Importance of PLM and PIM bridge

October 11, 2014

online-product-information-pim-plm

PIM. Product Information Management. Sorry for brining yet another three letter acronym into discussion today. PIM stands for a discipline to manage data about products available outside of the company. Here is Wikipedia description:

Product information management or PIM refers to processes and technologies focused on centrally managing information about products, with a focus on the data required to market and sell the products through one or more distribution channels. A central set of product data can be used to feed consistent, accurate and up-to-date information to multiple output media such as web sites, print catalogs, ERP systems, and electronic data feeds to trading partners. PIM systems generally need to support multiple geographic locations, multi-lingual data, and maintenance and modification of product information within a centralized catalog to provide consistently accurate information to multiple channels in a cost-effective manner.

Kalypso article Viewpoints on Innovation Is Your Data Holding You Back? Product Information Management for Retail brings a topic of PIM importance for retail industry. It explains about omnichannels business model, leveraging “big data” and making data available across multiple channels and business initiatives. Article recommends building central data repository for product information as well as integrate and streamline all processes related to product information. Here is a passage from the article.

Integrate and streamline all processes that relate to product information. For most retailers this means integrating all the processes that have to do with setting up items in a given system. There are three that are the most important – product development, merchandising, and eCommerce. Integrating and streamlining these processes will remove duplication of work, and improve communication and efficiency.

Build a centralized repository for all product information. Product information lives not only in product development, merchandising and eCommerce systems, but also in the warehouse management system, marketing systems, and even in ad hoc desktop databases such as Microsoft Access and Excel. Creating one centralized location for all product-related data ensures a single version of the truth that all functional groups can access.

The story about PIM importance in retail reminded me about latest purchase on Amazon. It was a sofa for kids playroom. Nothing special, but it came disassembled as most of furniture you buy on Amazon. Sofa itself had special plastic feet assembled for transportation purposes. feet were packed separately. Package itself supposed to have also screws. The picture below shows you product assembly guide. Screws were absent and the number of screws specified on the picture is wrong. In addition to that, mounting positions for feet and construction of feet clashed (it was wrong welded). Until Amazon sent a set of missing screws, I was trying to find more information about the products, screws and mounting online. It wasn’t very successful. You can easy get part number, but to find more specific information about mounting was not possible.

example-poor-pim-plm

The example above is not unique, in my view. The information about products is often missed online and on e-commerce website. It is hard to identify products and find relevant information that you are looking for. These days is directly translated in bad channel performance and customer satisfaction. One of possible steps to improve it is to bridge product development systems and information systems supplying product data to outside world. Think about product documentation, manufacturing identification (like Part Numbers) and many others. The information about products typically stuck in engineering department, variety of databases and excel spreadsheets. To bring it online in a structured way can be an interesting opportunity.

What is my conclusion? Correct product information is a huge power to improve everything from sales to support and maintenance. With growing online sales in both B2C and B2B domains, it becomes absolutely important to maintain correct online information. CAD/PLM/ERP systems are primarily source of this information today and it is still very hard to get right information and bring it to business users and customers. 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


Pintrest will teach CAD companies to search

April 29, 2014

pinterest-guided-search

Search is a difficult problem. Especially when it comes to enterprise and organization. According to researches, more than 2/3 of people searches are not returning satisfactory results. Enterprise is messy, complicated and contains lot of unstructured data these days. CAD and other 3D files are part of this messiness. For many years, we generally thoughts of web and enterprise search as a place where text begot text – you input some text, press search, and get a bunch of relevant results, also in text form. However, in many places, and 3D and CAD is one of them, search by keywords is not very efficient.

Company have been trying to innovate in 3D or Shape search for the last decade or so. Read my old blog – 3D Shape Search in CAD and PLM. Despite many available solutions in 3D search, I can see a low adoption rate. In connection to that, I saw the opportunity to rethink 3D search.

The following article caught my attention earlier this week – In Challenge To Google, Pinterest Launches Guided Search. Pinterest is a visual discovery tool that people use to collect ideas for their different projects and interests. People create and share collections (called “boards”) of visual bookmarks (called “Pins”) that they use to do things like plan trips and projects, organize events or save articles and recipes. According to the article

At an event at Pinterest headquarters Thursday evening, CEO Ben Silbermann announced Guided Search, a new visual way to explore Pinterest’s more than 30 billion pins—links or images chosen by users and assigned by them to topical collections. Unlike most search engines, where you must choose a precisely constructed string of keywords for what you want to find, Guided Search offers suggestions as you go, based on the associations Pinterest has learned to make between all the objects in its database.

You can learn more about how guided search works here and on the following video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DHxkoXR0RM

The idea of "discovery" is very compelling in the engineering discipline. In many situations it is very hard to formulate a specific keyword based query to find a result. Therefore the ability to classify, categorize, slice and dice data can be very powerful to search and navigate 3D data.

What is my conclusion? Guided search is not a completely new idea. You can see that in some old enterprise search systems. However, to combine together with visual data corpus provides some fresh experience in results. The combination of technology and experience is important. Web is slowly becoming a future platform for engineers. We are spending more time online and getting additional web experience. Some web tools are providing ideas, technologies and solutions that can be re-used in engineering and product development. I think Pinterest guided search is one of examples. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD is half pregnant by cloud

April 1, 2014

cad-cloud-pregnant

The usage of cloud is growing every day. Started as an option to simplify collaboration and data exchange, it is proliferating into spaces such as backup, computation and many others. CAD and design are remaining one of the most conservative zone of the cloud and engineering software. Commonly agreed opinion – desktop is the best place to run CAD system in terms of resources, performance and tasks designers want to accomplish.

With such CAD desktop paradigm, you might think CAD users are completely independent from cloud. Actually, it is not so true. My attention caught by Cadalyst article – Advocate for Internet Access for CAD Tools by Robert Green. According to him CAD is no longer an island and significantly depends on cloud services and public internet infrastructure. Here is the passage, which explains that

Like it or not, our CAD users are becoming more and more dependent on tools that reside outside our company’s internal network. The types of systems we use may vary, but they typically include the following: FTP access sites for file uploading and downloading, Remote access of workstations for technical support; Remote log-on sessions to run compute-intensive tasks, such as rendering or analysis, on powerful remote workstations; Enterprise data management (EDM) and product data management (PDM) systems for CAD/BIM models and files; Cloud-based services on vendor-supplied servers. Whether you use one, several, or all of these Internet-based resources in your day-to-day CAD system, the fact remains that using CAD is no longer something that you alone can control. And when you must reach out over the Internet to complete your CAD tasks, IT becomes a crucial part of your workflow.

It made me think again about future of cloud and CAD relationships. In my view, cloud won’t be introduced to CAD users as a single lifetime event. Instead of switching designers and engineers to cloud CAD overnight, companies will introduce some cloud based services to maximize cloud value proposition to existing CAD-based workflows. You can navigate to some of my earlier posts – The future of CAD without files?; A moment before CAD files cloud mess…; What “end of local storage” means for CAD?; CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems.

I can identify 3 main zones of existing CAD system enhancements that will leverage cloud eco-system to provide additional benefits to engineers:

1. Cloud based backup and file exchange. This is mainstream scenario that requires very little from CAD and other engineering software vendors. Cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and some others can provide it today without even disrupting current workflows.

2. Viewing and collaboration. This is more complicated, but still very feasible scenario. Think about services such as GrabCAD Workbench, TeamPlatform and some others. These services can solve basic revision management needs and collaborative viewing of files.

3. Computation and special engineering design services. This is the most interesting case, in my view. In this scenario, desktop CAD systems will use services running from public cloud to solve simulation, analysis, and more complicated design tasks. Some of them can leverage elastic nature of cloud and some of them can be collaborative by allowing several engineers working together.

What is my conclusion? Can you be ‘half pregnant"? Actually, you can, if you think about CAD and cloud services. In my view, existing and new design tools will be leveraging hybrid resources (from desktop and cloud) to support optimal workflow and implement best user experience in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Web and DIY Future of PLM Integrations

September 16, 2013

Application integrations is a complicated topic. Especially when it comes to enterprise. I can confirm decades of different attempts to simplify integration tools and create an easy way build integrations. If you are long enough in enterprise software domain, you can probably remember the variety of buzzwords like EAI (Enterprise Application Integration), ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) and many others.

There are three main components in every integration solution – data retrieval (often called connectors), integration infrastructure (middleware) and specific business code to support your integration scenario. It is complicated and can fail in many ways. Navigate to one of my historic posts to read more – PLM integration failures.

There is a chance things are going to change these days. We are getting web-like more and more every day. Which means the technology we use (also in the enterprise) is getting more similar to technologies used to build regular web sites and applications. The amount of data on the web is skyrocketing. To have technologies that can help you to deal with this data (also for integration purposes) is important. The technologies can be applied in enterprise space as well and change they way we do integrations. I want to bring few examples of tools today to explain what I mean.

Import.IO. Few days ago, I learned about interesting company Import.IO. Navigate to the following link to read more – Import.io Turns Web Pages Into Spreadsheets For Getting Out The Data That Matters Most. Spreadsheets is a good thing. Since most of enterprise organizations are overflowing by spreadsheets, the ability to convert your data into spreadsheet is good. However, the most interesting past of Import.IO is an easy way to scrap data out of web pages. Imagine if you can scrap data from your enterprise web applications. That would be cool thing to do.

Import.IO is not alone in the game of scrapping and re-purposing data on the web. There are two other products that came to my mind when I was listening and thinking about the problem Import.IO is trying to solve.

Yahoo Pipes. According to Yahoo website, Pipes is a powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web. The idea of pipes is coming from Unix operation system. Yahoo developed quite interesting and nice infrastructure how to create pipes for scrapping and integrating data.

Google Fusion Tables. Another interesting piece of data re-purposing tools – Fusion Tables. This is an experimental tools created by Google Research. Navigate here to learn more. Fusion tables provides you another way to scrap, import, mix and re-shape data.

What is my conclusion? DIY integration tools is an interesting category. For the past decade, all DIY integration efforts in enterprise and manufacturing failed. Very few manufacturing companies embarked into integration development. Most of companies used services and integration providers that dedicated to develop integration solutions (with high $$ value behind the effort). Cloud technologies and web applications are open new era in both requirements and needs for integration. Native web tools can get some advantage. There is a possibility to open a new page in DIY integrations. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why graph analyzes will rule PLM in the future?

August 23, 2013

PLM is all about data. It is about products, requirements, configurations, Bill of Materials, CAD Models manufacturing instructions and zillions of other documents. What is specially interesting about product lifecycle is the fact how data is interconnected. When you think about CAD model, assemblies and drawings, the relations are mostly obvious. Even so, PDM systems are working hard to maintain these relationships during the change process. However, let think beyond design and engineering department. Think about the whole lifecycle of the product. Think about usage of components on a global scale.Think about supply chain and design suppliers. Think about product behaviors in a socially connected world.

Data is complex. To "understand" data and find right relationships is a complex tasks. Try to use these relationships and contextual data to drive better decision process is even more complex. This is a right time to start thinking about graphs and this is where graph models come to place. This is a good time refresh your university notes about graph theory :). My recommendation is to add some practical sense to that and look on every day use cases like Facebook friends model and Page Rank.

I’m getting lots of graph-related links from big data publications these days. If you feel uncomfortable with the term big data (it trails too much hype these days), just think about data complexity beyond the level we can handle today with relational databases and excel spreadsheets. Earlier tonight, on my plane from San Francisco to Boston, I was reading Infoworld article – Graph analysis will make big data even bigger. Here is a passage I specifically liked:

Social networks transformed the Internet into a complex web of relationships; social graph analysis offers a way to understand those relationships. When it comes to social graph analysis, that task can be simple if you’re only interested in a few individuals, only investigating one type of connection among them, and only mining one static pool of behavioral data associated with them. On the other hand, if you’re trying to assess the shifting behavioral patterns of every possible relationship among every person, place, and thing on the planet, plus all the things they might be saying to each other, dynamically and in real time with perfect predictions about what they might do at every point in the future … you’re living in a science-fiction fantasy world.

The sci-fi fantasy is coming to our everyday life these days in many places. You don’t think about it, but it is around you in Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, LinkedIn and many other applications. However, it is not true when you come to your engineering office. In many situations you are surrounded by applications developed 10-15 years ago.

The enterprise software world s waking up to the potential of graphs analyses in a wide range of applications. It looks like a promising segment. These days is sold very often under "noSQL" umbrella. Oracle noSQL announcement few days ago is just one example.

What is my conclusion? Analyzing complexity is a big task. Nobody will disagree with the importance of the analyzes. However, the biggest challenge is to drive simple conclusions out of this complexity. You can get it easy from Facebook and Yelp pages as a recommendation what restaurant to go. Now think about simplification of design or supply chain process. In a future, PLM applications will need to handle more complexity, more data and do more analyzes. This is a way to make your application smarter. In my view, graph models will come to solve product lifecycle problem we cannot even think about today. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why engineering technology has 10 years adoption cycle?

August 11, 2013

I’m relaxing in sunny Tel-Aviv, removing jet lag and preparing for coming working week here. For those of you not aware, Sunday is actually working day in Israel opposite to Friday, so it is a bit confusing shift after U.S. During my travel time from Boston, I had an opportunity to catch up on my social stream. Some of news made me think about adoption of new technologies in engineering and manufacturing software.

The article I stumble upon was Cadalyst review of SolidEdge University 2013. Navigate your browser here to get some additional information. The topic that caught my attention was related to SolidEdge partnership with GrabCAD. GrabCAD (well known as open engineering portal) is recently getting lot of traction by making announcement about partnership with Autodesk and Siemens. Here is the passage in the article I specially liked:

…the company announced it has become the first to partner with the open engineering web site GrabCAD to facilitate real-time model sharing and review on the cloud for those users who want it. Users will be able to upload files directly from Solid Edge ST6 to GrabCAD Workbench, controlling access as they see fit.

One of the latest GrabCAD moves was introduction of GrabCAD Workbench – secured environment for collaboration using private and public cloud environment. Here is how GrabCAD workbench defined on GrabCAD website:

GrabCAD Workbench is built from the ground up for CAD. We display all major CAD files right in the browser, no special software required. View the design in 3D, explore exploded and section views, and "pin" comments and markups right on the model. Uploads are easy – just drag and drop the full folder structure and we do the rest.

You can get more detailed list of features here. GrabCAD features are including – viewer for CAD files, easy upload, notification, automatic revision control, versions backup and security encryption.

There is something that struck me when I was reading about Workbench features. It reminded me one of projects I was working on back 10 years ago – mySmarTeam (later re-branded as Enovia Community Workspace). I googled old SmarTeam announcement from earlier 2000s. Navigate to this link to read more. Here are few passages from that old press release:

mySmarTeam.com enables product teams to form virtual development communities and instantly share product related information with the different parties involved in the product design and change process, including customers, suppliers, partners, purchasing agents, outsource manufacturing, sales, and marketing. mySmarTeam.com is a user-friendly, browser-based project management environment, that allows product development teams to store, search, view, download and review product specifications and configurations, CAD drawings, Bills of Material, and any other type of documents on the web. Because it is based on the powerful SmarTeam PDM engine, mySmarTeam.com provides functionality for managing product revisions such as check-in, check-out and release, version control, and organizing projects into folders.

According to Avichay Nissenbaum, vice president of product marketing for SmarTeam, "Portals such as mySmarTeam.com provide an affordable, convenient way of expanding the use of PDM to numerous such groups who otherwise might not have on-line access to information. The ability to create a community around an area of interest, expose the appropriate data to that community with the proper security measures, will dramatically reduce errors, speed response time to market requirements, resolve customer issues, and overall time to market."

Avichay’s statement about community around area of interest was the most remarkable. Isn’t it what we are doing now, 10 years later with social tools and social networks?

Speaking about technology adoption cycle and in a spirit of Sunday, I want to point you on another interesting article – The Long Boom: A History of the Future, 1980 – 2020 by Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden. Navigate your browser to this link to read more. The article speaks about different trends and trajectories of economical and technological development. One of them is related to the birth of networking economy. Here is the passage I found amazingly match to what happened with engineering and manufacturing collaborative tools:

Research by a few economists, like Stanford University’s Paul Romer, suggests that fundamentally new technologies generally don’t become productive until a generation after their introduction, the time it takes for people to really learn how to use them in new ways. Sure enough, about a generation after the introduction of personal computers in the workplace, work processes begin mutating enough to take full advantage of the tool. Soon after, economists figure out how to accurately measure the true gains in productivity – and take into account the nebulous concept of improvement in quality rather than just quantity.

What is my conclusion? There are lots of changes and innovation these days in enterprise environment. Businesses and customers are looking how to improve their productivity, reduce cost and optimize for new business realities. However, you need to be aware about adoption cycle and be prepared for that. Here is my recommendation for all PLM / PDM innovators these days – go and review 10 years old projects. I’m sure you will find something that can be ready for adoptions these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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