A Disaster Recovery Plan Doesn’t Need to be Scary

Your company has insurance covering its buildings and equipment, because everyone knows the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If a natural disaster happens, your physical infrastructure can be repaired and replaced. But too often the same cannot be said for the information infrastructure; at some companies, another old adage is in play: “out of sight, out of mind.” Unfortunately, some disasters that hit information infrastructures are hardly “natural” in nature, yet can be more devastating to a company than an earthquake or fire.

Engineering departments using Adept should have their own disaster recovery plan in place. In many organizations, the Adept installation flies under the IT radar, so to speak. Precautions and backup serving enterprise IT will not necessarily provide the safety net your engineering team requires.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommends a seven-part disaster recovery planning process. Your IT group may have a plan based on this set of recommendations; now it is time for your engineering department to have its own version.  Consider the Adept Help Desk as a resource when you work through these to create your own disaster backup plan.

  1. Develop a contingency plan policy guide. In any organization, a coherent policy makes it easy to develop the right plans. It establishes the authority and gives top-level guidance, sorely needed when an emergency hits and things get confusing. Be sure to consider the involvement (or non-involvement) of your corporate IT staff.
  2. Perform an engineering impact analysis. Include hardware, user rights, connectivity, data access, and (as required) job site issues if you are in capital asset side of engineering.
  3. Identify preventive actions. Plan ahead how to reduce the effects of system disruptions. Perhaps you need to streamline and consolidate server access, or prioritize users by access rights. Data backup strategy is important; would your engineering team be OK if they lost 3 days’ work? Or would only 15 minutes lost be a disaster? The right backup plan streamlines the disaster recovery process.
  4. Develop recovery strategies. These are the specific steps required to get your Adept installation back online after disaster happens. Where will you store the recovery server? In what order will you restore service, if multiple offices are involved? How will you retrieve the backup data if Internet service is down?
  5. Create an IT contingency plan. Work closely with corporate IT to draft a contingency plan with detailed guidance and procedures for restoring damaged systems.
  6. Be intentional about testing and training. Work through your plan with various scenarios, and make sure everyone knows their role. Testing disaster plans will identify planning gaps; training will prepare the team for plan activation.
  7. Schedule regular updates and maintenance. A disaster plan needs to be cared for the way you care for a software application or a computer; regular maintenance is required. Your disaster recovery plan needs to be a living document that grows and changes with your engineering needs and activities. Review and update on a regular basis at least yearly.

The Adept support team at Synergis Software has helped many engineering teams recover quickly from disasters. And the more you prepare in advance, the faster our team can assist in the recovery. Here’s three specific tips from the Helpdesk team:

Exploit replication. Adept Vault Replication connects multiple geographic locations with a common Adept Vault. This means all users are always working on the latest version. The Adept Vault structure gives users a unified view of files in globally distributed environments, becoming the backbone in disaster recovery efforts.

Get corporate IT involved. Even though your Adept recovery plan is separate from an enterprise strategy, it is still vitally important to keep IT involved.

Perform regular tests. Run through the Adept DR program at least once (maybe even twice) a year. Many things could happen during the testing process; it is better to catch them before a real disaster hits.


Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985. More information is available at https://www.linkedin.com/in/randallnewton.

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The New EDM Secret Sauc(e)

Here it is 2018, and there is still hang-wringing and skepticism about the value of cloud computing for many aspects of Engineering Document Management (EDM). Some of the complaints sound right out of the late 1980s when engineering companies started wiring together each engineer’s computer into a network. Loss of privacy, loss of security, slower access to data, and other canards were tossed about then, and they are tossed about today when the discussion turns to using cloud technology for EDM.

The hand-wringing continues because interest is rising regarding the potential value of EDM cloud computing. Adoption of cloud-based solutions is up, as awareness of the benefits and advantages of cloud computing become more widespread. As Synergis Software’s Todd Cummings told the audience at last year’s Adept User Conference, “The private cloud is the new WAN.” (more…)

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Three Steps to Understanding Workflow Process Improvement

Many Adept users acquire the software to improve document storage and retrieval processes. As we have reported here before, researchers have shown how up to 30% of an engineer’s time is spent looking for the right information. All too often, the right information is somewhere, on some server or colleague’s hard drive, but no one is quite sure where.

But there is more to Adept than automated document storage and retrieval — much more. Adept includes powerful tools for drawing- and document-based workflows. Organizations can use Adept to automate simple or complex engineering and business processes. Automating as many steps as possible in your existing processes helps you get products to market quicker, and get projects completed on time and under budget.

Workflow automation is all about increasing efficiency. Remove the barriers to more efficient practices in the organization, and you increase the organization’s ability to be more innovative and agile. You also lower costs by decreasing the time it takes to do important tasks. And, you set the organization up to be more receptive in the future to such “Industry 4.0” innovations as model-based engineering, digital thread, and digital twin. (more…)

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Solving User Push Back Issues When Implementing Engineering Document Management

Resistance to change is a near-constant theme in engineering software. From the first generation of computers in engineering to today, people become familiar with routines and processes, and are reluctant to change without either significant external motivation or proof the benefits clearly outweigh the effort to learn new skills and adopt new workflows.

The engineering team at Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) is familiar with this theme of reluctance. They were the leading candidate to win a major contract from the United States Coast Guard (USCG), but winning the contract required a significant upgrade of their data automation processes. After a thorough search of alternatives, ESG decided to replace its existing document management system with Synergis Adept.

Before Adept, ESG was using Microsoft’s SharePoint technology to manage engineering documents and connect team members. SharePoint is a technology rooted in 1990’s file management practices, with file size limits that seem quaint by today’s standards, and rudimentary search technology unable to exploit metadata or take specific advantage of CAD and related data types. SharePoint for engineering is usually a requirement placed upon engineering by the IT department, and significant changes are required to make it functional in engineering. (more…)

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A New Generation of Decision-Makers for the New Year

In the past engineering groups made decisions about product improvement software internally. A CAD manager — often just another one of the engineers who got stuck with double duty — would read about a file manager or a CAD add-on that offered a bit of increased utility. The decision to purchase would be localized to the department, and the productivity gains were limited to which employees installed the new utility on their workstation.

For the most part, those days are gone. There is general consensus that software purchases are an organizational initiative. Productivity improvements are purchased to impact more than just one group or department. PDM (Product Data Management) software is now recognized as an enterprise automation solution, not a departmental file manager.

Product development leaders now hold their software to higher standards. There has been a change in thinking from individual achievement to a focus on enterprise business initiatives surrounding all of product development, not just engineering and design issues. To make the cut in this era, a PDM system must be able to:

  • Manage file relationships for parts, assemblies drawings, configurations;
  • Control access (check-in/check-out) of all design data, both in 2D and 3D;
  • Perform complex versioning and revisions;
  • Control access (check-in/check-out) of all design data, both in 2D and 3D;
  • Integrate with CAD tools and other technical and graphics-based software;
  • Unite the wider enterprise document management functions with engineering;
  • Provide an automated and robust audit trail.
  • Play nice with other enterprise systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM);
  • Guide and protect key business processes including quality management, approvals, and regulatory compliance;

Today’s PDM decision-makers want software that creates a competitive edge. They want to streamline business processes and automate existing workflows. Eliminating wasted time searching for all kinds of product data is also essential. They want a high return of business value for their investment, and are willing to take enough time to find the right solution. (more…)

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Tips for Evaluating Effective Engineering Document Management

Every so often I like to take a look at research coming out of universities regarding the engineering issues and technologies I write about. It is good to step back, so to speak, and take a fresh look from a different perspective. A recent journal article summarizes the pitfalls and potentials associated with the use of a good engineering document management system (EDMS). The study by Prof. C.S. Devanand is specific to construction projects, but the results have wider relevance.

In the absence of a comprehensive engineering document management system, Devanand says there are specific and consistent negative impacts on cost, time and quality. He organizes them by action, then notes the result and the impact. (more…)

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Amplifying the Utility of Engineering Knowledge

Most of the articles I contribute to the Synergis blog tell how the use of Engineering Data Management (EDM) made a significant difference for a particular company. Or I write about a specific tool or procedure in Adept that can make improve an engineering group’s workflow. Today I want to step back and look at the basic ideas behind why EDM is so important.

Let’s start with an organizing idea: there are three kinds of knowledge in engineering:

  • Know-What (facts)
  • Know-How (processes)
  • Know-Why (explanations).

(more…)

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Improving Oil and Gas Industry Safety With Better Data Management

After a series of high-profile accidents involving gas transmission pipelines, in 2014 the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) commissioned a study to see what could be done to lower the incidence rate. The report, “Integrity Management of Gas Transmission Pipelines in High Consequence Areas” included an analysis of how pipeline quality data was gathered, used, and shared. A close look at the report offers some interesting insight into engineering data management issues.

The NTSB report on Integrity Management (IM) published 33 findings; seven of the specifically mention data management issues. Following the findings, the report listed 22 recommendations to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, seven of which specifically mention data handling. (more…)

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Making a Positive Impact on Time to Knowledge

It is easy to get bogged down in details when discussing topics like engineering data management (AKA product data management or PDM). Sometimes it is good to step back and look at the big picture. For me, the details of PDM are the bricks in a building; the building is Time to Knowledge.

I define “Time to Knowledge” as the time it takes someone to get the specific accurate information needed to answer a question. The typical day in engineering has hundreds of moments which trigger a Time to Knowledge event. Such questions as “What is the status of yesterday’s engineering change request?” or “Which document is the right revision, and where is it?” are specific questions that require specific answers available in your existing engineering data. If the answer is quickly accessible, productivity is enhanced. If the answer is an uncertain quest away, the human tendency too often is to find an imprecise workaround or to avoid the subject completely. (more…)

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How Well Does Your Engineering-Driven Company Protect Intellectual Property?

There is a lot of talk these days about cybercrime. News of large-scale IT security breaches are not unusual. Blame is often assigned to the sinister motivations of rogue governments, terrorists, or anarchists. But those closest to the problem say the root cause behind most data breaches is lax internal security, not the skills of cunning hackers.

A recent survey by the Ponemon Institute claims 71% of employees have access to data they should not see, and more than half say this access is frequent or very frequent. Other findings from the survey point to lax internal security as a serious problem in organizations of all sizes:

  • 4 out of 5 IT practitioners (80%) say their organizations don’t enforce a strict least-privilege (or need-to-know) data model;
  • 73% of end users believe the growth of emails, presentations, multimedia files, and other types of company data has very significantly or significantly affected their ability to find and access data;
  • 76% of end users believe there are times when it is acceptable to transfer work documents to their personal devices, while only 13% of IT practitioners agree;
  • 67% of IT practitioners say their organization experienced the loss or theft of company data over the past two years, while only 44% of end users believe this has happened;
  • 43% of end users say it takes weeks, months or longer to be granted access to data they request access to in order to do their jobs, and only 22% report that access is typically granted within minutes or hours.

(more…)

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