SharePoint PLM Paradox?

SharePoint is definitely moving forward. The latest Microsoft announcement folded Microsoft performance point and business process Management into its SharePoint package. No doubt,  this is a successful package, providing lots of useful and capable goodies for people, organizations and IT in general. Does it help to users thinking about PLM? This is an important question… In the past, companies demonstrated a performance boost when they based their product on Windows and Microsoft Technologies. AutoCAD was the first CAD system designed for Windows/PC. Back in 1993, SolidWorks introduced its 3D CAD system, fully leveraging Microsoft Windows technologies, and it was very successful.

Let’s get back to SharePoint…For a long time, SharePoint was a system used mostly for portals. Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and Microsoft SharePoint 2007 created a revolution by shifting SharePoint capabilities in the area of collaboration – document collaboration, workspace for teams, coordination of documents and calendars. These were great tools that were implemented by a very large number of organizations. Manufacturing organizations are also implementing WSS/MOSS in order to improve team collaboration and share documents.

Will Microsoft SharePoint become the technology that can improve PLM systems? I think that people are still waiting for an answer to this question. Actually, I haven’t found many thoughts about this. The most interesting was question that has been raised is “Is SharePoint the Next PLM? “. This dates back to 2007, pointing to a CADCAMNet article. Whereas I don’t see SharePoint as the next PLM, I do see it, from technology standpoint, as  providing clear advantages for PLM software vendors. On the other hand, many really interesting SharePoint technologies like BDC, Excel Services, Report Services, and others are part of Enterprise version of SharePoint – MOSS. How manufacturing companies will be able to afford both MOSS and PLM system leveraging these technologies – it’s still not clear. It’s also not clear how additionally folded Performance Point and BPM tools will be packaged. It’s quite possible that these will become part of a MOSS version.

The way I see it, today’s SharePoint technologies can be valued by PLM products in the same way that Microsoft and Windows technologies were leveraged in the past by CAD vendors. At the same time, packaging of these technological capabilities in a full Microsoft SharePoint Server can become a real barrier for PLM companies who want to leverage it for their PLM products. In today’s economical downturn, companies will be looking for a single offering, and will find it difficult to choose between Microsoft SharePoint and a PLM system. Potential winners are “open PLM” products that can be easily integrated to leverage Microsoft SharePoint capabilities and Service Providers that can use both PLM and SharePoint technologies for their implementation. 

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  • I am sure this will be an interesting discussion – thanks to Oleg for starting the ball rolling. I believe Solid Edge was one of the first CAD solutions to offer a SharePoint based PDM solution – Solid Edge Insight was introduced in 2001. I found a web link with some comments by Cyon on this release: http://cadwire.net/commentary/?14179 – in 2001 Cyon recognized this was an interesting development that could have a significant impact on the PDM market.
    Insight has remained as a PDM (not PLM) solution with its focus on managing CAD data within the design department and many Solid Edge users have found it meets their needs.
    The investment cutbacks that some manufacturing companies are experiencing may well see them re-evaluate the role that SharePoint and SharePoint based solutions can play in supporting their collaboration needs for design-through-manufacturing.

  • Hi David, Thanks for comments. Does SE Insight available until now and supports WSS 3.0? Best regards. Oleg.

  • Yes – Solid Edge Insight is available now – a new version will be available soon with support for WSS 3.0 and MOSS. Best regards to you too.

  • I see two things that can happen here. One the PLM companies embrace sharepoint, like PTC has done and relegate sharepoint to just another database. Second customers try to use sharepoint as a point solution for document management. Niether is really that interesting. In the first case sharepoint is just technology infrastructure and in the second point the lack of domain specific fucntionality removes any value opportunity for users.

    I have seen many cusotmers who have PLM deploy sharepoint as a flexible solution or ad-hoc solution to fill a need uncovered by PLM. These implementations have ended with little value, becuase so much is left to the users to build/define because sharepiont out of the box is to generic.

  • Chris, there is no real need to use Sharepoint as database, since this is the same SQL server. So, in this case Sharepoint have no real advantages. Do you see any point to use SharePoint collaboration capabilities? Search? Single Portal Entry Point to every information?
    Regards,Oleg.

  • Oleg,
    Interesting and timely post. SharePoint is noteworthy because it is being adopted broadly….it’s everywhere, bundled in with most of Microsoft’s enterprise deals, making it very attractive to IT. Companies of all sizes and industries are looking to make wider use of it. To your last post, SharePoint’s collaboration/social computing capabilities are equally compelling. For manufacturing companies or product development organizations, though, one of the key things missing from SharePoint OOTB is a lack of understanding of structured content– the centerpiece of product development…Here I mean CAD content and the evolution of that information over time. SharePoint serves as an excellent foundation, but for it to be truly useful in PLM, it needs to know how to handle this structured content in a high performance way.

  • Robin,
    Thanks for coming to my blog and commented. I see what you are saying with regards to structured content. Looking on ProductPoint I see PLM interface delivered as part of SharePoint. But on the other side, simple content management approach (List) is centerpiece of SharePoint. This is, in my view, very attractive part of SharePoint user acceptance. I’m afraid we will convert SharePoint to another PLM systems (structures, structures) and SharePoint will become another technological frame for Product Development System. In this case, who cares if this framework called ASP.NET or WSS 3.0? What is your opinion on this?
    Best regards, Oleg

  • Ken

    In addition to David pointing out the existence of the Siemens PLM’s product Solid Edge Insight which is based on Sharepoint, they have also had another Sharepoint based product out for several years called TeamCenter Community which uses Sharepoint’s capabilities as a adhoc collaboration tool to allow just that in it’s TeamCenter PLM product.

  • Ken, thanks for comments. It sounds like if SolidEdge Insight already based on SharePoint, why is needed to have additional product – TeamCenter Community? I believe if SE Insight using WSS/MOSS as storage, you don’t need separate tool to collaborate on native content. SharePoint have enough capabilities to do it.
    Does it make sense?
    Regards, Oleg

  • Oleg,
    On the surface, I agree that SharePoint seems simple and approachable. But its real strength is its list and document management power. However, companies and users can expose just the right amount of complexity to meet their needs. Just like Word or PowerPoint, SharePoint draws you in with basic capabilities at first, and then, over time, you start to use more advanced capabilities. This apparent simplicity is a big driving force behind SharePoint’s ubiquity. Microsoft says they have 100 million users. But structured content is the lifeblood of product development. And SharePoint is challenged in product development environments without a solid understanding of this structured content. That doesn’t mean that the resulting application has to be complicated and hard to use. That would serve no one. The key is to retain the apparent simplicity, let the company and user add/introduce more powerful capabilities as needed, while adding the relevance to product development.

    Robin

  • Robin
    In my view, the best role SharePoint can play today is to become IT-enabler and user adoption enabler. But this is different discussion. SharePoint cannot understand structured information – this understanding will be part of what you will add to SharePoint from technological standpoint. This is probably what you did, but SharePoint didn’t provide you any technological advantages to manage this content. From technological standpoint this is still ASP.NET and MS SQL server. In order to use available SharePoint collaborative application, you need expose content in the way it will be compliant SharePoint standard application and tools. This is, in my view, opposite to introduce structured content in SharePoint.
    But this is good discussion. I’ll be interested to learn more about how from your standpoint people using SharePoint in organization and product development.
    Oleg.

  • Oleg,
    to respond to your question from Feb 5th – you are correct that a customer who uses Solid Edge Insight to manage their design data can take advantage of Sharepoint for their more general collaboration needs. Insight itself is focused on managing Solid Edge data within the design department.
    Teamcenter Community is aimed more at the collaboration needs of large enterprises, an example would be Proctor & Gamble who use Teamcenter Community to share information across the many firewalls, geographies, time zones and systems that comprise its globaly distributed product development strategy.

  • David, thanks for explanation. But I’m sorry, still cannot getting clear feeling what is TeamCenter Community compared to regular SharePoint collaboration. I can manage Document Libraries / List of information in SharePoint to collaborate on, but what TC Community is adding to this?
    Regards, Oleg

  • SharePoint has the potential of being a great collation vehicle. It enables teams to quickly create the electronic equivalent of a common file cabinet. That has its good and bad points. Already I’ve seen a lot of sites that started with good intensions, only to become garbage bins. Like filing cabinets someone has to come up with a filing system that allows for identifying, storing and retrieving data. One of the maxims I quote to clients when I help them reengineer and discuss data management is “How you store your information is often not how you retrieve it, Organize for retrieval not storage” In that case technology while an enabler is the last issue to discuss unless it provides new retrieval options.

    However with PLM, there is more to Life-cycle than just storage and retrieval. If not, SQL Databases would have solved the problem years ago. IBM had a product CIM/CDF that was a layer on top of SQL that purported to do PLM –it didn’t. It had most of the features PDM/PLM vendors today advertise but on a mainframe platform. It was not easy to setup, modify or use without a full program staff thereby reducing flexibility and usefulness to Line of Business. Additionally, viability of the Product vs. Product files was really a foreign concept as it still is today…

  • Brian, I agree with you. SharePoint strongest side in content and document collaboration is around organizing document libraries and concept of MySites. But at the same time it pretty disruptive when organization start to establish multiple libraries and stores of documents. I think SharePoint solves collaboration for plain document/office content, but for PLM content this is not working well yet. It will be interesting to see how various PLM products will evolve with SharePoint. For the moment looks like most of them are trying to replicate current PLM concept on top of SharePoint.

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