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Technologies

Six dimensions to customize PLM

by Oleg on April 24, 2014 · 0 comments

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Ask two engineers about how to make stuff and you get at least three opinions about possible ways to do so. To find consensus in engineering, product development and manufacturing is hard. From my experience engineers and software developers is the group with largest diversity of opinions and custom requirements. I’ve learned it hard way implementing and developing PDM / PLM software. Large manufacturing companies are better organized and leaning towards well-established business processes and polices. PLM vendors are using so-called “business transformation” approach to implement PLM for large manufacturers. It proved to be efficient for many companies (not only largest OEMs, but also smaller companies). However, the TCO of existing solutions is still too high. It is very hard to convince small company to implement PLM. In addition to that, smaller companies are less influenced by corporate hierarchy, business processes and IT system governance. I put some of my thoughts about that here – Why PLM stuck to provide solutions for SME?

Software vendors and service providers are facing the problem how to customize PLM for large and diverse set of requirements. Software toolkit was the first way to solve customization problem. Only very large customers accepted toolkit approach. It was complicated and costly. The next answer provided by PDM / PLM vendors was flexible data modeling and configuration. Most of modern PDM / PLM software suites are providing set of configuration tools to do that. Nevertheless, PLM implementation is still long process taking weeks or months. In many situations, it still requires some customization to be done.

Vendors need to find another way to customize PLM system. Current customization approach is mostly focused on a company – industry, size, processes. It made me think about another way to customize the system by focusing on a specific user in a company. I can see some of these ideas in role-based and out-of-the-box approach in developing of enterprise systems. However, I can see it different by stepping down from holistic company-wide customization towards specific user-oriented goals. In other words, company was the customer before. Now, it is about individual users.

Below, I summarized six dimensions of customization that can help to identify customization directions.

1- Who. This is very similar to role-based approach. It can help to identify specific key people and their everyday needs. List their functions and pains. What is specifically different for each of them. How to personalize apps / service for every individual.

2- What. This dimension speaks about specific function. How to customize the system to a very specific operation. What do customers do differently with the system. Go to the level of person (not department)

3- Where. This is a dimension that helps you think about customized locations. How is your system different for every place. How customer can do the work everywhere and how is that different. How to provide system wherever customer wants.

4- When. There are two major aspects here – how to make system available 24×7 and how to make system available instantly (by eliminating long implementation cycles and preparation).

5- Why. One of the most critical customization factors. Why user needs your system? How to provide ROI and make system stick? How to add more value for every specific user and not “in general” for the company.

6- How. This dimension is about customization factors responsible for how to delivery the product to different customers. What delivery forms to use. How my customers are different and how to satisfy customers in every way.

What is my conclusion? Today, company policies, business practices and organizational structure are factors that impact the way PLM vendors are customizing their software. Nothing wrong with that approach. Future customization can move from holistic “company” wide customization towards specific  ”customer” (read – user) needs. PLM software should be more personal and, by doing that, to attach to specific user functions in a very unique way – to provide value, be available everywhere, anytime and in any form. This is a future for truly customizable PLM software. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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Excel and Bill of Materials. What can be better to start a discussion? One of my favorites blogging buddies and author of eng-eng blog Ed Lopategui hit the button of BOM & Excel discussion in his GrabCAD blog – It’s time to drop Excel BOM. I liked the following passage. It speaks about huge cost involved in management of changes using Excel:

There’s one fundamental constant in all of engineering: change. Aligning with the capability to change quickly and often is crucial in fighting back ever-increasing schedule pressures. Excel BOMs provide no help here. A separate Excel BOM has to be manually synchronized with each design change. It’s usually in this confusion where some of the bigger and most expensive errors tend to happen. Conflicts are common and notoriously difficult to set straight. Recognize that the information in a BOM is every bit as vital as your CAD design, and should be managed accordingly. For the very same reasons you benefit from managing CAD, so should you do the same with a BOM.

Ed’s post took me back five years to my Why do I like my PLM Excel spreadsheets?  Excel is super flexible and powerful. However, it comes with cost. I summarized them here – PLM Excel spreadsheets: from odes to woes. Very recently I put a possible recipe how PLM can compete and take over Excel spreadsheets. These are important 3 ingredients - (1) flexible data model, (2) easy customization and (3) flawless user experience.

One of the topics in Ed’s blog, took me far beyond just usage of Excel to edit BOM. It was about how to manage bill of materials between engineering and manufacturing space. Here is the passage:

So far we’ve been talking about BOMs strictly from a design perspective. But the expectation that there can be only one BOM to rule them all is unrealistic. There are different ways to slice BOMs, different disciplines may have a need for their own specific view or information. How manufacturing looks at a BOM in ERP will be fundamentally quite different from how engineering looks at a BOM.

The topic of multiple BOM management isn’t so new. The truth is every enterprise system wants to manage their portion of BOM. In PLM space BOM management is often comes with the strategy of multiple BOMs or BOM views. Most of PLM systems can support multiple BOMs. The idea of separating BOMs into different slices or views is current answer to how to let every department in the organization to own their portion of BOM.  Most of organizations are doing that because they didn’t find an alternative way to agree how to manage BOM. So, data is split between CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, MRP, CRM and other domains. Read more about it in my article Why companies are not ready for single BOM? One of the biggest problems in using multiple bill of materials is related to collaboration between people in organization. Multi-BOM leads to huge data synchronization problem. The question “where is my BOM?” is usually the one that kills collaboration.

What is my conclusion? To manage BOM in Excel is a nightmare. So, to bring BOM management tools to replace Excel is a very good idea. However, most of companies are having though time to decide how to manage bill of materials among different systems and environments. In a real world companies are relying on combination of Excel, PDM/PLM and ERP to manage multiple BOMs. Unfortunately, it kills collaboration, productivity and innovation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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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 Technology vs Vertical Industries: Wrong balance?

April 14, 2014

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 […]

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How to forget ODBC and Rethink PLM Data Openness?

April 11, 2014

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 […]

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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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Bill of Materials (BOM) Management: Data, Lifecycle, Process

April 2, 2014

In my recent post about bill of materials – Bill of Materials (BOM): process or technology challenge? I touched the variety of topics related to BOM organization – multiple BOMs and need to manage BOM located in different systems. My main question at the post was around how to make the work with multiple BOMs easier? […]

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CAD is half pregnant by cloud

March 31, 2014

The usage of cloud is growing every day. Started as an option to simplify collaboration and data exchange, it is proliferating into spaces such as backup, computation and many others. CAD and design are remaining one of the most conservative zone of the cloud and engineering software. Commonly agreed opinion – desktop is the best […]

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