Simplifying PLM and Digital Threads Using Web of Data and Connected Services

Simplifying PLM and Digital Threads Using Web of Data and Connected Services

In the quest for operational efficiency and innovation, the concept of simplification has emerged as a strong trend across industries. My exploration of this theme has spanned several articles, with a notable focus on making Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) straightforward yet effective, as discussed in my recent piece, “Make PLM Simple, But Not Simpler“.

This drive towards simplicity is not merely a trend but a necessity, as it seeks to address the inherent complexities that have long bogged down systems and processes. Today, I’d like to explore the ideas about how to simplify digital threads and its potential to streamline communication and data exchange.

Major Trends: From Files/Folder to Web and Data Services

For over four decades, the paradigm of information flow has been anchored in disks, folders, and files, a framework that was later expanded with the introduction of networks and cloud drives. This structure, complemented by the simplicity of spreadsheets, represents an era where ownership and storage of data were straightforward. However, this existing paradigm falls short in addressing the complex requirements of modern processes and, crucially, the communication between systems and companies.

The last twenty years have witnessed the rise of the web paradigm, a robust mechanism fostering connections among people, information, and enterprises. This evolution has set the stage for the introduction of digital threads in the PLM domain. Digital threads promise a cohesive flow of information across the lifecycle of a product, yet there’s a looming concern. The apprehension lies in the potential replication of the complexity synonymous with traditional PLM software, which could undermine the efficacy of digital threads.

The Challenges with Current PLM Architecture

Current PLM architecture was born back in 1990s and created as an idea of storing metadata and related information in SQL databases. The capabilities of this architecture is outgrown by modern needs and complexity of product data. Check my articles – Excel exodus and empowering enterprise with knowledge graphs and AI enabled PLM services and The multi-level complexity of engineering product data and the limitations of existing PLM technologies Several factors contribute to the complexity of implementing digital threads within the PLM framework:

  • Isolated Database and Single Tenant Architecture: This setup limits flexibility and scalability, hindering seamless integration and data exchange.
  • Proprietary Models and Lack of Openness: Such models create barriers to interoperability and innovation.
  • Limited Standards in APIs: The absence of standardized APIs curtails the ability to connect and extend systems efficiently.

One of the biggest challenges of existing PLM architecture is the ability to connect silos and

Envisioning Simplified Digital Threads

To harness the full potential of digital threads, a paradigm shift is essential. Interesting discussion about simplification of digital thread and related thoughts – Dragons, drones, digital thread by Alex Bruskin. My favorite passage is the follow one:

…many American drone startups in their warm offices are not doing much better than the Ukrainians in their freezing trenches in terms of the digital thread paradigm. FAA regulation is a vague threat for the former and entirely irrelevant for the latter. The financial cost and human burden of the learning curve and administration required to maintain a modern PLM system doesn’t seem to be worth it for either of them. Those multi-cursed spreadsheets are a preferred choice for BOM management. Communication for the richer former occurs via Slack or Teams, and via assorted free apps for the poorer latter.

Jack Sully placed his winning bet on the innovative use of the Pandora planetary ecosystem’s interconnected information backbone. Every Pandora creature naturally grows that funny USB connector with a built-in standard data exchange protocol adapter. That system allows direct pairing to and subsequently taking over any nearby Pandora creature, and an unpaired broadcasting via sacred gateway to any such remote creature. Altogether it is a feat of extreme simplicity and ubiquity.

Funnily enough, our world has already evolved such a backbone, it is called instant messengers. These messengers represent extreme speed, efficiency, simplicity and ubiquity, and there is zero learning curve involved at all. By the way, Signal seems to be already the messenger of choice for security-conscious Ukrainian drone operators, and there is no escape from WeChat when dealing with Chinese suppliers. According to some sages everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. In contrast, many contemporary enterprise applications are evolving perpetually more complex for the end-users and their IT maintainers. Perhaps it is high time to learn from Jack Sully, and simplify PLM landscape significantly, using the Ukrainian instant messengers ecosystem as a blueprint.

Here is my take on the what principles can guide the creation of a more simplified and effective digital thread framework:

  1. Multi-Tenant Data Architecture: This approach enhances scalability and facilitates better data sharing and collaboration across different stakeholders.
  2. Flexible and Connected Product Data Models: Leveraging the web as a model for interconnected data can break down silos and promote a more holistic view of product information.
  3. Data Services and RESTful APIs: Standardized, accessible APIs can drive integration and interoperability, making it easier to connect diverse systems.
  4. Collaborative User Experience: A focus on user-centric design can improve engagement and productivity, making complex processes more accessible.

Brining online data connections and flexible data models, combined with the systems that always available online can be a shifting moment in PLM development. Future development of digital thread using connected single source of truth architecture can create a simple mechanism of stitching data elements together.

What is my conclusion?

How to weave the web of data ideas and online data services into the concept of digital threads? The evolution of digital thread concepts into PLM represents a significant opportunity to streamline communication, enhance process efficiency, and foster innovation. However, the simplification is very important. By embracing the principles of the web of data, we can envisage a future where digital threads act as the backbone of a more interconnected and intelligent enterprise landscape. This vision is not just about simplification for the sake of ease but about placing data at the heart of operations to empower decision-making, streamline supply chains, and lay a foundation for future advancements.

As we move forward, the challenge lies in ensuring that digital threads do not replicate the complexities of past systems but instead pave the way for a more agile, open, and collaborative PLM ecosystem. The journey towards simplification and digital transformation in PLM is ongoing, and it holds the promise of unlocking new levels of efficiency and innovation for companies willing to embrace these changes.

Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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.


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