How to change existing PLM User Experience

How to change existing PLM User Experience

Historically, PLM products are well know for being complicated and hard to use. It has deep roots in the way enterprise software was built for many years. The assumption that business users will have to use software dictated by IT and needed for their business function. The picture below is a good demonstration for “typical” complex enterprise software application UX:

bad-ui-example

One of the special reasons why PLM products were ridiculously complex is the fact most of them just reflected data management technology built into a product. The famous “flexible data model” paradigm was around PLM for the last 15-20 years. And you can trace the roots of data model in all PLM applications in almost every PLM application today – from very old ones to even modern applications developed for the last 5-10 years. The situation is improving in all verticals of enterprise software. But it is slow and dependent on many constraints – usually PLM vendors stuck between existing products, customers and technical constraints when trying to decide about UX improvements.

plm-ux-improvment

Despite the overall complexity, it can bring results. I reflected on some of them in my earlier blog – PDM & PLM UI Makeup: New trends in user experience.

But, some fundamental paradigm shift required. People like to praise Apple for their focus to design products with a great focus on user experience. My attention caught Business Insider article – Steve Jobs’ reaction to this insult shows why he was such a great CEO. Watch the video – it is very short.

I specially liked the part where Steve Jobs speaks about designing from “user experience” to “technologies” and not backwards. Here is the passage:

…one of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology”. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. And I made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room. And I got the scar tissue to prove it. And I know that it’s the case,” Jobs said. “And as we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with ‘What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?’ Not starting with ‘Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how are we going to market that?’

As I can see most of PLM products are inherited user experience from two technologies – data models and workflows. Although these technologies are absolutely needed to build PLM applications, it gave a very complex experience to users. For the last few years, I can see a significant effort done by PLM developers to improve user experience. Many applications are getting facelift. As an example, we can see more 3D, search driven experience and data visualizations. These are good things to make user experience better.

What is my conclusion? PLM developers should take a deep breadth and ask hard questions about user experience. Most of PLM applications are essentially “giant database browsers” with complex logic. Workflow is a dominant user experience model for process applications. It is a time to think backwards, start from new experience and come with the ideas to existing or new technologies can support it. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Photo credit Udi Waizer SAP presentation

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  • Good point Oleg, although two major differences between PLM and an Ipad (and its application) :
    – the ipad has one implementation for every user, not much customisable. I think that could/should be possible for PLM, but we are years from that. Customers still require a lot of customising.
    – Almost each application added is a data silo and needs additionnal application to sync like ( zappier).

    And you obviously took SAP with one of the worst UI in the PLM industry! not really fair 😉 !

  • beyondplm

    Yoann,

    SAP is always good example 🙂 of bad UI. But, as Larry Allison mentioned few days ago, SAP was the best “old school” application company Oracle competed with. So, a combination of bad UI and good business is really a symbol of old school enterprise software.

    Seriously, I think the problem of many PLM vendors that they accept this “customization” idea as a fundamental requirement. If I get back to Job’s quote- start from user experience and work it back to technology. I think, each time PLM developers said they accept options (aka customization) it failed and led to UX problems. Just my opinion, of course.

    Thanks for sharing your insight and comment!
    Best, Oleg

  • Hi Oleg,

    really true, I only can confirm it (I
    give PLM trainings regularly).

    I see in many companies that most cause
    for heterogeneous UI are heterogeneous requirements. It is often combined
    with (mentioned you) data model driven implementation. The administrators understand
    business requirements as a request for a data model extension and not as a
    frontend for the business process.

    I had very good experience with PLM programmers who
    worked for years for an engineering department as a user. They have another
    view on the problem and UI. Even although many software tools are not adjustable
    very well, they always could come to a user-friendly solution.

    Alexander

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  • Kathleen DesMarteau

    Interesting “new thinking” on PLM implementation!

  • beyondplm

    Alexander, thanks for your comment! The example of programmer that was a user before is a good one. I like that. It reminded me that – “you can only learn how much your design sucks when you watch people use it”

  • beyondplm

    Kathleen, thank you!

  • Loved that Jobs video. As much as I am not a fan of Apple, it’s pretty obvious he was a stellar CEO and a prime factor in Apple’s rise.

    A couple of thoughts here that you haven’t already touched on:

    1. Users never had a say in software selection, and real, honest usability is rarely a criteria other than some generic checkbox on a vendor proposal. Maybe that’s starting to change, but I still see too many implementations where users are merely pawns in a larger IT game.

    2. Most of the established PLM products have long legacies and as such they aren’t really one product but many stuck together and sold as one product. What that does to interface, and data models is rather predictable: users suffer from a Frankenstein effect of the underlying code.

    Bad PLM user interface is what got me blogging in the first place, one of my early posts covered exactly that: http://eng-eng.com/enterprise-ui-users-say/

  • beyondplm

    Ed, thanks for commenting and sharing a link to your old blog – I probably missed it back in 2013. I think, last 3-5 years made enterprise software vendors (including PLM) to acknowledge that UX/UI is a real thing and they must to address it. Now, you can speculate how serious vendors are and how much say users have in the decision process. It depends… But I can see some confirmation of movements made by large PLM vendors. My best example is Active Workspace by Siemens PLM. It was an attempt to think “from UX to technology”. How is that successful and how long it will take to re-implement Teamcenter using ActiveWorkspace? This is a good question and I don’t know the answer :). Best, Oleg

  • Granted some progress has happened in a few years and it should have, if no progress happened then the problem would be indeed terrible.

    Active Workspace is an enigma for me, having used it even in it’s earliest iterations. They are certainly trying, but they are doing it wrong. Even after several years it only has the most basic functionality, and they advertise it as a client for non-core users, i.e. those that were suffering with the absolutely tragic browser-based thin client of many years past. But the data model and functionality underneath is the same old same old, it’s just a new coat of paint. So the question of how long to re-implement is no time at all, because Teamcenter is still there. That’s understandable considering they don’t want to upset current customers, but it’s not helping. Meanwhile RAC users are suffering with the same old stuff. Not to mention AW was put together with the Win8 design aesthetic which has been long eclipsed. Considering their last major redesign aesthetic before that was modeled after MS Outlook again gives you some idea of the glacial pace that’s not good enough anymore.

    If anyone in the PLM space wants to get serious, waterfall client development has to go bye-bye. It need to be a continuous, constantly updated and iterative exploration of some new ideas. I’m not sure most of the PLM incumbents have the requisite bravery to do that.
    Bottom line, points for trying, but I’m not seeing as much progress as I would like to see.

  • beyondplm

    Ed, these are all good points. But remember, the original question was about UX and not about changing everything :). So, with respect to your thinking about how “reinvent” PLM, IMHO – ActiveWorkspace is one of the best PLM initiatives around to improve UI.

    Btw, what is RAC?

  • Fair enough. 🙂
    RAC = Rich Access Client. It’s the primary Teamcenter Desktop Client, the only one that has the full set of functionality. It’s locally installed on each machine. Many of the CAD integrations are dependent on the RAC. If you spot a couple Teamcenter consultants talking shop and they start talking about the “rack” this is what they are referring to.

  • beyondplm

    Ed, thanks for new TLA :), I will remember RAC now. I never heard the name, but I’ve seen that client. Earlier this year, at Siemens conference in Boston, I’ve seen couple of new dev based on Active Workspace. According to Siemens, the approach is to replace functionality based on “business process” fragmentation. In other words, when Active Workspace is ready for cover a complete business process, to replace what is supported today by rich client.