PLM and Spreadsheetware

July 30, 2015

plm-spreadsheetware

The debates about PLM and Excel are heating up. The discussion started in earlier blog posts by Lionel Grealou and Jos Voskuil. In addition to that you can read some of my posts from last week related to PLM and Excel – PLM: Need for speed and PLM vs. Spreadsheets: Bullfight and Prohibition.

I’m glad Ed Lopategui joined the conversation about PLM and Excel with his article – Your PLM Logic is Useless: Because I’m Excel. I love how Ed called Excel – The Batman of PLM. Here is my favorite passage:

Excel is the Batman of Product Lifecycle Managment (PLM), a vigilante working outside the system that benefits truly unfettered fanaticism and simultaneously annoys the cognizant authorities. You’ve got to hand it to Excel for its amazing versatility, the amount of surprises in that utility belt has kept the mighty spreadsheet relevant after all these years. Excel’s flexibility is both a blessing and a curse for information governance strategy the world over, and that includes especially PLM. Oh Excel, is there anything that people can’t twist you into doing? After all, some enterprising individuals have used Excel for some rather unusual things over the years.

So, can we say PLM defeated by Excel and we just need to go and hire Chief Excel Officer to run Excel-based PLM system? In my view, PLM vendors made multiple attempts to defeat spreadsheets. Even so, none of them produced something that can be qualified with something that investors call 10x better than competitors. I hope some vendors will disagree. Please do. And send me customer testimonials attached to your disagreement. Maybe jury is still out. Who knows…

If we cannot defeat Excel and reinvent a new thing, maybe we can embrace it? So, would some sort of smart integration can be helpful? One of the top VC companies in Silicon Valley Andreessen Horowitz just put a bet on a company Blockspring, which is planning to reinvent the way we work with Spreadsheets in Excel and Google. TechCrunch article just put an article about it earlier today – Smart Spreadsheet Service Blockspring Raises $3.4 Million. The idea of Blockspring in a nutshell is to bring the power of Web programming into Spreadsheets. If you familiar with Web APIs and RESTful services, you should love Smart Spreadsheets. It helps to call online services to populate and update data in spreadsheets. Look on the following video for more details – Paul Katsen, of Blockspring founders makes a demonstration of some neat features:

What is my conclusion? PLM vendors tried to defeat spreadsheets and failed so far. Maybe we should stop our attempts to replace spreadsheets and empower engineering IT folks with smart PLM spreadsheetware? As I predicted few years ago, PLM folks need to learn Web APIs. REST APIs can be used together with spreadsheet services to prevent cloud integration spaghetti. That would be a way to help Excel not to be useless in running some business logic. And it certainly solves some problems related to data import and update. I’m not sure it will solve all PLM problems. But this is clearly an interesting attempt to bring some fresh blood into PLM vs Excel fight. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


PLM: Functionality, Usability, Cost. Pick any two…

July 29, 2015

project-management-constraints

My SmarTeam colleague and long time blogging buddy Jos Voskuil challenged readers with an unusual PLM dilemma. You should pick between usability and business benefits. Ouch… painful choice, right? Navigate to the following post How to measure collaboration? to read more.

The challenge proposed by Jos was the outcome of our PLM vs. Excel discussion. You might be interested to look few other posts related to the topic: PLM – Need for Speed and PLM vs Excel: Bullfight and Prohibition.

Jos brings all these “SAP-like” value proposition reasons for enterprise system. Jos is actually confirming enterprise systems are guilty to build bad user experience and brining SAP as an example. He acknowledges that it worked well for financial systems, but sort of failed in engineering domain. Here is my favorite passage (a bit long one) explaining about ERP and PLM selling points and how is that related to usability:

ERP systems have never been sold to the users for their usability. It is more that the management is looking for guarantees that the execution process is under control. Minimize the potential for errors and try to automate all activities as much as possible. As the production process is directly linked to finance, it is crucial to have it under control. Goodbye usability, safety first.

Why is this approach not accepted for PLM? Why do we talk about usability? First of all, the roots for PLM come from the engineering department (PDM) and, therefore, their primary data management system was not considered an enterprise system. And when you implement a system for a department, discussions will be at the user level. So user acceptance became necessary for PDM and PLM.

But this is not the main reason. Innovation, Product Development, Sales Engineering, Engineering are all iterative activities. In contrary to ERP, there is no linear process defined how to develop the ultimate product the first time right. Although this believe existed in the nineties by an ERP country manager that I met that time. He told me: Engineers are resources that do not want to be managed, but we will get them. An absurd statement I hope you agree. However, the thoughts behind this statement are correct. How do you make sure product development is done in the most efficient manner?

I like how Jos brings the idea of efficiency. This is where it come back to reasons why people mistakenly prefer Excel over complicated and well structured enterprise systems. It gives them a very brutal feeling of efficiency and ownership. This is why I love my PLM Excel spreadsheets. But this feeling of efficiency is wrong. There are many reasons for that – it gets complex within time, it is hard to manage, etc. I outlined all of them in my six years old blog – PLM Excel Spreadsheet: from odes to woes.

The real problem is related to complexity of enterprise systems. It goes to the point you are afraid of these enterprise beasts. You are afraid to do something wrong. In some situations, you want only highly trained people to do something, because you are afraid of making a mistake that will cost time and money. On the other side, engineering and manufacturing process is very iterative by nature. So, how to bring a flexibility of spreadsheet and protection of enterprise system?

There is an old saying of product development that it can sound something like this – “Fast, Good or Cheap. Pick two”. This is a translation Project Management Triangle where you actually balancing between scope, schedule and cost. Fast is a translation of time; good is a translation of quality and cost is a translation of resources needed to make it happen. The three properties are interrelated and it is not possible to optimize all three of them.

Here is my translation of project management triangle in the context of PLM – “Functionality, Usability, Cost. Pick any two”. Obviously, the enterprise thinking is prioritizing functional requirements. One of the most typical PLM selection process is to fill in blanks of RFP for PLM implementation with a very long list of functional requirements. Guess what happens if you have missed functions… You lose the deal. Usability requires lot of work. It is very hard (almost impossible) to make it usable for the first time. You need to increase your budget to get it done or to increase a development timeline. Which was a challenge for most of PLM vendors until now.

What is my conclusion? Unfortunately, for enterprise PLM, the decision to pick any two ended up with functionality and cost. Therefore we have gigantic complex creatures called Enterprise PLM systems with a long list of supported functions and questionable usability. And for the reason not to make costly mistakes people are forced to use them. Is it going to change? I guess it will change as enterprise UX paradigm shifts. Less is more in a new world of enterprise transformation. It doesn’t mean we will accept mistakes or make it less secure. Actually, the brutal efficiency with less functions will win the future. Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg

picture credit Wikipedia article

 



PLM – Need for Speed

July 28, 2015

plm-need-for-speed

The conversation I started yesterday PLM vs Excel: Bullfight and Prohibition made me think again about reasons why Excel is constantly winning the competition with enterprise software. One of my readers compared Excel v PLM usage with situation where diversity of painting tools used – each one is more suitable for a particular part of the job. I like it and can see a point where clunky enterprise software tools used to manage structured requests, while Excel can be used as a lightweight tool for reports and data input. Although, I can see it done in many companies, I don’t think it is a sustainable situation.

So, why many people (including myself) are preferring Excel or spreadsheets atop of more structured enterprise-like tools? Here is my guess. It is all about speed. It is about speed of changes, speed of interaction, speed of implementations. Absence of speed and agility is a pain point in PLM implementations. It comes in variety of things. In my view, PLM can learn from Excel and improve its speed in 3 aspects:

1. Speed of installation and configuration

This is a place where change is already happening. Thanks to cloud technologies and SaaS applications! Today, we don’t need to setup servers and install PLM software. This part is gone. For many PLM application, new cloud PLM tools are good enough and it takes minutes to get an instance of PLM tool at your disposal.

2. Speed of implementation

PLM implementations are huge problems in the way it happens now. You might remember my blog – What cloud PM cannot do for you? There is no magic. The alignment with manufacturing organization, definition of data models, setting up processes, implementing some scripts is time that team need to spend. It is far from perfection.

3. Speed for clicks

This is a tricky part. By nature, enterprises are very structured. People, departments, processes. To make change is not simple and it requires involvement of people. As a result, many enterprise applications (PLM included) designed with a "structure in mind". It is transformed into many "clicks" that user must perform. When a specific function you need is "15 clicks away", you will hate the tool and prefer Excel spreadsheets. But I can spot some changes here. Organizations are becoming more agile, lean and flat. There is a lot of place for improvement for PLM tools here.

What is my conclusion? PLM architects and developers should think about "speed" as a core competitive advantage that can help them to win over existing PLM incumbents. While setup and installation problems are gone now as a result of massive cloud invasion, implementations and UX paradigms are still the same "old fashion father’s PLM". So, we need to add speed to PLM environment. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


PLM vs Excel: Bullfight and Prohibition

July 27, 2015

plm-spreadsheet-bull-fight

PLM has love and hate relationships with Excel spreadsheets. PLM vendors are spending marketing dollars campaigning to replace Excel. The last post by Lionel Grealou caught my attention during the weekend. Navigate to read PLM vs Excel post here. In addition to to almost traditional confirmation that PLM can outperform Excel spreadsheet, I noticed an interesting statement about the fact some organizations are prohibiting availability of Excel reports. This is a passage I captured:

Some organizations considered removing access to import from / export to Excel from their PLM applications to limit uncontrolled usage of data and reports. Most PLM applications now have advanced data search, live feed dashboard which can be tailored to business needs, with Excel-like features for data mining, profiling, compiling, formatting, presenting in various chart for analysis.

The comparison of PLM vs Excel capabilities for BOM management looks like a bullfight. But honestly, I’m not sure who is who in this fight. PLM vendors are fighting excel spreadsheets for decades with no visible success. The number of whitepapers and sales materials trying to convince users how much damage Excel can do is skyrocketing. But customers are still using Excel.

To remove an access to Excel reports is actually something new and unexpected. I had a chance to see many situations when IT was developed bunch of Excel-based solutions to eliminate the need of end users to touch complex enterprise systems in manufacturing, supply chain and finance. Customers loved Excel and hate complex enterprise software. Which reminded me my very old blog – Why do I like my PLM Excel Spreadsheets with top 5 reasons why I prefer Excel over PLM system. To balance a PLM point of view, I can recommend another post – What PLM need to take over Excel spreadsheets?

What is my conclusion? I’m sure you know that bulls are colorblind. Matadors used red material to mask the bull’s blood. PLM sales materials explaining the value of PLM systems vs Excel spreadsheets is like read caps. Users seems to me colorblind to recognize them. Prohibition also seems to me as a bad way to convince users. Especially in our era of consumerization and total focus on user experience. Enterprise UX is going through the paradigm shift. Old, bulky, cumbersome, weighty and hard to use environment that can block a productive flow will be replaced with new tools. It is all about the need for speed. When each function engineers need is “15 clicks away”, you cannot expect company to perform well. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


How PLM platforms will survive in no-stack era

July 26, 2015

vertical-plm-platforms-and-no-stack

TechCrunch article Software for the full stack era speaks about brutal reality existing business software platforms are going through. From the beginning it speaks about reasons major business platforms were created – IBM to automate clerks’ work, SAP – to unify enterprise finance and Siebel to computerize sales rep Rolodexes.

Which made me think what problem existing CAD / PLM platform solved? My guess today’s PLM platform were born to solve a problem of complex configurable 3D digital models for aerospace, defense and automotive companies. Look around, each of these OEMs is using PLM platform from one of top 3 PLM leaders – Dassault, Siemens PLM or PTC. To made it happen companies spent a fortune on gigantic enterprise IT effort to install, configure, plan, implement, support and maintain upgrades and future business requests. The follow passage from TechCrunch article is my favorite, because it explains how it usually happens in every company.

For all the innovation these relationships have brought to business, there’s been a price: the custom patchwork of disparate technologies that now power global enterprises. Typical IT lacks flexibility and efficiency, and often fails to fulfill its promise to customers. If you look under the hood at most global businesses, what you find is something akin to a Ford Model-T that has been continuously fixed by an expert mechanic to keep it on the road for a century. It might be a feat of engineering, but there ain’t no way that car will be driverless anytime soon. Unfortunately for leaders of global businesses, these clunky technical landscapes are doing more than simply irritating employees and customers — they’re jeopardizing their long-term survival.

The last point is clearly resonating with voices of large manufacturing companies having concerns about slow ROI and the fact traditional PLM platforms reached their limits. Solving urgent business needs by integrating new technologies with existing core PLM solutions can introduce a significant problem. Sometimes, it cost so much that it drives huge platform migrations. For most of PLM systems, the architecture and technologies of core functions such as CAD data management and BOM management were designed back 10-15 years ago. To connect and interplay between heavily customized core PLM modules and expanded PLM solutions can bring significant service and implementation expenses.

Technology and architecture of existing PLM platforms are going deep back to the time when enterprise IT was a king and to run PLM system atop of proven RDBMS was a key to success. This is probably still a reality for many manufacturing OEMs. But large manufacturing OEMs are starting to think about their long-term survival. That’s why GE has FirstBuild microfactories and car manufacturers are looking at Local Motors community model.

So, what PLM platform will support future manufacturing environment? TechCrunch brings Uber model as an example of how full-stack startups like Uber built their infrastructure:

With so much outdated infrastructure from a pre-Internet era, it’s inevitable that the way we consume even the most basic services will evolve. Companies need to embrace this fact to participate in the software-defined future. But doing so requires a dramatic change in how software is perceived, developed and consumed.

So the question arises, if the tech solutions of the 1980’s and 1990’s won’t suit the needs of today’s innovators, what will? The technologies that power these businesses, no-stack technologies, tend to be API-based micro-services that package up a lot of underlying capability. Unfortunately, the similarity in terms leads many to think that these two are diametrically opposed. They’re not.

Uber, the prototypical full–stack startup, requires no-stack technologies to do so much. Instead of hiring hundreds of engineers to build out capabilities far from their core business, Uber relies on API-based services to power a lot of their communications. When you locate yourself and request a car, Google Maps helps Uber route drivers to your location (for now). When you receive a text message with a driver en-route, it’s powered by Twilio’s APIs. When your receipt appears in your inbox, it’s SendGrid’s transactional email system.

Discussion about no-stack technologies made me think again about un-bundling PLM services. This trend will be an orthogonal to the PLM verticalization we observed for the last 10-15 years when PLM vendors tried to acquire and combine their platforms into gigantic software stacks.

What is my conclusion? The odds are high that new manufacturing companies will try to buildsolutions atop of no-stack technologies. In that case, sooner than later we are going to see a competition between DIY solutions built by manufacturing companies like Tesla Motors, Local Motors, GE, etc. What will be a future role of existing PLM players in that case? How PLM platfromization trend will go alongside with no-stack reality? Interesting question to ask about from PLM analysts, architects and strategists. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 


How to strip PLM down to minimum needed functions?

July 24, 2015

plm-strip-down-microsoft-send

In a swift move, Microsoft decided to reinvent email. I guess, many of you had a chance to work with Outlook in your life. In different periods of my working career, I had love and hate relationships with Outlook. The complexity and slowness of Outlook was one of the things I hated the most. Here is the change. Microsoft just introduced minimum email client with focus on communication only. The following passage explains that:

Unlike Outlook, Send is not meant to be a full-featured email app: you can’t use it to view emails you’ve already received or search your inbox. The super simple app only shows threads that have been started from within the app. The idea, Microsoft says, is to strip out the unnecessary (and annoying) parts of email — subject lines and signatures, for example — to make those quick day-to-day brief messages you exchange with coworkers and colleagues faster and easier. “With Send, there are no signatures, subject lines or salutations required,” Microsoft’s Outlook team explains. “Our design principle for the app was to make conversations fast and fluid while keeping the people who are important to you at its core.”

A lot already being said about complexity of email collaboration. It is just messy. Lot of messages, threads, copies, some people forgot to include somebody else and it opens another thread. In one of my earlier blogs I discussed Engineers and Email workhorse. The point I wanted to make was about finding a new way to communicate more efficiently.

Microsoft Blog article gives you more information and few additional screenshots to explain how it works. The following passage clearly explains the value proposition

While tools like text messaging and IM are great for short messages, you often don’t have your co-worker’s cell phone number or an IM app on your work phone. And we’ve heard loud and clear from people at work, they want all their communications available in Outlook—even if they send them from other apps. This is where Send comes in! Send gives you the simple, quick text message-like experience while allowing you to reach all co-workers and have all of your communications in Outlook for reference later.

It made me think again about complexity of PLM applications. Even in modern applications, the desired function you need is “15 clicks away” from you. For example, when it comes to communication about changes, it could be annoying and, as a result, people will shift conversation to email or messenger. This is how valuable engineering and product information is usually lost in organization. Just imagine communication with support team about specific issues in the product experienced by customer. Support technician has no patience to deal with annoying PLM clicks. Instead of that, he pushed text message or email. There is a good chance, original information from customer can be lost and engineering will work to fix slightly different problem. Did it happen to you? Just be honest…

What is my conclusion? For many years, PLM systems assumed completeness is the first priority systems must achieve to get bought by customer. It was true in sales round including spreadsheets comparing functions provided by multiple system. To win a deal was about to provide more functions. I think it is fundamentally wrong approach these days. Less is more. Strip down functions to minimal set of functions – it will boost PLM adoption across organizations. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Will PLM and ALM prevent a car from being hacked?

July 23, 2015

wired-jeep-hack-plm-alm-integration

Integration of hardware and software is a topic in mind of many manufacturing companies these days. PLM was traditionally focused on mechanical and lately on electronic topics cannot ignore more software. Software developers are using a different set of tools for configuration management. For long time ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) tools took a separate stand from PLM tools. All these things in the past. Software vendors and manufacturing companies cannot ignore complexity of modern product literally powered by software in every part. I’ve been blogging about it long time ago – PLM and ALM: How to blend disparate systems and lately – How to combine engineering and software BOMs.

In one of my last posts – The importance of software BOM for hardware security, I pointed out how important to get an access to right information about software and electronic running in your products. For many manufacturing companies the information about mechanical, electronic and software components is siloed in different data management systems.The importance of new tools capable to manage multidisciplinary product information is raising. Software BOM security is just one example of the trend. The demand to provide systems able to handle all aspect of product BOM is increasing.

The article in WIRED magazine few days ago brings an interesting perspective on the importance of software security in automotive products. Navigate to the following article – Hackers remotely killed a Jeep on the highway – with me in it. The story is fascinating and gives a lot of "food to think about". Here is my favorite passage:

All of this is possible only because Chrysler, like practically all carmakers, is doing its best to turn the modern automobile into a smartphone. Uconnect, an Internet-connected computer feature in hundreds of thousands of Fiat Chrysler cars, SUVs, and trucks, controls the vehicle’s entertainment and navigation, enables phone calls, and even offers a Wi-Fi hot spot. And thanks to one vulnerable element, which Miller and Valasek won’t identify until their Black Hat talk, Uconnect’s cellular connection also lets anyone who knows the car’s IP address gain access from anywhere in the country. “From an attacker’s perspective, it’s a super nice vulnerability,” Miller says.

From that entry point, Miller and Valasek’s attack pivots to an adjacent chip in the car’s head unit—the hardware for its entertainment system—silently rewriting the chip’s firmware to plant their code. That rewritten firmware is capable of sending commands through the car’s internal computer network, known as a CAN bus, to its physical components like the engine and wheels. Miller and Valasek say the attack on the entertainment system seems to work on any Chrysler vehicle with Uconnect from late 2013, all of 2014, and early 2015. They’ve only tested their full set of physical hacks, including ones targeting transmission and braking systems, on a Jeep Cherokee, though they believe that most of their attacks could be tweaked to work on any Chrysler vehicle with the vulnerable Uconnect head unit.

While story is still under development, it is already raised many questions. Some of them led to discussion about standards for cars’ defense against hackers. I’m expecting an increased demand for software capable to manage traceability and tests of mechanical, electronic and software systems together to insure car is not vulnerable to potential hacks.

Manufacturing business technology article echoed the same topic –Software Integration With Hardware Crucial For Manufacturing. It confirms that hardware – software integration is complex and very few companies are doing it in a right way. It gives interesting recommendations how to improve that – common data model, integrated requirement and change management tools and a framework independent from software tools. A common data model is my favorite. Here is a quote:

A common data model. Unified ALM-PLM defines a common data model and change management processes for managing an entire system, both hardware and software data, without duplicating data management or business processes across those systems. The two primary integration points are, first, tying back the requirements to the software and hardware bill of materials and, second, linking defects back to change requests and change orders so PLM can reflect them.

While all recommendations make sense to me, I have a concern about their implementations in real life. How feasible to create a common data model using existing PLM and ALM software tools? A dream data and lifecycle management system should be flexible enough to handle all system definitions from mechanical, electronic and software as well as system behavior related to that.

What is my conclusion? The complexity of modern products is creating demand for new capabilities to support by PLM and ALM software. While integration is usually hardest part of PLM implementation, not all PLM system are flexible enough to maintain demanded "common data model" to handle all bill of materials and related information. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit WIRED article


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