Next-Generation Collaboration Challenge

Next-Generation Collaboration Challenge


Collaboration is one of these magic words that often used by software vendors to explain value proposition of PDM and PLM solutions. You might remember in the past “collaborative PDM” and other trends. In fact, leading PLM analytic company CIMdata is still using collaborative PDM (cPDM) definition. I captured the following definition from CIMdata glossary:

collaborative Product Definition management (cPDm) is a strategic business approach; applying a consistent set of business solutions that collaboratively manage the product or plant definition lifecycle across the extended enterprise.

After many years of collaborative PDM and PLM development the problem is that much of this collaboration is still done with spreadsheets.

Desktop Engineering article Next-Generation collaboration is exploring challenges companies are facing to establish efficient collaboration.

The dirty little secret: The sharing of data related to areas such as requirements management, project management, quality and production is still done largely via spreadsheets. Communication is still spread across multiple largely disconnected channels and tools, resulting in barriers between different disciplines (including mechanical, electronics and software) and business functions such as engineering, manufacturing, quality, testing and procurement. These barriers are particularly evident when attempting to collaborate across the extended enterprise with suppliers and customers as is required in today’s business environment.

One of the biggest challenge in collaboration is related to data fragmentation. Article brings few examples of inefficient collaboration such as BOM management and Part information. Different pieces of data spread around an organization such as warranty claims, component information, product configurations, suppliers, etc.

So, how PLM tools are solving this problem. For years, the answer was to bring PLM tools that can provide single point of truth about the data in the organization. The same article shares examples from vendors – Siemens PLM and Aras.

For example, Siemens provides change management and bill of material (BOM) management capabilities via Teamcenter, according to Chris Pattioni, marketing director for Siemens. “With Active Workspace in Teamcenter, you now have the ability to assess the impact of a change, how it impacts data, people and processes in terms of cost, timing and commitments,” he says.

Different parts of the enterprise including design, engineering and procurement, typically maintain their own representation of the BOM. With all of those disparate representations, it can be difficult to understand what is out of scope or out of date. Teamcenter provides a single product definition for all who interact with the BOM, says Pattioni, eliminating the need for standalone spreadsheets and systems.

It sounds like vendors have a plan how to solve the problem. But here is the thing… Even though PLM tools like Teamcenter, Aras and others are providing a way to to create single product definition, the information might be still disconnected. How is that possible?

The fundamental element of existing PLM technologies is to share structured data stored in a database. In case of multiple data representation, the data can be still stored in the database, but represented by different data objects.

There are several mechanisms developed by PLM vendors to insure data stays in sync. One of them is to use same data objects and filter attributes (think about Bill of Materials in which different sets of attributes belonging to different views). Another approach is to have “synchronization” processes transferring data between different representations in PLM databases.

Besides these two issues, there are many use cases of data physically located in different systems – CRM, ERP, Supply chain… you name it. If this is a case, to synchronize data representations between PLM databases and external systems can be even a bigger challenge.

Desktop Engineering article gives you a sense of Next-Generation collaboration technologies as an “integrated approach”

The demand for next-generation collaboration tools comes from gaps that remain post-PLM implementation, says Macdonald. Manufacturers still have process bottlenecks, miscommunication and lack of visibility. “They need a much more integrated approach” spanning manufacturing, engineering, supplier management, product support, quality, product development and product management, he says.

Traditionally, the IT organization working closely with the engineering department has driven the purchase of PLM. Now, with collaboration paramount, engineering is beginning to lead the selection process. “How well your supply chain works together is becoming a key differentiator,” says Halpern.

What is my conclusion? Integrated approach is a nice buzzword. The nuts and bolts of integrated approach is how to share data and synchronize between different people, departments and applications. The challenge of PLM products is make it happen is remaining the same for the last decade. But somehow spreadsheets are still winning the game and remaining one of the most widely used technology for manufacturing companies to share data and collaborate. So, the original PLM plan was to put the data in PLM database. It didn’t work. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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