From Excel Chaos to the Digital Age: Embracing Modern Multi-Tenant PLM Systems & The AI Future

From Excel Chaos to the Digital Age: Embracing Modern Multi-Tenant PLM Systems & The AI Future

Who doesn’t speak about data these days? Data is fascinating and it gives a lot of power to change the way people live and work these days. The living example is what happened in a little bit more than 20 years with the idea of data mining, including analyzing large amounts of data, discovering patterns and trends. While the history of Google is known to everyone, the fundamental idea of mining data and establishment of meaningful relationships is important when you think about current state of business in manufacturing.

Future of Digital Manufacturing and Driving Process

Industry Week article published an article Masterful Use of Data Is Manufacturing’s Future: Who’s Ready? by Andrew Anagnost, CEO and president of Autodesk speaking about how future usage of data will be transforming the manufacturing processes. My favorite passage was about comparison with car navigation.

Open, accessible data—on-demand, centrally secured in the cloud, easily connectable and extensible—can help solve manufacturers’ biggest challenges. The more data in a system, the better it performs. And when artificial intelligence pulls from anonymized, aggregated data shared by multiple sources, it can make an entire ecosystem more effective.

Think of how driving in an unfamiliar city has changed thanks to navigation apps, which rely on anonymized data processed by AI. Traffic apps help everyone use known, existing infrastructure more effectively and avoid compounding bottlenecks. They do so, however, without disclosing private information like why someone is moving from one place to another, what they’re driving, or what they’re carrying. But each driver using the system is kept up-to-date on changes as they occur in real time – a potentially huge time-saver.

Similarly, a new generation of cloud-powered software allows manufacturers to create and store their design, simulation and manufacturing knowledge in a single place. Overlaying datasets from multiple sources can help more dependably track fluctuations in the costs of materials, energy, shipping, manufacturing methods, labor and more. These forecasts can guide decision-making about choosing renewable materials, for instance, or different suppliers—and whether a product can be manufactured more simply, or closer to where it’ll ultimately be used.

It made me think about the presentation I’ve made a few years ago at ConX 2019 event where I shared my thoughts about digital transformation in PLM. The following two slides can give you an idea of what happened during 40 years of digital transformation.

Excel PLM Reality

Now, let’s get back to Excel reality. One of my industry colleagues said that in the engineering and manufacturing reality is that every person (especially engineer) will dump whatever they need into Excel to share data with someone else. While business world is no stranger to the trusty Excel spreadsheet, Excel chaos is becoming a real problem. For years, it’s been the backbone of data management, analytics, and reporting. Yet, in an age of digital transformation, sticking solely to Excel is like clinging to a typewriter in the era of laptops.

There are real limitations of Excel in a modern digital connected world:

  • Fragmented Information: Multiple Excel files, data sheets can lead to inconsistencies and confusion. Imaging product records using Excel. Each BOM is repeating the same item data that eventually becoming inconsistent.
  • Limited Collaboration: Excel’s design does not facilitate real-time collaboration among multiple users. Although someone can make a case for Google Sheets, these are although provide a real time collaboration create even a bigger mess.
  • Lack of Security: Sending Excel files everywhere poses data leak and security threats. In the world where everyone is hunting for information, companies sending a lot of sensitive data about their products, purchases and partners.
  • Lack of intelligence: At the time when everyone is looking how to “connect dots”, Excel chaos is a gigantic product chaos created in every company.

The Power of Multi-Tenant PLM Systems

How modern PLM systems can help to solve the chaos of Excel data? Andrew Anagnost in his article made a case for a system that capable to centralize the information.

Accessible data in the cloud has the potential to help businesses wrangle all of this complexity, in the quest for highly resilient, digital, distributed supply chains that deliver competitive advantage. In the past, the manufacturer with the best factory won. If it’s not happening already, soon manufacturers with the best ideas will win. And those ideas will be unlocked by modern tools that deliver timely, relevant, usable information, leading to better decision-making and business outcomes.

Autodesk Data API strategy is taking a first step in this journey by brining data from closed file formats and making this data available for consumption in the cloud. This transformation is interesting by itself because it reminds me a problem Google were solving 30 years ago by extracting structures and relationships from the data. However, even after API will provide the access to the data, the question about product data management and usage of data in product development process, supply chain management and product lifecycle management is a very interesting one. How PLM systems will treat this data and users and applications will get access to this data?

Today, Excel is a medium to push/pull data between systems, making tons of translations and transformation. Every company is developing their own tools to deal with the data. Engineers are proud how they can massage Excel and get what they need.

This is the opportunity for PLM software vendors to come with the systems capable to present the data in a structured and easy for consumption way, adding more semantics, relationships and connection, sharing data in a real time.

The key element of this transformation is data multi-tenancy. All legacy PLM systems were placing a physical data tenant boundary (logical database per company). Modern PLM paradigm can offer multi-tenant model to share and consolidate the data. Here are benefits of these systems:

  • Unified Data Source: One source of truth eliminates inconsistencies and ensures everyone is on the same page. Business processes can flow between companies, partners, suppliers and contractors.
  • Enhanced Collaboration: Real-time collaboration features allow multiple stakeholders to work simultaneously, enhancing productivity.
  • Scalability & Flexibility: Multi-tenancy ensures that the system can grow with your business needs without major overhauls.
  • Integrated Ecosystem: Seamless integration with other enterprise tools like ERP, CRM, etc., making data flow effortless.

Beyond Data: Information in Context and AI Future

Introduction of multi-tenant data management systems for manufacturing can help to replace the product lifecycle process based on a “move files” between companies to product’s lifecycle which based on the contextual data access. Here are benefits that companies can get from this transformation:

  • Real-time Insights: Instead of static data, you get dynamic insights that change with real-world conditions.
  • Connected Information: Link different datasets to get a holistic view of the entire product lifecycle.
  • Data Lineage & Traceability: Understand where your data comes from, ensuring transparency and trust.

The new data continuum can help to make a future transformation of data using AI methods. It is will allow to transform the data into predictive power. Here are some ideas of what these systems can achieve:

  • AI-Powered Analytics: Using the data from PLM systems, AI can predict future trends, demands, and potential bottlenecks.
  • Smart Recommendations: No more guesswork. AI can provide recommendations based on historical data, current conditions, and predictive insights.
  • Continuous Learning: The more data fed into the AI, the smarter and more accurate it becomes, optimizing processes and strategies over time.
  • Automation: With AI, routine tasks can be automated, freeing up valuable human resources for more strategic endeavors.

What is my conclusion?

Companies should make a strategic step to disconnect from sending Excel files. It is hard, but it presents a real opportunity for companies like Autodesk and other PLM software vendors to present multi-tenant data management foundation. Some CAD vendors are stepping into multi-tenant system future with examples like PTC Onshape and Autodesk Fusion360. These examples of computer aided design systems are good examples of new thinking. In my view a new era of connected information powered by multi-tenant PLM systems is rising. And with AI in the mix, the future of data-driven decision-making is not just brighter; it’s smarter.

I think all PLM architects and service provider should take a note how to encourage to evaluate your current data management, document management practices. Check your current PLM system (if you one) or think about how many Excel files you company use in the existing product lifecycle. Consider making the transition to a more connected, intelligent manufacturing process future with multi-tenant PLM systems.

Best, Oleg

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


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