How PLM can beat Excel? Or Blue Ocean’s ideas on how to improve usability…

It looks like PDM is constantly running after Microsoft Excel. Lately PLM has also joined the chase.… While looking at the history of Excel applications, I’ve noticed a number of features in PDM/PLM systems that have been repeated systematically after similar features were introduced in MS Excel. In release after release, you can see sort, filter, groups, nested trees, etc.


Actually, PLM vendors are pretty aware about such competition. You can see multiple blogs and white papers comparing Excel capabilities and explaining why particular work can be done better in PLM compared to Excel. On the other hand, Excel provides people with a very flexible and open environment in which people can feel very secure about the way they manipulate data. In my opinion, this is a key reason for the continuing popularity of Excel. The PLM environment delivers specific functionality (i.e. for Bill of Material management) but put constraints on data manipulation. Therefore, in the end, it loses potentially attractive features.

Each new release of PLM software creates new features that simulate Excel capabilities on top of data models and constraints that Product Data Management established. So, how do you break this cyclic development and make customers happier?

In my view, the adoption of MS Excel services is a viable option to steer away from this feature competition. Excel services is one way to improve the PLM/Excel relationship, improve user adoption and get more functionality for the PLM environment.

PLM systems need to map the data models and PLM services to an Excel service model. It will allow you to render data and use more functionality inside of Excel So, useful data manipulation such as sorting, filtering and others will be easy available for the product development environment. In addition Excel services will not require data to be copied/imported/exported. Actually, Excel service-based implementation will be more SOA compliant and improve data consistency inside the organization.

I’d like to know if you have any experience with Excel services in your organization or have tried to implement it as part of your software.


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  • Ravi Mani

    Yes, the Excel services is a very handy tool. I had used it once as Proof concept for a customer to develop a bidding tool. Used the Excel Service to pull BOM from the Windchill PLM and pulled cost data from the costing system.
    Customer was then able to use the Excel Template to manipulate the BOM, Costs etc and try different variants of the Bid.
    Very quick, easy and impressive. Haven’t seen it in a production environment though so not sure about performance, scalability etc.

  • Hi Ravi, Thanks for you comment. Good feedback, and I think Excel services rocks… Oleg

  • Hi Oleg,

    Does the ODBC driver count as SOA?


  • Tom, SOA have different aspects of definitions. I assume from technological standpoint, SOA can be either WS* (web services) or RESTfull architecture. But in general from the past also technologies like COM, CORBA and others considered SOA (but called component approach). ODBC driver is just API…. Oleg

  • Hi Oleg,
    We used Excel as a report viewer per an executive’s explicit request. A launch report was generated in a table in the database, and a spreadsheet template was set up pointing to that table for display and manipulation. The spreadsheet was distributed via email ;-).


  • Tom,
    Nice experience indeed. What if you will be able to connect Excel service provider to your database table with report? Benefit: no need for mail… so your report will not have mulitple distribution.

  • This was at my last company, so, I don’t think I’ll be readdressing it but, if I were to do it again, the excel service provider method certainly seems like the way to go.

    Have you seen excel services implemented anywhere? Would you email a url around? How would the table be published? Is there some sort of directory of excel feeds?

    How would security be handled with the web service? In our case, a password was embedded in the ODBC connection, which we didn’t like. Many of the people reviewing the report didn’t have an account in the Aras APQP system.


  • Tom,
    Excel services based on the concepts of trusted file locations, trusted data providers and trusted data connection libraries. Since this is part of MOSS, Active Directory will be right way to sync. all in my view. You need to read this for more info.

    ODBC can be source for external data connection for Excel Services. You need to read this document. You will see detailed explanation how to configure trusted external data providers for Excel Services.


  • Thanks Oleg,

    I’ll check those resources out.


  • Hi,

    In the “real life”, excel is one of the most popular PDM even it is not a PDM.

    Excel could be an intermediate stage between a filesystem based management and a real PDM and reduce the gap between these two systems.

    We started to develop a macro for CATIA V5 to manage CAD data with excel :

    We want to enhance the capabilities of the macro.

    Your coments are very welcome !


  • Hi Pascal, Sorry about delay (your comment unfortunately went to spam). I think excel (not file), but excel services can be good mediator from technological standpoint. I will take a look on your applications. It looks interesting. Thanks a lot for commenting on my blog. – Regards, Oleg

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