Monica Shnitger article Openness — will you know it when you see it? made me think again about PLM and openness. The article brings two important reasons why openness is important. It is about sustainability and interoperability. The following two passages can explain that.
For me, it’s that first one: sustainability. We know that many of the objects built in our engineering-centric world have very long lives, and that we may be called upon to dig up the CAD model of a 30-year old ship, airplane, refinery, train or car at a moment’s notice. We might need to work backwards from a broken rotor blade to the engineering calculations that said it could withstand that fatal load. If the platform used for the design or simulation wasn’t sustainable, we’re in trouble now and need to do some quick stepping to figure it out.
But for many others, it’s interoperability. No one vendor can create every product needed be every buyer in every industry — they need to build a structure that enables partners to create what they can’t or won’t, for the ultimate benefit of the buyer. And if the partner creates a great solution to a customer problem, why can’t it be available on more than one CAD or PLM or cloud or or or … platform?
The article brings also a term fauxpen or fauxpenness, which took me back to debates about open source and PLM. Navigate to Open vs Fauxpen article to read more about open source software debates.
A description of software that claims to be open source, but lacks the full freedoms required by the Open Source Definition.
PLM industry has its own story about open source – Aras Innovator, which is an example of fauxpenness in my view. Aras has a great product. Aras invented a brilliant marketing term – enterprise open source, which is a combination of closed core system combined with free license and open source solutions developed on top of controlled platform. You can read more here – Open Source Aras Style.
There are many aspects of PLM openness. Modern web and mobile world brings new demands for PLM openness. The question about openness is often asked by customers during the evaluation and comparison of PLM software. I’ve been asked about it many times during my consulting sessions. From a practical standpoint, I recommend to define the following 3 domains to evaluate the level of PLM openness:
1 – Licenses
This is legal stuff. Mostly boring, but it is very important. It defines what you can do with the software. Watch EULA (End user license agreement) documents for perpetual license and SLA (Service Level Agreement). If you plan to develop additions to PLM software using API, watch developer licenses agreement too.
License agreements can prohibit you from extending PLM systems, using data, using API in certain scenarios (for example share software via web servers) and many other use cases.
2- API (Application Programming Interface)
Availability of API is an important element of openness. The devil is in details, but I recommend you to pay attention on ability to read/write data. Most of systems can give you read API, but write API is the one you need to complete many interoperability scenarios. Read API is more related to sustainability and data publishing.
In cloud based scenarios, you need to check specifically about availability of REST API, which is de-facto a standard in web / cloud application world.
3- Data models and databases
The data modeling openness is a bit tricky. In case of well developed, supported and document API, there is no real need to access database directly. But this is a place where the reality of implementations are not always aligned with what PLM systems can support.
Most of PLM vendors are not allowing to customers and developers to access database directly (so called SQL injections). But this prohibition is not strictly followed in PLM world, especially when it comes to large customers and complicated integration scenarios. For many of them, SQL injection is the only way to integrate and get data out of the system. As a result, systems with transparent and self explanatory data models can provide some implementation advantages.
Cloud software is diminishing the opportunity to access databases directly- in most of cases database is not available for direct access and it is located behind web servers. So, you can only rely on REST API to integrate and retrieve the data.
What is my conclusion? Openness is hard. It requires to see both worlds of customers and competition at the same time. Modern manufacturing world is global and connected. Companies are using multiple products. Therefore openness will play even more important role in the future. Just my thoughts…
Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.