Digital Transformation – Documents, Bridges, and Information Flows

Digital Transformation – Documents, Bridges, and Information Flows

In the manufacturing world, there is a lot of talk about documents and information flow. What’s the difference? And which one is more important? In this blog post, we’ll discuss the differences between documents and information flow, and explain why information flow is so important in manufacturing.

There are a lot of talks these days about the paperless office, but what does that really mean? For some, it may mean scanning and routing documents electronically. For others, it may mean completely digitizing the flow of information within the organization. Either way, a successful transition to a paperless office and collaboration requires careful planning and an understanding of the benefits and challenges involved.

New “share” paradigm

Share is a new collaboration paradigm that is quickly becoming a digital norm in many cloud-native systems. However, the devil is in detail. My attention was caught by Autodesk Construction Cloud Introduces New Data Sharing Capabilities to Transform Construction Collaboration called Bridge. You can learn more about it here.

“Every construction project is different and our customers need the flexibility to collaborate according to the needs of each project,” said Sameer Merchant, vice president of product development, Autodesk Construction Solutions. “Additionally, different stakeholders need to maintain agency of the data pertinent to their work on a project. Bridge introduces a transformational new collaboration capability that gives teams the autonomy and flexibility to manage their own data. Project stakeholders can maintain their own project instances and save on the time, cost, and confusion that often results from having to manage external collaborator permissions and manual ‘send and receive’ workflows.”

My favorite passage is this one.

Bridge empowers project members with the flexibility they need to share relevant information with different teams and projects using Autodesk Construction Cloud, facilitating smoother collaboration to complete projects on time and within budget.

The ability to share information across multiple teams is the essential characteristic of a multi-tenant data organization. The share function is quickly becoming a de-facto standard in cloud-native systems in both PLM and BIM segments. It is also a normal digital habit for a new generation of workers that were grown up using the capabilities of Google Docs and social network sharing.

However, the devil is in the details and it is important to understand the differences in sharing capabilities provided by multiple systems. Construction Cloud “Bridge” made me think about the differences between document-based and information-based workflows.

Document Driven Workflows

Traditional engineering data management in both construction and manufacturing is heavily oriented on the work with documents. The reasons are purely historical. Drawings and later file-based CAD systems created this paradigm, which is still alive and used as a mainstream paradigm to manage information.

Mainstream legacy PDM and PLM systems are also heavily focused on CAD file management, providing vaulting, check-in/out capabilities, and limiting data management granularity to files and metadata attached to these files.

All the above creates a very specific document-driven workflow in which all activities and data access are managed on the document level. While the document-driven workflow is with us for many years, it has many limitations and leads to inefficiency in decision support and information management. When everything you have is a hummer, all problems will look like nails. Remember that? The same is with document-driven workflows. If the maximum information granularity you have is a document, you’re limited to all actions in the context of documents.

Data-driven Workflows

The industry is shifting from documents to data. It happens everywhere – cloud, web, mobile trends helped to accelerate this shift because our information environment is shifting from “managing files on a local drive” to information access. However, many engineering disciplines and applications are still heavily oriented toward files-based workflows.

Modern cloud-native (SaaS) PLM systems are data-driven opposite file-drive. You can see it in many new applications and systems – Autodesk Forge, Onshape, OpenBOM, and others. Instead of managing files, these systems are focusing on data as a foundational element. As such, data is used as a much more granular object for sharing, change management, decision support, and reporting. Using assemblies, views, bills of materials, objects are more informative than sharing files and this is a shift to data-driven workflows I’m talking about.

What is my conclusion?

Data granularity is key when it comes to modern data management and collaboration systems. When the only tool you have is a hammer, then all problems look like nails. The same applies to files and documents. When you manage data using files (CAD files, Excels, etc.), the only way you can share information is by sharing files. This is not a good thing, because it limits the way you can control what information is shared from both visibility and actionable information flow perspectives. Future data management will become more granular, shifting from document paradigm into data and high granularity, enabling data sharing vs document sharing and providing data insight instead of document sharing. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital cloud-native PLM platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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