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Daily PLM Think Tank

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Collaboration is the name of the game today for many vendors. CAD and PLM vendors are included. Cloud technology is opening many new capabilities to collaborate and it is captured by existing players and newcomers. Sometimes, it happens so fast that it even create an internal competition. Image and Data Manager article Is OneDrive for Business the SharePoint alternative? speaks about interesting transformation that happens these days around file collaboration using Microsoft family of product. We knew about SharePoint capabilities to collaborate and share content (files). However, the new born child – OneDrive is growing fast and potentially can capture some spaces occupied by SharePoint today. I liked the following passage explaining how OneDrive takes on SharePoint:

OneDrive has a very simple interface (one that has been simplified further with recent updates). So it’s easy to upload your files and share them. You can also sync to all your devices, desktop, tablet, smartphone, giving you direct access to your content when you are online or offline. You even have mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows 8 and Windows RT.

OneDrive even has this cool feature that allows you to grab a file from your PC even if you haven’t uploaded it to OneDrive. You have to turn that feature on, but it’s pretty nice to have.

SharePoint’s interface is OK, but it’s the subject of much debate. It’s not very intuitive to use and requires a fair amount of planning and organizing to get it set up in a way that’s easy for people to understand. Getting access to SharePoint on mobile devices has been spotty at best. Access via mobile (tablet or smartphone) has improved a lot with SharePoint 2013, but for those on SharePoint 2010, the story is not so good.

What I learned from this article is that file sharing, collaboration space is getting busy and competitive. Which brings me back to the discussion about specialized CAD collaboration tools. It made me think about some strategies CAD collaboration tools can use in order to avoid frontal competition with OneDrive, Dropbox and other file sharing and sync tools.

The name for this game is “layers”. Creating of layered architecture will allow to CAD collaboration tools to store data using OneDrive (or other storage and share service) and, at the same time, enhance it with the data layer providing rich access to CAD specific content, viewer and other CAD data relationships. Think about it in a similar way how Google organized information from web for you. You are not necessarily store data on websites and other locations. Nevertheless Google gives you easy access to this information via different services. The basic service is search. Enhanced services can provide a specific vertical slices of information (think about Google Flight as an example).

What is my conclusion? To separate vertical application and horizontal services is getting more and more important. It was true in the past to build right enterprise architecture, but it is getting even more important in the era of cloud services. To be successful, cloud vendors will have to learn how to recombine and reuse technologies provided by different players. File Share and Synchronization is a very good examples to start with. For CAD vendors it means to learn how to share data on OneDrive or Dropbox, but at the same time to provide vertical experience specific for CAD content. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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plm-industries

Let’s talk about PLM technologies. Err.. PLM is not a technology. Even more, PLM is even not a product. So, what is that? Business strategy? Product development politics? For the sake of this conversation let’s leave these debates out. I want to speak about PLM technologies that allow you to manage product data, CAD files, bill of materials, rich set of related information as well as processes around it. This technology came to us about 20-25 years ago first as a very hard-coded set of tools. You had to build it literally different for every customer. So, it supported only large customers that were able to pay for software, infrastructure and implementation. Later on, PDM/PLM turned into software toolkit. The next step in PDM/PLM technology evolution was called flexible data modeling. The first flexible (dynamic) PLM data modeling tools were released back in 1995-2000 and… not much changed since then.

So, what happened since that time? PLM vendors went to develop out-of-the-box and vertical industry solutions in a massive way. David Linthicum’s article Saleforce.com officially is out of ideas reminded me about the joke comparing technology vs. industry play. Here is the passage:

When you run out of new ways to provide innovative technology, you go vertical. That was the running joke among CTOs back in the day. It usually meant the market had reached the saturation point and you could not find new growth

I found this message very compelling to what happens in PLM industry. PLM vendors are trying to compete by providing more comprehensive set of data models, best practices, process templates. By doing so, vendors want to reduce TCO of PLM implementations. It is actually brings success and many customers are using these solutions as a starting point for their PLM implementation.

So, where is the problem? For most of the situations, PLM is still costly and expensive implementation. Services may take up to 50% of the cost.  Here is the issue – core PLM data and process modeling technology didn’t change a lot for the last 10-15 years. Data models, CAD file management, product structure, process orchestration. All these things are evolving, but very little. The fundamental capabilities are the same. And it is very expensive to develop solutions using these technologies.

You may ask me about cloud technologies. Cloud is the answer. But only partially. It solves problems related to infrastructure, deployments and updates. Cloud provides clear benefits here. However, from the implementation technology standpoint, it is very similar to what non-cloud solutions can offer. Another interesting passage from Infoworld cloud computing article explains what is the problem new SaaS/cloud products can experience when trying to displace existing vendors:

So many companies have tried this approach — many times — but most found limited success. I can’t help but think the same will occur here. Salesforce will soon discover that when you get into vertical industries, the existing foundation of industry-specific applications is difficult to displace. Although Salesforce can always play the SaaS card, most of those industry-specific providers have already moved to SaaS or are in the midst of such a move. That means SaaS won’t be the key differentiator it was when Salesforce first provided its powerful sales automation service more than a decade ago.

What is my conclusion? Efficiency and cost. These are two most important things to make PLM implementation successful. So, the technology must be improved. Data and model capturing tools, flexibility and ease of use – everything must be more efficient to support future of manufacturing processes. How to do so? This is a good topic to discuss with technology leaders and strategiest. I’m going to attend COFES 2014 in 10 days. I hope to find some answers there and share it with you.

Best, Oleg

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plm-link-data

One of the most popular topics in engineering (but not only) software ecosystem. Open vs. Close. I’ve been discussing it many times – Open vs. Closed PLM Debates, PLM and New Openness, Closed Thoughts About PLM openness and few more. There is clear trend towards openness these days and, in my view, it is hard to find a PDM/PLM company that will defend closed approach and not openness.

However the definition of openness can be quite different. What else, the implementation of openness can be different too. Speaking from the engineering standpoint, devil is in details. So, I wanted to speak about some aspects of “openness” and how it might be implemented in PDM / PLM world. For very long period of time, data in PDM/PLM world was completely dependent on Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS). The time of proprietary databases and data files is finally over. So, you can think data is peacefully located in RDBMS where it can be easy accessed and exchanged.  Not so fast… There are two main constraints preventing data openness in RDBMS: data access technology and data schema. You need to support both in order to have access to the data. An alternative would be to use published APIs, which will provide you an access layer. In most cases, APIs will eliminate the need to know data model, but in a nutshell will not be very different from data access technology.

For many years ODBC remains one of the most widely adopted database access technology. I’m using name ODBC, but it can also refer variety of similar data access technologies – JDBC, OLE DB, JDBC, ADO.NET, JDO, etc. This is where things went wrong with data access and openness. The power and success of ODBC came from the use of DSN (Data Source Names) as a identification of data access. All ODBC-compliant applications leveraged the fact other developers have implemented RDBMS specific libraries – ODBC drivers. So, used don’t need to think about Oracle, SQL server, MySQL, etc. User just need to connect to DSN.

The distinct development and end-user models of ODBC ensured a massive ecosystem of ODBC-compliant applications and database connectivity drivers. Unfortunately, RDBMS vendors — the same ones that collectively created the SQL CLI and inspired its evolution into ODBC — also sought to undermine its inherent RDBMS agnosticism. The problem it created lies in the producing of huge amount of data driven applications relying on ODBC data access and claiming data openness as the ability to access, retrieve and (sometimes) update data in the RDBMS. Hidden behind DNS, databases converted into data silos. Data extracted from a specific database was dead and lost without context of the database. So called “openness” became simple “data sync pipe”.  What else, each DNS remains separate. So, if you have few databases you are out of luck to access data in logical way. Applications are pumping data from one database to another mostly trying to synchronize data between different databases. The amount of duplicated and triplicated data is skyrocketing.

So, what is the alternative? We need to stop “syncing data” and instead of we need to start “linking data”. Think about simple web analogy. If you want to reference my blog article, you don’t need to copy it to your blog. For most of the cases you can create a link to my blog and URL address. Now, let’s bring some more specific technologies into this powerful analogy. Maybe you are familiar with semantic web and linked data. If not, this is the time! Start here and here.

There is a fundamental differences between old ODBC world and new way of linking data. You can get some fundamentals here and by exploring W3C data activity. I can summaries three main principles of linking data – 1/ use of hyperlinks to the source of data; 2/ separation of data abstraction data access APIs; 3/ conceptual data modeling instead of application level data modeling. So, instead of implementing ODBC drivers and APIs to access data, each data provider (think about PLM system, for the moment) will implement an linked data web abstraction layer. This abstraction layer will allow to other applications to discover data and run queries to get results or interlink data with data located in other systems. LinkedData is fast developed ecosystem. You can lear more here.

What is my conclusion? We are coming to the point where we need to re-think the way we are accessing data in business systems and start building a better abstraction level that will allow to stitch data together via linkage opposite to synchronization. The wold wide web and the internet are ultimately success stories for open standard adoption and implementation techniques. Applying that will simplify access to data and build a value of data connection to the enterprise. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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Will PLM Vendors Jump into Microsoft Cloud Window in Europe?

April 10, 2014

Cloud is raising lots of controversy in Europe. While manufacturing companies in U.S. are generally more open towards new tech, European rivals are much more conservative. Many of my industry colleagues in Germany, France, Switzerland and other EU countries probably can confirm that. Europe is coming to cloud systems, but much slower. I’ve been posting […]

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How PLM can join semantic enterprise graph?

April 9, 2014

Connectivity is a key these days and graphs are playing key role in the development of our connectivity. It doesn’t matter what to connect – people, information, devices. Graphs are fascinating things. Actually, I came to conclusion we live in the era of fast graph development. More and more things around us are getting “connected”. […]

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Why so hard to break PLM into components?

April 8, 2014

Product Lifecycle Management is not a software. It is business strategy and approach. One of my blog readers mentioned that in the discussion few days ago. Nevertheless, manufacturing companies are usually talking about PLM systems and platforms as something solid and unbreakable. The same picture you can see when looking on PLM online marketing materials […]

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How cloud PLM can reuse on-premise enterprise data?

April 7, 2014

Cloud becomes more and more an obsolete additional word to call every technology we develop I hardly can image anything these days that we develop without “cloud in mind”. This is absolutely true about PLM. Nowadays, it is all about how to make cloud technologies to work for you and not against you. For cloud […]

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PLM Best Practices and Henry Ford Mass Production System

April 6, 2014

If you are in PLM business, I’m sure you are familiar with term called “best practices”. The term is widely used to explain how PLM system can be deployed, how to manage data and how to organize and optimize product development processes. So, where are roots of PLM best practices and why PLM vendors like […]

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Why PLM stuck in PDM?

April 5, 2014

I’ve been following CIMdata PLM market industry forum earlier this week on twitter. If you’re are on twitter, navigate here or search for #PLM4UM hash tag on twitter. The agenda of PLM forum is here. The following session discussed one of my favorite topics- PDM v PLM. PLM: Well Beyond Just PDM by Peter Bilello. […]

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How to make PLM UI less terrible?

April 3, 2014

I’m coming again to this topic – User Interface. These days you can hear about it as user experience (UX). UX is more complicated thing and includes lots of factors and aspects. So, I’d like to speak first about how UI looks. Back in time when I was developing  and demonstrating PDM user interfaces, the […]

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