Aras announced Innovator 12 with a list of few new features and functions. Some of them triggered my special attention. Such as Supply Chain Collaboration. Develop3D article called it “in the heart of new updates” in their article.
The supply chain is also at the heart of one of the biggest updates, enhancing secure web access to include new permission capabilities for need-to-know scenarios and geopolitical boundary related access restrictions. In addition, connected instance sync has been added to the platform for inside and outside the firewall deployments with supplier data from projects, programs or workspaces. Aras says that the capabilities cover a wide range of supplier collaboration use cases while ‘enabling companies to dynamically set-up and reconfigure highly specific supply chain access’.
I was lucky to get Mark Reisig of Aras for a call to discuss some of these updates. According to Mark, new supply chain capabilities introduced a highly flexible and configurable way to share data out of Aras database to secure access of suppliers and contractors.
Here are a few slides I captured from John Sperling‘s slide deck about Aras Innovator 12.
Supply chain collaboration isn’t a new domain. Existing PLM vendors provided solutions to share data with contractors and suppliers mainly by organizing so-called “collaborative portal” with access to technical data packages of different forms).
So, my first thing to understand was if Aras does something different. And the first slide gives you some “hint” that the suppliers will get direct access. The second slide speaks about Project level control and third slide outline a separate server which is “synchronized” with the main server to provide access to contractors via DMZ network.
I was slightly disappointed by what I’ve learned. But don’t take me wrong. I was looking for magic, but I didn’t find it. Or, at least, I didn’t find it yet. The solution Aras provided is most probably serves the need of OEMs that demanding suppliers accessing some of the data. Where is the catch?
A combination of project level access and synchronized access is conceptually not different from what PLM companies did for the last 20 years when needed to share data outside of corporate firewalls. The contextual (project or folder) level security was implemented in some PLM systems back in the 2000s. It is available in some PLM products competing with Aras.
I guess the proof is in the pudding. Users don’t see the internal kitchen of data modeling, security settings, synchronization, and maintenance. As a supplier, I want to get to the web browser and get access to information and files, if needed. I want to be able to send data back (this is what Aras calls “bi-directional” synch is coming) As an OEM vendor, I want to ensure suppliers are not crossing sensitive data borders.
Data synchronization is a complex task. It separated into multiple stages. First to define what to expose from central PLM database. This is usually the easiest part. Especially if you have a flexible data model like Aras has. You define root, depth, some additional conditions. Having data preserved outside of central PLM database is harder. It is not clear what technology Aras will be using for the outside portal. Knowing Aras philosophy, I’d expect the same Aras engine and database to run on external servers. So, we will multiple PLM databases running with redundant data sets. And the third, and the most tricky part is to keep changes and synchronize data. SQL databases might be not the best tools for such change management tasks. Unfortunately, Aras slides don’t say anything about how it is actually done.
What is my conclusion? On the surface, Aras Supply Chain Collaboration is another “Portal” solution to push data back and forth between two Aras databases. Unless Aras will share some more details about the way data synchronization is happening and changes are managed it is hard to say if Aras invented something new or just filled a functional gap with larger PLM vendors. The last one is not less important. Aras is competing with big three PLM vendors and most of the large companies are still voting based on feature and function checklist. Just my thoughts…
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. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.