Connected is such a powerful word. We are connected in so many ways these days. Think about transformations that happened in many services surrounding us for the last decade. Our devices are continuously connected to the internet to give us access to the vital information we need all the time- starting from the weather forecast and road traffic and ending with the status of our purchases on Amazon and grocery delivery. What does it mean to industrial companies and PLM system architecture? How the PLM paradigm is changing to support the “connectivity” between systems, organizations, and processes. I will try to answer these questions today.
My attention was caught by Aras article 2020 A&D Wrap-up and Looking Ahead, which speaks among many other things about the modern view on a Single Source of Truth.
Here is interesting passage:
The digital thread will keep on threading in 2021. The curious question is—when will people realize that just having data in a database does not make a digital thread? A digital string yes—but it is still a silo! And when will there be a realization that shoe-horning data into a 30-year-old legacy data model is not the answer? Stock up on digital duct tape—you’re going to need it to keep things running. If you want to make a real change, we need to look at the product development process, the people, and the tools used. (If you don’t know why the people are important go to any book about Kaizen or the Toyota Production System and you will realize that the people involved are important.) With this view we can understand how a firm works, how processes need to be executed, and the proper data structure to support the needs of the business.
I fully agree about the pointless approach of placing data in a single PDM database. But Aras picture doesn’t explain the architecture behind the connectivity of the connected platform. The name “Connected Platform” doesn’t explain well what is behind it. Is it still the same old fashion SQL database pulling all data strings together or it is something different?
However, I do see the future of connected data architectures as a very important goal for all PLM technologies. In my view, changing the PLM paradigm towards connected application will play a key role in the way SSoT will be morphed in the future. In my article, I wrote a year ago – What is PLM Circa 2020, I shared some initial ideas of this transformation. Here is the passage:
The previous generation of PLM systems were designed on top of an SQL database, installed on company premises to control and manage company data. It was a single version of truth paradigm. Things are changing and the truth is now distributed. It is not located in a single database in a single company. It lives in multiple places and it updates all the time. The pace of business is always getting faster. To support such an environment, companies need to move onto different types of systems – ones that are global, online, optimized to use information coming from multiple sources, and capable of interacting in real time.
Isolated SQL-based architectures running in a single company are a thing of the past. SaaS is making the PLM upgrade problem irrelevant, as everyone is running on the same version of the same software. Furthermore, the cost of systems can be optimized and SaaS systems can serve small and medium-size companies with the same efficiency as large ones.
The manufacturing company environment was considered disconnected and compartmentalized by departments and options.
The paradigm of PLM Single Source of Truth (SSoT) was first introduced a few decades ago to solve the problem described in the picture above. As much as this is still a very powerful paradigm, the idea of SSoT is starting to break when it is applied to the environment with many organizations. Take a look at this picture. How will all these companies connect together? Will it require ONE BIG PLM DATABASE as it suggested by some vendors or it will require a new architecture?
The idea of SSoT needs to be accompanied by the new form – Single Version of Truth (SVoT). Lionel Grealou presented it in a very clear form in his article – Single Source of Truth vs Single Version of Truth.
SSoT is about data input optimisation (integration, input / output synchronisation), while SVoT is really about business analytics and reporting optimisation (consolidation, alignment). In a nutshell, SSoT and SVoT principles do not contradict each other, and can be either combined or considered independently for different purposes and business objectives. SSoT will appeal to data model architects and IT solution integrators, while SVoT will speak to data scientists and business intelligence architects. Achieving SVoT without SSoT is possible with a robust business analytics engine, however it is much more challenging and one can argue that it will not be sustainable in the long term. SSoT is a mandatory foundation to optimise data structures at source and minimise essential non-value added activities.
Such an approach to defining SVoT as an output of the connected systems can be very powerful if it is combined with a modern PLM Data Architecture, which relies on polyglot persistence, multi-tenant applications, and microservice architecture. SSoT is a data foundation, which is morphed in a virtual and connected data represented in the context of a specific tenant and user. This is a very powerful model, but it requires a fundamental rethinking of data architecture compared to what we have today in a traditional PLM SQL Database approach.
The fundamental idea of a new architecture is a network platform. The core foundation of such a platform is a networking layer that connects tenants and data, allowing to create of a powerful Single Version of Truth views to deliver data to the right people, the right organization at the right time. The picture below can give you an idea of how to differentiate between Enterprise SaaS hosting platforms and network platforms.
What is my conclusion?
The network platform is the next evolutionary step in PLM System Architecture that allows creating a layer providing an access to the data independent from a single database (tenant). Such a platform uses a modern data architecture including a polyglot persistence layer to manage data sources while optimizing the output of the system to present a specific tenant and role-based view for each consumer of the information. PLM vendors will have to re-think current SQL-based architecture and to develop an evolutionary path towards new network platforms. I can see such development is happening now, but it might be not visible and not obvious yet. The foundation of such development is different for PLM vendors. Some of them are expanding current platforms and some others buying new technologies. For multi-tenant SaaS applications, such new architecture is a native choice. For the next several years, we will see a major shift towards modern data architectures and new applications, which will eventually become a new connected PLM architecture. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.