The Goldilocks Approach to Data Management

The classic folk story (fairy tale) of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is often told as a morality tale about not being snoopy. After all, Goldilocks had no business making herself at home in the Bears residence, eating their porridge and breaking a chair. But I think there is another moral to learn from this story: Make sure you go with the correct fit.

In the wide world of data management software for engineering, there are Papa Bear, Momma Bear, and Baby Bear solutions. There are also companies that fit into the Papa, Momma, and Baby size patterns. When an engineering company realizes it is lost, wandering through a forest of data inefficiency, it becomes important to pick the right-sized solution to get its data management sorted out. In this age of fierce competition between technologies, it is important to sort through the issues carefully.

Let me illustrate this with a tale from the modern era, not from fairy tale land. Former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano says companies like IBM and Oracle became industry giants by offering big solutions that did everything. They were not beaten by competitors who were as big and as overwhelming; they were replaced by “good enough.” Why buy dedicated terminals for every employee running proprietary software solutions connecting to a proprietary database when you could use a smartphone to access your data held in the cloud by a start-up? Could the smartphone/cloud option do everything? No. Did the user need it to do everything? For many, the answer again was No.

When confronted with choices on where to sit, what to eat, and where to sleep, Goldilocks didn’t settle for the first choice presented to her, she evaluated the options. So, what does a Goldilocks engineering team look for today? Just as there were three key elements in Goldilocks’ search for comfort (food, chair, bed), there are three key elements in your search:

  • Controlling engineering data
  • Accessing engineering data
  • Sharing engineering data.

Do you want a Papa Bear approach to controlling/accessing/sharing engineering data, where your vendor atomizes all your engineering data? This approach tears your data away from familiar documents and files, reassembling the bits in a big database system that might feel too big (controlling), too hot (hard to access) and too stiff (hard to share). I don’t have hard data, but I know that many times the only person who ever sees most of the data imported into an enterprise PLM system is the person who put it there. What use is a Papa Bear PLM system if your users are too afraid of Papa Bear to retrieve the data?

Next there are Momma Bear approaches to data management. Vendors sweetly offer a free tool (with a paid upgrade if you want more), a system for check-in and check-out of CAD documents. You get a little file management, a little version control, but in the end it feels too small, too cold, too soft.

I hate to call the third options a Baby Bear approach; it sounds like trivialization. But the search for data management needs to strike the balance between the Papa and Momma Bear offerings. Control the data but in such a way as to keep it familiar and user-friendly. Provide access and sharing everybody in the organization can understand, and provide guidance so the data doesn’t get lost.

Goldilocks was on a mission, she needed right-sized solutions. If you have looked at Papa Bear’s giant database and Momma Bear’s little bit of vaulting, maybe it is time you look at Baby  Bear’s right-sized PDM.


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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