineers in a modern mobile and distributed environment. This is a key thing, in my view. Cloud and mobile collaboration will change CAD /PDM integration paradigm in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Cloud PDM: stop controlling data and check shadow IT practices

January 21, 2015

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An interest of customers in cloud PDM solution is growing. I guess there are multiple factors here – awareness about cloud efficiency and transparency, less concern about cloud security and improved speed and stability of internet connections. If you are not following my blog, you can catch up on my older blog articles about cloud PDM – Cloud PDM ban lifted. What next?; Cloud PDM hack with Google Drive and other tools; Cloud can make file check-in and check-out obsolete. The confluence of new technologies around cloud, web, mobile and global manufacturing is creating a demand for cloud (or web based) solution helping distributed design teams.

So, where is a challenge for cloud PDM? My hunch, the biggest one is how to sell cloud PDM to manufacturing companies. I can divide all customers into two groups – larger manufacturing companies that already implemented PDM solutions and smaller manufacturing firms that are still managing CAD design with folders, FTP and Dropbox accounts.

Analysts, researchers and PDM marketing pundits are trying to convince companies that cloud PDM can become a great enabler for collaboration and leaving CAD data “not managed” can bring even greater risk to organization. There is nothing wrong with that… PDM was build around the idea of how to take a control over data. However, the idea of “control” is not something engineers like. Ed Lopategui is speaking about engineers and control in his last blog – The day the strength of PDM failed. Here is a passage I liked:

The second reason, which is not so legitimate, is a loss of control. The reason so many engineers pine about the days of paper-based PDM in document control departments (or instead nothing at all) is that world could be circumvented in a pinch. It was flawed because it was run by humans, and consequently also replete with errors. Replaced with immutable and uncaring software, engineers working in groups nonetheless become irritated because they can’t just do whatever they want. You see this very conflict happening with regard to source control in software development circles. The order needed to manage a complex product necessarily makes manipulating pieces of that engineering more cumbersome. It’s one thing to be creating some widget in a freelance environment, it’s another matter entirely when that end product needs traceable configuration for a serialized certification basis. And that will happen regardless of how the software operates.

Here is the thing… Maybe cloud PDM should stop worry about controlling data and think more about how to bring a comfort to engineers and stop irritating users with complex lifecycle scenarios? It made me think about practice that known as “shadow IT”. For the last few years, shadow IT and cloud services have lot of things in common. Don’t think about shadow IT as a bad thing. Think about innovation shadow IT can bring to organizations.

Forbes article “Is shadow IT a runaway train or an innovation engine?” speaks about how shadow IT can inject some innovative thinking into organization. This is my favorite passage:

As we reported last month, one corporate employee survey found that 24% admit they have purchased and/or deployed a cloud application — such as Salesforce.com, Concur, Workday, DropBox, or DocuSign. One in five even use these services without the knowledge of their IT departments.

The rise of shadow IT may actually inject a healthy dose of innovative thinking into organizations, at a time they need it most. The ability to test new approaches to business problems, and to run with new ideas, is vital to employees at all levels. If they are encumbered by the need for permissions, or for budget approvals to get to the technology they need, things will get mired down. Plus, shadow IT applications are often far cheaper than attempting to build or purchase similar capabilities through IT.

What is my conclusion? Stop controlling data and bring a freedom of design work back to engineers. I understand, it is easy to say, but very hard to implement. To control data is a very fundamental PDM behavior. To re-imagining it require some innovative thinking. It is also related to the fact how to stop asking engineers to check-in, check-out and copy files between different locations. Maybe, this is an innovation folks at Onshape are coming with? I don’t know. In my view, cloud PDM tools have the opportunity to change the way engineers are working with CAD data. Many new services became successful by providing cloud applications and making existing working practices much easier than before. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg
photo credit: Dean Hochman via photopin cc


Future CAD won’t require PDM

January 13, 2015

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Let’s be honest. Engineers hate data management. This is something that stands between their engineering creativity and formal configuration control. Check-in/check-out are two most painful functions for CAD users when it comes together with PDM. I recall my very old blog from 2011 speaks about the notion of "invisible PDM". Navigate your browsers to PDM. Pre-configured? Painless? That was my conclusion back four years ago:

Engineers normally dislike PDM functions. They are trying to avoid it as much as possible. Therefore, PDM systems are not as popular when it comes to implementations. It requires time, cost and affect CAD functionality. However, the industry perception is that you need to have PDM to control your data. CAD vendors are trying to embed PDM functions into CAD packages and improve vertical integration between CAD and PDM packages. Can it be completely pre-configured and painless? I’m not sure. I think, the best PDM engineers can think about is the “invisible PDM”.

Solidsmack article about OnShape new CAD system put an interesting perspective on future PDM option for CAD:

We tried with traditional PDM, but fundamentally the architecture of copying files around, to and from servers and desktops, is just not a good basis for solving version control and collaboration problems. We think we have a better way to solve the problems, and no PDM system is needed.” Mac, Windows, phone or tablet. No PDM system needed. The files stay in one place. Different UI look. Now those sound like interesting and wonderful things. We’ll continue to anxiously anticipate what they have planned and what you have to say about it.

What is my conclusion? Cloud is changing paradigms and we are going to see a different user experience appears in engineering software – CAD, PDM and beyond. It can shift the way people are collaborating and eliminate the need for painless check-in/check-out functions that are moving files between servers and desktops. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit OnShape


The demand for PLM services

January 8, 2015

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Services is an important part of every PLM implementation. My attention caught news article – Kalypso and GoEngineer form strategic partnership. I found it interesting, especially the following passage:

“The Kalypso-GoEngineer partnership enables both firms to scale our businesses to better serve the growing demand for PLM services and software,” said George Young, CEO of Kalypso. “With the addition of GoEngineer’s implementation business to Kalypso we strengthen the size and experience of our delivery team, allowing us to serve a larger client base with a broader set of PLM services.”

It made think again about business and technological trajectories in PLM services. While industry is moving towards providing more cloud and service offering, the question about future role of PLM VARs and service providers is driving more attention and interest. My assumption back in 2012 was that cloud PLM providers will have to grow their services to keep up with implementation demand.

Cloud PLM change a lot in the way you implement PLM. However, there is something cloud PLM cannot do for you. One of the key things – you still need to implement PLM. There is magic change that cloud can bring here. You can make much more efficient with cloud. Therefore, the focus of PLM implementation is moving towards business process optimization. Cloud PLM eliminates the need to install servers, but it doesn’t eliminate the need to model processes and integrate existing business systems.

Last year, I’ve been sharing my thoughts about PLM services, Department Stores and Digital future. In many ways, PLM services can become one of the most critical business differentiators that can help manufacturing companies to move beyond traditional PDM implementations.

What is my conclusion? Despite lot of changes in technology and business models, PLM implementations are still time consuming and requires lot of attention. Cloud PLM role here to help manufacturing companies and service providers to skip IT part and move directly into business implementation. I guess it will improve PLM ROI. However, it will require more skilled PLM services professionals. So, my hunch, the demand for PLM services will grow. Digital natives people familiar with manufacturing processes can update their resumes. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Kenesto cloud PDM hybrid

December 18, 2014

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Few months ago, I posted about latest development of Kenesto cloud data management solutions – Kenesto revamp: does it change cloud PLM game? I saw it as a sharp turn for Kenesto from focusing on collaboration towards engineering and product data management business. From earlier comments made by Steve Bodnar of Kenesto here, I’ve learned Kenesto is developing technology to synchronize CAD data between desktops and cloud locations. Here is the comment made back in October:

…automatic synchronization maintains appropriate version control as well as permissions. This way, if you have “download only” permission, as an example, you can synchronize to one or more of your locations, and any updates will automatically be synchronized to those locations for you (in addition to notifications being sent).

CIMdata recent publication about Kenesto Collaboration Platform made me think again about what it does and how it might be different from other cloud PDM products available now or soon become available on the market. What caught my special attention in CIMdata publication is related to so called “innovative intersection of cloud-based file management and data sharing with traditional PDM vaulting”. A massive amount of CAD data is stored on corporate networks and just CAD desktops. It made me think Kenesto is trying to bring solution to customers that already have traditional PDM systems and extend it with a better collaborative option. The following passage from CIMdata commentary provides more explanations:

The Kenesto solution is a secure, hybrid, cloud-desktop collaboration platform where product development and delivery teams can collaborate using discussion threads, or by co-authoring documents and design files, with anytime, anywhere access. Kenesto puts a broad range of capabilities at the fingertips of product delivery teams to organize and manage their programs, products, and projects. Teams can create their workspaces with people, workflow, forms, data, and reports—including bills of materials, change requests, and purchasing forms—and be kept on the same page with Kenesto’s proprietary intelligent synchronization approach. Each user is provided with a dashboard that can be customized to personal preferences. An important feature in Kenesto is that users are always in full control of their documents and designs. A user can permit their teammates to view, mark-up, or edit their documents and designs and can collaborate with them in real time or asynchronously.

Many of features such as project, workspaces, workflow, forms, bill of materials, change requests etc. are not new in PDM industry. However, “cloud-desktop” hybrid sounds like a new buzzword. Does it mean Kenesto found something unique in terms how to bring desktop CAD users to the cloud? It hard to say based on a commentary, but it might go that way.

What is my conclusion? Market dynamics are bringing more engineering and manufacturing companies to the cloud. It gives more opportunities to cloud PDM/PLM vendors. At the same time, it raises more questions how existing environment and data assets will be managed and how people will collaborate in a hybrid environment. Kenesto might solve an interesting problem here and compete with other vendors in the same domain – Autodesk, SolidWorks, GrabCAD and others. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: ukCWCS via photopin cc

Photo is an illustration only and does not reflect Kenesto architecture.


How to find sweet spot of future PLM UX improvements

November 24, 2014

new-plm-ux-design

The days of ugly UI are in the past. The trend that started from website design, mobile UI and intuitive consumer application is coming to enterprise software. Users of enterprise software are also consumers and it is hard for them to tolerate bad user experience of software they work every day. Remember my old post – PLM: Ugly vs. Cool? I can see cool UI is coming to engineering space too. My prediction – user friendly interfaces and better user experience will become one of the top 3 factors that will influence PLM in 2015. I can see this trend is coming from leading software providers. I put few examples in my blog few days ago – PDM/PLM UI Makeup: new trend in user experience.

So, cool is going to win. However, here is the thing. Cool is very expensive. To design new experience and to re-work existing applications will take time and money. It won’t happen overnight. So before you make your existing PDM/PLM nicer by developing new web tools or switching to new web technologies, I’d recommend to make some ROI calculation. It will help you to prioritize your work and make your customers happy. Actually the last one is even more important than the money you spend on rework. From my experience customers are getting REALLY angry when vendors are selling an old application with new UI (lipstick on a pig).

How can you decide about what part of your enterprise application to change. To set up priority and calculate ROI is very important. Software developers are very often missing this part of running full speed to change user interface and develop new apps with nice colors, but … performing exactly in the same way as the old one.

There are two things to remember when you think about new UI and new user experience – scale and impact. You need to maximize both and avoid making changes in the part of application that will be exposed to smaller number users or rarely in use. My attention caught by a very interesting article – UX for enterprise by Jordan Koschei. Have a read – here is my favorite passage:

The sheer scale of enterprise clients magnifies the effects of good and bad design alike. Small inefficiencies in large organizations result in extra costs that are passed on to the end user in time spent, money lost, and frustration increased. Likewise, when an enterprise prioritizes user experience for its internal tools, it becomes a more effective organization; a recently released business index shows that design-driven companies outperformed the S&P average by 228% over the last ten years.

It led me to another article that gives a perfect sense of how to approach ROI calculation for UX improvements – Calculating ROI on UX & Usability Projects. It brings list of approaches that can be used for calculation – increased sale, increased productivity, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, decrease training and support cost and few others. From my perspective, very often, development are focusing on customer satisfaction and loyalty. But, this is something that enormously hard to measure. Opposite to that, think about productivity: Here is my favorite passage from the article about that:

For example, if you optimize the UX on a series of screens so that what was once a 5 minute task is now a 2.5 minute task, then you’ve increased a person’s productivity by 100%. That’s huge. HUGE. If the company has 100 phone agents who have an average salary of $40,000 + benefits (~$8,000) (+ an unknown amount for overhead), you could either release or retask those agents on other activities with a savings of $2,4000,000/year. (half of 100 agents x $48,000)

It made me think more specifically about PDM and PLM use cases. What are the most critical, time consuming and repeatable scenarios? If I think about PDM, everything I do with documents – check-in, check-out, release, view, search is extremely time sensitive. If check-in operation takes 50 minutes and fails at the end, users will be very angry. To improve check-in operation is a very complex task. But if you can save 30% of time, it can result in huge saving. Let me think about PLM use case – ECO management process.It can be really complicated, requires to open multiple screens, browsing for information, making requests. Improvements of this experience, can have a huge impact on productivity. I’m sure, you can come with more scenarios, but I guess you got my idea.

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What is my conclusion? Customers are looking for nice UI. This is not “nice to have” feature for them anymore. However, it comes down to much more than nice layout and pretty colors. It comes down to “user experience” in the way that can make life of users easier, save time and get job done with less clicks. PDM/PLM vendors must think about it before embarking into next development project of changing colors and font size in their existing apps. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: phishtitz via photopin cc


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