After starting a massive Excel discussion last week and continuing this week, I got a lot of comments that I was too Microsoft-oriented. And, folks in Redmond, I love you, but we need to check whether or not this is blind love. I will not talk much about the Microsoft option. I think that Microsoft has a major market presence (I think some people commented on my Excel article they have seen about 90% of users are using Excel for BOM management). Excel is very popular, but becomes messy over time.
What are the alternatives to multiple MS Excel attachments that create one big mixed BOM salad on our tables? One of the possible ways is to move online. This is really nice! Think about being able to keep your BOM tables online (actually, I discussed cloud options last month – Host PLM Data using Cloud Services , Should PLM take Excel to the Cloud?). And this is time I also was thinking about Office online alternatives, and came up with Google Apps. I polled your Google Apps opinion last week in PLM Prompt Should PLM think about Google Apps? You also need to check what was result of Kate’s Cloud Watching, but I’ve seen definite interest in this.
So, the main idea is to be able to co-edit document information (spreadsheets, in our case) online. This simplifies the editing process of potential Bill of Materials and allows many participants to edit/view them at the same time. As this is an advantage, where is the drawback? For Excel, one of the big disadvantages of PLM Spreadsheets is how to connect it to multiple data sources – design, manufacturing etc. This is still a problem in my view. One interesting possibility is the connection as demonstrated by Google Apps and Salesforce.com. Another option is to move forward with cloud applications, but these seem still to be in their infancy.
Google Docs in Plain English
Google Apps and Salesforce.com
I can see that collaboration in the future with Google Apps has a nice potential, but what is going on with the parallel Microsoft option? There are two main options for organizing my big Bill of Materials salad created in MS Excel. One is to move it to MS SharePoint. This is a really beautiful option. The combination of MS SharePoint Lists and MS Excel interoperability works fine. You can almost seamlessly move an Excel to SharePoint List and populate an Excel View based on a MOSS Web Part – or just export a MOSS list to Excel. There are practical things you can do tomorrow with MOSS 2007, and this is a real benefit vs. Google Apps, since it don’t have the grace of leveraging all MS Excel install bases for this purpose. But at the same time, Google Apps is really a leader in providing online collaboration with Gmail and Google Docs. Even if Microsoft is proposing to host MS SharePoint, I think this is still far from a real production for manufacturing organizations.
Combination of SharePoint and Unified Communication also can bring additional benefits. I wrote about this back to SolidWorks World. SharePoint Social Platform capability for SolidWorks
And to be fair enough, discussing all online collaboration option, I think I have to mention Arena Solutions option. This company has already been providing online Bill of Materials collaboration for many years. Although I don’t know if Arena is Excel-friendly, I had a chance to read a few white papers explaining Arena’s benefits vs. MS Excel. Based on what I read, I think this is a more competing rather than coexisting offering.
So, I think there are pros and cons on how to streamline collaboration. I’m looking forward to discussing this with you, as usual.