PLM and future conversational interfaces

PLM and future conversational interfaces


Product Lifecycle Management software is infamous for its user interface complexity. The demand for an easy and intuitive UI is very high in PLM. Although I can see a significant change in the way PLM vendors are approaching user experience development, PLM is still a software that makes me think.

Over the past few years, I’ve been sharing my thoughts about future of user experience and user interface transformation in PLM applications. One of the most interesting and prominent trends is to bring messaging application as a focal point of user experience. Read some of my earlier articles – PLM messaging and whatsapp moment; PLM UI makeup and new trends in user experience and Messaging and end of workflows.

My attention came across the article speaking about Apps and messaging bots by Wired Magazine – Apps are dying. Long live the subservient bots ready to fulfill your every desire. The article is making a point about raising importance of messenger as a key application in the collection of software (apps) we are using. My special interest caught by “conversational bots”. Here is the passage from the article that speaks about conversational user experience.

The bots he’s interested in are not intelligent, human-like assistants; they are far simpler. He refers to them as a “conversational interface”, a means of interacting with software through speech, text, emojis, images, video or other means. “You don’t have to learn how to use it, you just use it,” he says. “You have a conversation and it lets you do whatever you want without having to navigate through a stack of options.”

For writer and publisher Tim O’Reilly, the emergence of bots harks back to the earliest days of computing. “As we move into conversational interfaces we really are moving back into the world of the command line,” he explains. The limitations of the command line, with its reliance on explicit prompts, soon saw it usurped. Despite its limitations it remains the simplest way of interacting with a computer. After all, what’s more natural than having a conversation?

You might think conversational bots are far distant future. Actually it is not. We’ve been exposed to the first conversational bot since 1998 when Google introduced Google Search. And if you think about great improvements that PLM applications did for the last 5-7 years, most of them are related to introduction of immersive search interface. Recent examples from Autodesk (A360 search and design graph), Dassault (Exalead), PTC (PLM Navigate) and Siemens (Active Workspace) is a good confirmation that search was an instrumental behavior to improve user experience. What is next?

You’ve been unwittingly interacting with a bot since 1998 – it’s called Google search. So why has software been so stubbornly skeuomorphic? Why should ordering a pizza involve downloading an app, signing up for an account and then finding the menu option for extra chillis? The great promise of bots is that they will break down the stubborn barrier between human and machine and make scores of apps redundant. According to O’Reilly, the switch to conversational interfaces will be rapid: “Will I be pawing at the screen of a 2019 Tesla? No, I won’t. I’ll be talking to it.”

What is my conclusion? There is a great opportunity to talk to future PLM interfaces in the language that might sound like “Insert Part X into BOM line 14” or “Send document to be approved by John, Scott and Jim”. These interfaces will be much easier and can be controlled from different devices and explore new forms of communication. In fact, this is a great opportunity to simplify PLM user experience in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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