PLM: From “document-centric” to the future without files?

PLM: From “document-centric” to the future without files?

Files. It is so obvious, right? We are using files everywhere in our life. Documents, Pictures Photos, Excel spreadsheets, CAD files, Reports, etc. It is around all the time. New, Open, Save, Save As… It is easy. In design, engineering and manufacturing world, file is an important paradigm that holds many processes in organization. We use CAD system for design and store files on the disc, when we need to store information for a long time we think about file archives. When we need to exchange information, we use files to do so.

I wasn’t able to attend 3D CIC conference last month in Colorado, so I use twitter to be up to speed with discussions and topics. One of the topics that caught my attention (and actually was heavy presented) was about 3D PDF files. One of my twitting buddies, @evanyares posted the following comment comparing different standards.

His statement about document-centric standards made me think about some trends related to documents and files. The history of computer file’s paradigm is going back to 1950. According to Wikipedia article

In an RCA (Radio Corporation of America) advertisement in Popular Science Magazine[1] describing a new “memory” vacuum tube it had developed, RCA stated: “…the results of countless computations can be kept “on file” and taken out again. Such a “file” now exists in a “memory” tube developed at RCA Laboratories. Electronically it retains figures fed into calculating machines, holds them in storage while it memorizes new ones – speeds intelligent solutions through mazes of mathematics.”

File paradigm is continued to be the one understood the best by the majority of computer users in consumer space, but not only. Desktop engineering software (CAD, CAE, etc.) is using files for save and retrieve information. Files are used for archiving and data exchange. Because of simplicity, it well understood by everybody and gives a feeling of “information protection”. Everybody can take files and store it in the computer, external drive, or elsewhere.

Web, Cloud and new paradigms

Nowadays days, we can see how old paradigms are changing with the introduction of modern web technologies. The re-imagination is coming from the web. Will it change “file” paradigm? What can replace the concept of “file”. Is it going to be “database record”, “object”, etc. as it was dreamed by many CAD / PLM developers over the past two decades? Looking around on applications like Google Docs, Office 365 and many others, the concept of file becomes secondary. The interaction happens in the browser. Your activity can span across multiple devices. The concept of “file to store data” becomes obsolete. We need to find a better way to capture, store and retrieve information during design, manufacturing, maintenance and future use regardless on device and application. I’m not talking about “physical storage” where everything remains files or binary blocks anyway. I’m speaking more about logical paradigm supported by many applications. One of the attractive technologies to follow up these days is semantic web and linked data. It has been with us for the last 10-15 years and captured some interesting achievements already. You might be interested to follow SemTech Biz conference next week in San-Francisco, CA.

What is my conclusion? File was (and still is) the mainstream paradigm to keep the logic of information retrieval in most of engineering applications. However, in our outside web and consumer world, we are asking for URL and not for FileName to get access to the information we need. So, it is a time to re-imaging what we do. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit to Wikipedia Computer File article.


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