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PLM software is hard to interact with. I think the hardest part is PLM workflows. Usually very sophisticated it creates a complex jungle of choice, buttons and diagrams. But if you think about it, the goal is pretty simple – to communicate with people about information and decision making process.
Existing workflows applications are hard. But, as of today, it remains a fundamental element in Product Lifecycle Management implementations. And if you’re embarking into PLM journey with one of existing PLM tools, chances you’re going to master your PLM workflow skills.
From technological standpoint, PLM business process applications is a glorified envelope around workflow engine, which can give short productivity gain, but mostly leads to complex implementation challenges and slow ROI. Why is it hard? Some of my thoughts are here. Configurable components, diagrams, data binding, approvals, flexible flows… it is hard.
Can we find a better way? Few months ago, I speculated around the idea of workflow bots – Your next PLM workflow manager will be … bot. I still like the idea. It seems to me that bots and AI based interfaces are grabbing some interest. Siri, Google Now, Cortana. This is just a short list of intelligent assistant apps.
The future of AI driven interfaces is fascinating. My attention was caught few days ago by Benedict Evans’ article – Chat bots, conversation and AI as an interface. Consider it as a reading for coming weekend. My favorite passage was about removing of mental load.
There’s an old computer science idea that a computer should never ask a question that it should be able to work out the answer to. One promise of AI is that you can get, not so much a computer that you can talk to like a person, but one that you don’t need to talk to at all, or much less – that you can remove the mental load and friction and maintenance of engaging with a computer or online service. The computer can ask fewer questions and work out more by itself. (This is somewhat analogous to the reduction in mental load involved in moving to iOS or Android from Windows or Mac). Instead of going back to the website and logging into your order and editing it, you can just send a message: ‘cancel the shirt and get me the green bag instead of the grey one’. A computer ought to be able to work that out, and will probably be able to. You ought to be able to use AI, and chat, in some way, to achieve the same aims with much less work. But it doesn’t follow that that’s a great way to do everything. If it takes you more time to work out what you can ask the AI assistant than to drag the meeting to a new slot on your calendar, you’re doing it wrong. An AI shouldn’t be more mental load than just tapping the damn button – an IVR with better buzzwords.
What is my conclusion? To remove mental load of PLM processes is a great idea. Today, product lifecycle system interaction model is complex to death. Every single user I know is struggling to interact with PLM interfaces. Complexity and unpredictability of user experience is a big problem for software engineers are suppose to use every day. This is a problem that preventing wider adoption of PLM technologies in an organization. So, future AI conversation like technology can change it. You think, I’m dreaming? It could be. Friday night blog… But, think backward just 5-10 years and you can see many of tech we have today as a future dream. Just my thoughts…