In the PLM data management, Excel has long been considered the most popular tool. As all my product lifecycle management friends and colleagues confirmed, Excel (or spreadsheet) is the tool can be used for product development process everywhere and all the time. I know people that made amazingly powerful Excels to support product data management and product lifecycle. I usually refer those people are “Chief Excel Officers.”
But Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is hard when everything you have is Excel. If you need to manage multiple domain of information – product lifecycle, supply chain management, custom feedback, process management, production process and project management using Excel, your life can be really miserable. And this is a time when you need data plumbers. A recent blog by Rob Ferrone has prompted me with the message that got me to rethink the level of chief excel officer skills and think about introduction of a new title – Excel Data Artist. Check the article using this linkand take a look here:
Here is the passage from the post:
We tracked the BoM, and changes, that ran through the multiple systems, in Excel (not shown for confidentiality reasons). It gave all the stakeholders a Single Source of Truth, a history and a look into the future! At any point in time we could tell you the content of the BoM in work, Released, in production and for service. Naturally we became the go-to people, and drastically reduced the need for meetings to discuss the status. We freed up Engineers, Purchasing, Manufacturing etc to focus on adding their unique value, and parts arrived on-time at the right level.
But my favorite thing is this one:
Apart from how we execute it today, not much has changed (less in Excel). Digital threads don’t happen by themselves. It requires data plumbers or product data managers. People who care about end-to-end data flows and don’t sit in a silo. Comment below if you are one of these uniquely talented types!
Rob’s message caught me thinking about data plumbers. Although I like Rob’s paradigm of data plumber, I think are are coming to the point where PLM tool needs to become digital AI-driven data plumbers. I don’t want “to push” the data, but I want to data to trigger next steps and to become a source of intelligence.
The questions like how to define a business strategy and consolidate processes from computer aided design, product lifecycle, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and manufacturing process using Excels? How you can analyze data and to help to manufacturers to create a competitive advantage using Excel data. To suggest that it can be done using Excel is too much in my view.
So, in this blog, I want to dig into the world of Excel Data and explore the problems and challenges you can find if deciding to make Excel Data Art as part of your PLM strategy. I’d like discuss the common challenges faced by Excel and similar tools, such as weak data modeling, absence of connectivity, and user experience fragility.
Excel Flexibility + Engineering Creativity = Data Disaster
Excel is known for its flexibility. Excel was a foundation to create other tools like PowerBI, which empower users to perform incredible power data operations. However, there are three fundamental challenges that Excel and its counterparts share:
Weak Data Modeling
The traditional Excel data model is essentially a spreadsheet. While this flexibility is a good thing, Excel lacks the capacity to establish meaningful relationships between pieces of data. Think about hierarchies, semantic dependencies, and more. In essence, these relationships exist solely in the user’s mind, leaving room for errors and inefficiencies. For PLM, it is a killer. You can dream about product structures, suppliers relationships, and many other things, but Excel won’t give you anything like this.
Absence of Connectivity
Excel data, for the most part, is not seamlessly connected to real-time data sources. While you can pull data from multiple locations, ensuring that this information is consistently and logically updated is often a cumbersome process. This has led to the creation of countless lines of code in an attempt to bridge this gap. Unfortunately, this workaround can prove to be unreliable, resulting in incorrect calculations, orders, and document retrievals at crucial moments.
User Experience Fragility
Perhaps one of the most significant drawbacks of Excel is its vulnerability to human error. Anyone with access to an Excel file can easily modify its contents, and even a small mistake can have far-reaching consequences, jeopardizing the integrity of the entire dataset. This is why Chief Excel Officers, don’t like when someone else is touching their golden Excels.
The Future of Data Management: A Glimpse of What’s to Come
Thankfully, the future holds promise for overcoming these challenges, as modern online services are poised to revolutionize the way we manage and interact with data. Here’s a glimpse of what’s on the horizon:
Flexible Data Models
The next generation of data management tools will prioritize flexible data modeling. Users will have the ability to create intricate data relationships, hierarchies, and dependencies with ease. Say goodbye to the limitations of traditional spreadsheets, as the future will offer a more intuitive and dynamic approach to data modeling.
Semantic (Graph) Relationships
Data is rarely isolated; it’s interconnected. The future of data management lies in embracing semantic relationships, often represented as graphs. This will enable users to visualize and work with data in a way that mirrors its real-world connections. Complex data ecosystems will become more manageable and comprehensible.
The disconnect between static data in Excel and real-time data sources will become a thing of the past. Tools and platforms will offer seamless integration with real-time data feeds, ensuring that your data is always up-to-date and accurate. No more reliance on brittle code or manual updates.
PLM AI and Digital Data Plumbers
Here is the future how I see it. First, PLM services will be able to capture and connect vast amount of data that today is captured and not used in enterprise system such as PLM, ERP, MES and others. Doing it seamlessly will allow not to disrupt all investment and existing PLM implementations. On top of that, modern digital services will be able to crunch the data and offer it as a “service” for decision and digital data plumbing by pushing and providing this data to companies “as a service” – impact analysis, cost, BOM transformations and others. Modern sevices can be deployed globally, but also deployed in a dedicated protected environments such as OEM + all suppliers.
Here are two articles that can give you an idea of what is possible to do with modern data organization. This is one of my favorites – Boost your Knowledge Graph with Events to gain Untapped Insights by Martijn Dullaart, explains how organizing data using graph models can create intelligence and predict future data changes. Here is my OpenBOM blog Digital Thread, Product Knowledge Graph, Bill of Materials and Change Events demonstrate how data can be captured using collaborative change actions and collected in graphs for future intelligent services use.
What is my conclusion?
Excel based models are great and they helped many companies. A super knowledgable advisers and service companies can do an amazing job using Excel-like tools. But… as an industry, PLM need to embrace modern data management to build digitally connected PLM. The era of Excel Data Art is coming to the end and we need to evolve into something more powerful. It’s time to move beyond its limitations. The three challenges of weak data modeling, lack of connectivity, and user error susceptibility are being addressed by modern online services and tools. The future promises flexible data models, semantic relationships, and real-time connectivity, ushering in a new era of data management. AI can multiple the power of the data and help companies to make right decisions using data. So, stay tuned, because the digital revolution in data management is coming, and it’s going to change the way we work with data forever.
Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital-thread platform with cloud-native PDM & PLM capabilities to manage product data lifecycle and connect manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.