PLM Collaboration: 5 Questions to Ask Before You Make a Choice

PLM Collaboration: 5 Questions to Ask Before You Make a Choice

Collaboration is a widely used term, and I found it sometime even overused. Collaborative development, Collaborative PDM, Collaborative PLM, Collaborative design, etc. Collaboration market has grown rapidly over the past few years with many companies are trying to get slice of this huge market space. However, I found, people usually can be confused when they need to decide about what collaboration tool to choose. So, I wanted to come with this list of questions that may help you in during this choice.

1. Where will your team be working?
This is a very important question to answer. Despite a wide adoption of the internet, the availability of high-quality fast internet lines is going down significantly if you move outside of North America and Europe. You need to take into account how the tool of your choice will perform in such a situation.

2. What is the scalability of a tool?
Another, obvious, but extremely important case is a scalability factor. How the tool will be able to scale up. There are multiple characteristics, I’d propose to use here: 1/ the ability for more than 2 people to participate in a collaborative session; 2/ the ability to scale up with the number of people in an organization; 3/ ability to run multiple collaboration sessions concurrently.

3. What is the level of integration?
You definitely want to have a tool that able to provide you integration with your environment – operation systems, virtual environments, design tools and many others. For design and product development, the integration with CAD viewers, CAD systems and other specific tools can be a significant portion of your decision.

4. How stable is a company producing the tool?
There are two main criteria you want to analyze with regards to a company-vendor stability. 1/ the newcomer factor; 2/ merger and acquisition factor. There are many newcomers who are trying to provide solutions in this space. You want to estimate the level of risk in working with a new vendor. Another one, you need to estimate what is the potential of a company-vendor to be acquired and stop providing a support for functions that will be important for you.

5. How bleeding edge do you need to be?
This is last, but not least. New technologies are fascinating and important. However, you need to decide and balance between new technological beta versions and stable applications that need to be used in a production environment. Your team will not appreciate multiple disconnects, interruptions and other “premature effects” that usually coming with new products.

What is the conclusion? Collaborative tools are very important, in my view. Global development environment, manufacturing and need to support your customers and vendors can put collaboration tools in the list of mission critical applications.

I know, it is hard to come with a short list. Nevertheless, this is my initial shot. I’m looking forward to hearing if you had an experience in your decisions related to collaborative tools. Please share it with me.

Best, Oleg


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  • Hi Oleg,
    The short list will be affected very much by the scope of the PLM part in “PLM Collaboration”.
    I suspect that the short list you suggested above was leaning towards CAD collaboration, digital mockup, design oriented sessions. Once the collaboration is around requirements, BOM, sourcing decisions etc., there are other challenges that result from the need to communicate data to downstream, heterogeneous applications, which in some cases I saw with customers, was a real showstopper.
    Have a good one!

  • beyondplm

    Guy, thanks for the comment! I tried to come up with a common denominator of requirements without having specific design or other sessions in my mind. If you simplify, it is all about how two or more people can work together on the same “context” – drawing, model, BOM, etc. (i.e. Review CAD model, list of components, etc.). Where do you see differences between collaborating on the 3D model and collaborating on a list of requirements? Best, Oleg

  • I had a feeling that you are leaning towards CAD collaboration sessions when looking at item #2 in your list. If a tool can’t scale up to handle a single organization then there must be something very demanding in the scenario (content, bandwidth etc.)

    But to your current question regarding the differences between CAD and BOM collaboration, well, it is clear that the set of features required to address two engineers in a need for online, detailed design review collaboration around a 3D model are different from the those required by two guys reviewing a cost analysis of a BOM in an NPI. Even if we don’t talk about CAD online collaboration, but just file exchange, a common request comes in the context of identifying the modified files in a 3D assembly and loading just those vs. loading the whole assembly. In a BOM scenario a common request is an understanding of make vs. buy parts and handling them differently, especially when it comes to integration to downstream applications.

    What I saw many times with customers, is that around CAD, where at the end of the session you can download a set of files (3D/2D/FEA analysis…) that usually make sense to you (format wise), you are left with the challenge of integrating those into the document management of PLM system. The engineer is familiar with the files and usually feels comfortable working with them. In a BOM scenario, you may get an Excel, a txt or PDX file that the engineer don’t usually see as files (in case there is a PLM/ERP system) and then integrating them into the system, in many times, ends up being a manual process, if just for the reason that the end user is intimidated by the target system.

  • beyondplm

    Guy, thanks for your insight! Scalability is not something that immediately related to CAD content. You are right, if you want to share 3D models and do some heavy stuff. However, scalability on a number of participants is not necessarily related to CAD (i.e. If you want to share “BOM” between more than 2 people to discuss on CCB).

    You are right. I also see people collaborate about 3D CAD models and then exchange Excel files or other docs. This is a common case. I think, what can be interesting is to share documents for co-editing or collaboration. Google is doing it with Google Docs and GW provided good set technologies to track changes. I had a chance to see other companies that provided such a co-editing functionality. Most of them are working with Office files/formats.

    Some of my previous posts that might be relevant.

    Are you guys doing something in PLMPlus that related to Excel-like collaboration style?
    Best, Oleg