Don’t Forget the Big Picture

Engineers are detail-oriented; it’s the nature of the job. But there are times when it is good to think about the bigger picture. Whether the “big picture” is establishing best practices, launching a Six Sigma review of engineering or business processes, or calculating return on investment (ROI) for new products or services, establishing the big picture first is a very good way to make sure the right details are being accomplished.

Despite having computers in the workplace for more than a generation, there are still many aspects of business where the full utilization of digital technology is not happening. Many businesses, not just engineering businesses, are discovering new ways to fully realize digitalization in their businesses.

Google Chief Economist Hal Varian recently wrote an article for the International Monetary Fund on the importance of continually looking for “big picture” ways to increase and improve the use of computer technology in business. His audience was economists and politicians — definitely a “big picture” audience — but there are good lessons in his ideas for all of us.

Varian focused on five themes. Let’s take a look at his themes from the viewpoint of engineering data management.  Read More

Dow Chemical’s Best Practices to Plan, Deploy, and Measure a Global Document Management Solution

The Dow Chemical Company was an early leader in the use of Engineering Document Management (EDM) in the 1980s. But through the 1990s and 2000s it grew rapidly by acquisition. For data management, this meant the company acquired and continued to use more than 25 different homegrown and commercial EDM systems. An internal Six Sigma audit in 2011 revealed a variety of gaps and other inefficiencies in the use of engineering data; the wide variety of EDM systems in use was cited as a major factor. “All of them had some usability or supportability issues,” says Barbara Migl, CAE Technology Leader for Dow. “One system took 45 minutes to sign in a document.”

The problems found in the Six Sigma internal study are not that unusual, according to research by Dr. Mario Hirz, a leading research on engineering data and documentation management. Successful EDM is highly dependent on interdepartmental and interdisciplinary integrations of both data and workflow. His research notes key issues that large companies often struggle with when trying to gain efficiency through better EDM:

  • Insufficient transmission of knowledge;
  • The need for a systematic approach to the design and development of EDM processes and systems;
  • The complexity of implementation in large organizations;
  • Lack of unified processes.

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Welcome to the Loosely Coupled World

I am noticing a change in thinking in the engineering data industry. Current trends in IT are driving new capabilities and new methods. The industry is moving from consolidation to federation, from tightly coupled systems to loosely coupled systems. This transition has important implications for all engineering companies.

There was a time when product lifecycle management (PLM) was advertised as the evolution of product data management (PDM) or engineering document management (EDM). The three largest vendors of PLM software made a nice business for many years helping enterprise-class manufacturers consolidate all their engineering data into a single comprehensive database. In IT-speak, this is an example of a tightly coupled system. All data and all processes were consolidated into one large program. Centralization was a guiding principle, not only for how the software managed engineering data, but also for the computer infrastructure used to run the PLM platform. Read More

Best Practices When Using EDM Vendor Services

The old adage “to fail to plan is to plan to fail” is certainly true when it comes to something as important as installing engineering document management (EDM) software. Research by Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity shows it is possible to achieve EDM implementation benefits rapidly by following a few key rules:

  • Use preconfigured best practices for security, part numbering, and other common information standards;
  • When possible, use standard workflows such as “release to manufacture” and “engineering change control;”
  • Limit initial customization; evaluate customization needs after full initial implementation and training.

As important as it is to minimize initial customization, no EDM system out of the box will offer an exact fit for every company. Many companies have workflows which evolved over years or decades; these processes do not need to be eliminated just because of automation. Other companies need customization to help unify far-flung engineering offices and long supply chains. Read More

How to Reduce Costs with Engineering Document Management

It never ceases to amaze me how many engineering companies still believe they are doing just fine using the same document management methods they used when Windows replaced DOS in the 1980s. Talking to my colleagues, users, and software vendors leads me to believe a majority of engineering firms in both product development and construction are not using modern document management. Instead, they rely on creating operating system directories for document management in shared networks or on individual users’ computers. This is unacceptable business practice in operations, finance, and other divisions of a company; why should the inefficiencies and lack of security inherent in using naked OS folders be acceptable in engineering?

I call it document management on the honor system. It is not much more advanced than printing every electronic document on paper and then arranging them on shelves, where anybody has access to any file. Until one of those shelves is in somebody’s private office and they are gone for two weeks… when you really need that information now. Or until when somebody takes a file folder home for the weekend, but misplaces it and doesn’t bring it back on Monday. Read More

When is the Best Time to Upgrade Engineering Document Management Software?

The “why” of upgrading to a modern engineering document management system is something we’ve talked about often in this blog. One thing we have not covered much is the “when” of an upgrade. Is there a “best practices” approach to deciding when to upgrade?

My research suggests there are many variables and few absolutes regarding when the time is right to make the move. Most decisions that feel like a discussion of “when” are really driven by the “why.” Reasons like “We are acquiring (or being acquired by) another company” or “we have a big new client” are example of “why” a company upgrades EDM; the “when” is driven by the external event. Read More

The Three Rules of Better Engineering Data Security

Occasionally cyber-security incidents make the news, but most go unreported. The numbers are staggering. The US Department of Homeland Security says US critical infrastructure experienced a 20% increase in cyber incidents in 2015 from the year before. Manufacturing was the most commonly attacked sector, representing 33% of all critical infrastructure cyber-security incidents. Manufacturing sites were attacked twice as often as the second-most attacked industry, energy.

Security experts says the most common approach to security—the IT equivalent of a single door with a strong lock—is a terrible idea. As cyber-security expert Kevin Mahaffey explained at the 2016 CeBIT Security conference in Hannover, the fortress of protection approach is not secure. “Big walls on the outside and nothing on the inside” is how he described it. Unfortunately, this is how many companies approach data security. But once that initial password screen is breached, the whole of manufacturing IT is there for the snooping or taking. Read More

When Helpdesk says it’s got you covered, who’s covering Helpdesk?

In the typical business, each department is responsible for its own productivity. Sure, there is an IT department that has ultimate responsibility for all digital resources, but software deployments specific to one operation, such as engineering, also have a helpdesk. By nature the helpdesk—whether it is one person or a team—is designed to be reactive, to be available on demand. But a world class helpdesk is also proactive, looking to solve problems before they happen. Two elements are key: Tools and procedures. “Tools” are the software products designed to manage, test, diagnose, and repair; “procedures” are the rules and routines known to solve problems in the least amount of time at the least possible cost.

Just as there are best practices in engineering, there are best practices in helpdesk support. I recently read a list of best practices published by the Help Desk Institute (HDI), a professional organization serving Technical Support Professionals. From a rather long list I pulled out six key attributes I thought were particularly relevant to companies that rely on enterprise document management software like Synergis Adept. Not only must the local helpdesk team have tools and procedures in place to serve their end users, but they must have the software development team available as a back-up and for those occasions where custom work is required. Read More