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PDM

Engineers and email workhorse

by Oleg on August 27, 2014 · 1 comment

email-workhorse-plm

We love and hate email at the same time. Since early beginning (back in 1962) email remains one of the fundamental ways of electronic communication. One of the major email transformation back in 1990s was influence of internet and significant expansion of email content and functionality.

In the world of software vendors banking on collaboration, the death of email was predicted long time ago. Engineering software (CAD and PLM) vendors are part of that group. The need to transfer large CAD files was on of the most critical reasons used by companies developing PDM/PLM software against email in communication and collaboration.

Nevertheless, despite all predictions, email is alive and transforming. I’ve been reading Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet. Article explains why email will never die and provides a very good set of arguments to support that statement. Here is my favorite passage:

You can’t kill email! It’s the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing. Email is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built. In that way, email represents a different model from the closed ecosystems we see proliferating across our computers and devices. Email is a refugee from the open, interoperable, less-controlled “web we lost.” It’s an exciting landscape of freedom amidst the walled gardens of social networking and messaging services.

Speaking about email transformation, I want to mention (again) the strategy of “unbundling” of email. The article brings few interesting examples of email unbundling – newsfeed, identification platform, direct social communication, digital package delivery service, business and work communication, etc. However, one of the key issues related to remaining popularity of email is the role email plays as a communication platform. The main point here is how to make communication smarter. Here is an interesting explanation from the same article:

This change might be accelerated by services like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, which sorts mail neatly (and automatically) into categories, or Unroll.me, which allows users to bundle incoming impersonal communications like newsletters and commercial offers into one easy custom publication. That is to say, our inboxes are getting smarter and smarter. Serious tools are being built to help us direct and manage what was once just a chronological flow, which people dammed with inadequate organization systems hoping to survive the flood. (Remember all the folders in desktop email clients!)

I found the topic of “smart communication” interesting. This is can be a refreshing idea. At the end of the day, engineers are looking how to make communication easy and smart. At the same time, the adoption of new communication tools can be hard and limited if you need to communicate across multiple organizations and individual networks. I was discussing some aspects of unbundling in the field of 3D, CAD and PLM. Email or let’s call it engineering communication platform can be another “unbundled” service.

What is my conclusion? Efficient collaboration and communication is a key. PDM/PLM vendors are trying to find a new innovative way to re-invent collaboration. Internet, cloud, social… we’ve heard many names and buzzwords for the last few years. To re-invent communication leveraging email communication platform by making your email inbox smarter can be a refreshing approach. What do you think? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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legacy-software

Do you know what is legacy software? Earlier today,  Marc Lind of Aras Corp. challenged me by his twitter status about companies complaining about legacy PLM systems and upgrading. Here is the original passage from twitter here and here.

“a lot of people complains about legacy PLM and a lot of companies that have legacy PLM are throwing in the towel and switching these days”.

marc-lind-legacy-plm-tweet

The part of statement about “legacy software” is really interesting. Last week, I wasn’t able to update a game on my son’s iPad. After few minutes, I discovered that Apple is not supporting the original iPad hardware manufactured 4 years ago. Does it mean iOS software run on that iPad is a legacy? Good question. At the same time, what about properly functioning ERP software that company runs already for the last 10 years without any plans to upgrade? Is that a legacy software?

Wikipedia gives me the following definition of legacy system:

In computing a legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program,”of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system.”[1] A more recent definition says that “a legacy system is any corporate computer system that isn’t Internet-dependent.”[2]… The first use of the term legacy to describe computer systems probably occurred in the 1970s. By the 1980s it was commonly used to refer to existing computer systems to distinguish them from the design and implementation of new systems. Legacy was often heard during a conversion process, for example, when moving data from the legacy system to a new database.

Software upgrades is an important topic in engineering and manufacturing. Very often, systems can be in use very long time because of product lifecycle and the need to maintain existing data. It happens a lot in defense, aero and some other “regulated” industries. Also, because of significant investment, the ROI from upgrade can be questionable, which leads companies to keep existing outdated systems in operation. I’ve been posted about problems of PLM customization and upgrades before – How to eliminate PLM customization problems and Cloud PLM and future of upgrades.

PLM vendors are aware about the issue of upgrades and difficulties of software migrations . For long time, industry recognized it as something unavoidable. However, in today’s dynamic business environment, the issue of software upgrades cannot be ignored. Customers demanding flexible and agile software that can be deployed and updated fast. At the same time, changes of business models towards services and subscriptions pushed the problem of upgrades back to vendors.

Earlier this year, my attention was caught by CIMdata publication – Aras Innovator: Redefining Customization & Upgrades. Aras enterprise open source model is predominantly subscription oriented. Which provides lots of incentives for Aras  engineers to solve the issue of upgrades and new versions deployment. Here is the passage from the article confirming that:

For several years, the Aras Corporation (Aras) has included no-cost version-to-version upgrades in their enterprise subscriptions, independent of how the solution has been customized and implemented. This is a rather bold guarantee given the historic challenges the industry has experienced with upgrading highly customized PLM deployments. With more than 300 upgrades behind it, CIMdata felt it appropriate to find out how Aras’ guarantee was playing out, and discovered that there was much more to the story than just a contractual guarantee. Fundamentally, Aras Innovator is engineered to be highly configurable—even customizable—without resulting in expensive and complex version-to-version upgrades and re-implementations.

One of PLM software leaders, Siemens PLM is also thinking about What is the best release cycle. The article speaks about SolidEdge release cycle.

A few years ago we moved from an irregular release cycle for Solid Edge, maybe 9 months in one cycle to 15 months in the next, to a regular cycle of annual releases (of course there are also maintenance packs delivered in the interim). I believe our customers much prefer this, they can plan ahead knowing that there will be a significant Solid Edge release available to them in August each year.

At the same time, the article confirms that CAD/PLM vendors are looking how to solve the problem of upgrades. As I mentioned earlier, cloud software model is one of the most promising technical ways to solve the issue of upgrades. It is true, but can be tricky in case both desktop and cloud software are involved. Here is the passage from the same Siemens PLM blog:

Working in the PLM area we try really hard to provide our customers with a good upgrade experience. PLM software is itself dependent on both the operating system and database software, and it has to work with specific releases of CAD software  (sometimes with more than one CAD solution for our multi-CAD customers) and with office software as well! Moving PLM software to the cloud could potentially take some of the upgrade issues away from the end user, but PLM software does not work in isolation from your data files, or your other software and systems so I believe there is much work still to be done before the cloud really impacts the upgrade situation for real-world customers.

What is my conclusion? From customer perspective, the best option is to make release cycle completely transparent.  In my view, this is really high bar for PLM vendors. Customer data migration, customization and sometimes absence of backward compatibility make release transparency questionable. However, since industry moves towards cloud software and service business model the demand for agile release management and absence of upgrades will be growing. So, my hunch, in the future we will not see “legacy software” anymore. New type of enterprise software will manage upgrades and migrations without customers paying attention. Sound like a dream? I don’t think so. For most of web and consumer software it is a reality already today. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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re0invent-pdm-now

Product Data Management (PDM) isn’t a new domain. The first PDM systems were invented 20-30 years ago with a simple objective – to manage product data. The scope of PDM was heavily debated and included design, engineering BOMs, ECO and even supply chain. However, the most widely accepted role of PDM is to manage CAD files and their revisions.

For long time, PDM was recognized as somewhat you only need to consider if  a size of your engineering department is large enough. Even starting price to implement PDM solution went down significantly for the last 20 years, my hunch average PDM solution starting cost for engineering organization with 10-15 people will be about $30-50K. Cost and implementation complexity made PDM business limited to larger companies and was mostly handled by resellers with special skills and knowledge. Most of them associated with a specific CAD vendor channel.

CAD vendors recognized the need and complexity of PDM. For most of vendors the answer on PDM demand was to develop (or acquire) a dedicated PDM system bundled with their CAD software. As a result of that, most of PDM players were acquired. Most of existing (remaining) PDM vendors are either focusing on a specific geographical niche or developed additional solutions usually branded with “PLM” buzzword and strategy.

My hunch is that until last year, PDM market was somewhat stalled and focusing on replacing of outdated versions of PDM software as well as support of new CAD software releases. Then something happens… For the last months, I can see an increased interested in PDM software. I noticed few focused researches and articles in the field of PDM – Expert Guide to the Next Generation of PDM; TechClarity Expert Guide for Basic CAD management and few others.

Also I want to mention few activities by vendors focusing on basic PDM functionality. It started from more traditional OOTB approach made by PTC Windchill PDM Essentials, SolidEdge SP focusing on SharePoint platform leverage and GrabCAD Workbench using “cloud platform” as a differentiation strategy.

Consilia Vector published CAMScore report for GrabCAD Workbench where CAMS stands for Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social. In my view, these major trends are making a renaissance in the space of PDM.

As I mentioned before, because of cost and complexity, PDM software was out of reach for many smaller companies and engineering departments. DIY (Do it yourself) PDM  approach combining network file share, Excel files and FTP is a solution for probably 60-70% of market. For many years, to share files using network and USB drives was “good enough solution”. But the era of file sharing changed forever with coming trend of  social networks, mobile and cloud. So called YAPSA (Yet Another Photo Sharing Apps) became widely available in our everyday life. The question why PDM is so complex and why we cannot manage and access CAD data similar to what we do with photos and videos brings PDM solution back to the innovation room.

What is my conclusion? Cloud, web and social technologies in consumer space reached the level of maturity. It comes to the point where new tech and awareness of cloud and social approach are going to challenge a traditional PDM space. In addition to that, looks like an existing approach to use network drives and file sharing to manage CAD files is coming to logical end. People will be looking how to copy YAPSA  approach into PDM space. So, it is time for PDM to change. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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PLM workflow dream

August 8, 2014

Process management is a very important part of any PLM software. You can find one in every PLM system. There are so many ways to define and manage process. Few years ago I captured some of them here – PLM Processes: Flowchart vs. Rule-based? While, I believe, we can agree about importance of processes management, I […]

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Cloud PDM can make file check-in and check-out obsolete

July 21, 2014

Management of CAD files (PDM) is heavily associated with desktop workflows. Lots of CAD files live on engineering desktops and shared company network drives. Originally, one of the main PDM functionality was to vault CAD data and manage CAD files revisions. One of the most widely used scenario to support this functionality is so-called Check-in […]

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The complexity of Part Management in PDM

July 11, 2014

How to manage Parts? It sounds like a trivial and simple question. Every manufacturing companies and engineering organization is facing this problem. However, it is not as simple as you might think so. The information about Parts (aka Items) is often scattered between CAD drawings, multiple Excel files, PDM and ERP systems. One of the […]

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PDM weakest link

July 8, 2014

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. The article Are You Still Using FTP for CAD File Transfer? on Engineering.com by Scott Wertel caught my attention few days ago. The article compares FTP, cloud file sharing and cloud based PDM. Read the article and draw your opinion. I found something  common between all these approaches […]

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What PLM Architects and Developers Need to Know about NoSQL?

July 7, 2014

People keep asking me questions about NoSQL. The buzzword “NoSQL” isn’t new. However, I found it still confusing, especially for developers mostly focusing on enterprise and business applications. For the last decade, database technology went from single decision to much higher level of diversity. Back in 1990s, the decision of PDM/PLM developers was more or […]

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Future CAD file management trajectories

June 30, 2014

CAD data is a core and one of the most fundamental parts of every manufacturing design. It all starts and dies from how your product looks and feels. In the past, 3D CAD was most focused on mechanical elements of design. Today, CAD systems are meshing into a complex conglomerate of data about shape, assembly, […]

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What makes “cloud” a good alternative for PDM system?

June 20, 2014

It has been a year since I published my How to select PDM system in 5 simple steps? Engineering.com article The Difference Between Cloud-based and Traditional PDM made me think it is a good time to re-evaluate my writing and see if I need to correct my recommendations. Note, Engineering.com article is paid promotion by GrabCAD. However, […]

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