How PLM can improve enterprise collaboration?

Today, I’d like to discuss the relationships between Product Lifecycle Management and Enterprise Collaboration. Enterprise collaboration continues to be important. In today’s world, the ability to collaborate is critical for all manufacturing companies. Top enterprise collaborative tools include email, instant messaging, audio conferencing, web conferencing and video conferencing (see The State Of Real-Time Collaboration In 2009: Conferencing Tools Are Hot ). We can see that all these tools are focusing on communication between different departments in the organization as well as between other organizations. Organizations of different sizes may prioritize their collaborative needs very differently – for larger companies, enterprise collaboration together with enterprise search is important; for smaller companies, consolidation of existing tools and email systems is a top priority.

 So, how is PLM connected to the enterprise collaboration story? Should PLM develop collaboration on its own? How can we consolidate efforts and what can we do in the short-term? I think that enterprise collaboration tools today are not completely ready to be used together with design, engineering and manufacturing systems. Their common uses, in most cases, are limited to very loosely coupled mail communication, and these require a great deal of effort to make them work together efficiently. At the same time, there are quite a few PLM collaborative tools that are available and allow you to work together on different tasks such as co-design and co-review, thus letting you communicate among people.

 I see that PLM user adoption can be significantly improved by integrating PLM tools into various available collaboration tools – mail, instant messaging, video and web conferencing, enterprise search and others…  Now, what is are the key points for connecting all of these?  In my view, there are three major points that need to be implemented in order to leapfrog into PLM collaboration. All three points revolve around content. The priority of content is very clear in my view.

 So, what can PLM do?

 1.     Improve content availability

Content needs to be available at the same level you use a word processor today. Imagine simple copy/paste functions available across all collaborative tools.

 2.     Allow contextual collaboration

When content becomes available, the next step is to allow people to communicate on the same piece of content in the context of particular task, operation, activity. This will simplify task management for many things people are doing together.

 3.     Keep a history of collaboration

Last, but not least. We need to keep track of what we are doing. How? Let’s keep a history of our operation, actions, and changes. This can improve significantly what was done, when and why.

 I think, by doing these three steps, we can significantly improve PLM tools and implementation.

 There are several examples: Multiple viewing and reviewing solutions – DS 3DLive, JT Open, PTC Product View, Oracle AutoVue (former Cimmetry), Actify and others allows collaboratively design, review and work on 3D information. Still, in my view, work needs to be done in usability, granularity and search-ability. The point that I feel is missing is the lack of asynchronous collaboration.

 Another example is multiple publishing tools: 3DVIa composer, Right Hemisphere, Adobe.  These tools allows us to transform content to  different formats and make this content widely available for additional users in the manufacturing eco-system. Still, in my view, lots of improvement in the areas of data unification and reuse still needs to be done. Most of the formats are incompatible. Transformation between these tools requires a large deal of implementation and is not always available. In most cases, publishing formats do not allow you to make changes. If they do let you, these changes can barely be synchronized back to design tools.

 What is your view? How do you implement these tools into your organization?


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