These Pain Points Seem Familiar? Integration Might Be The Rx

Bring up the subject of integration with most IT professionals and you’re likely to get an eye roll, maybe even a full-throated groan. Integration projects, according to conventional wisdom, are costly, overly complicated, and all-consuming from a resource standpoint. Trying to integrate two systems is frequently compared to falling into a black hole; say many who’ve tried, burdening IT with a lot of extra work and risk without delivering enough of an upside to the business.

While the knocks against enterprise integration projects may be true, the same can’t be said for attempts to establish smaller point connections between systems in the hopes of scoring targeted wins.  Connecting an Adept document management system with the email system of record, for example, can do wonders for establishing a centralized record of all interaction with a particular client. Similarly, syncing up Adept with a project management and scheduling tool or a contact management platform can streamline critical workflows and ensure everyone is working off the same information and meeting shared goals. Read More

Understanding the Business Value of Legacy Data, Part 2

In the first article in this series, I introduced the importance of clear thinking about legacy data when installing a product data management (PDM) system. I spent time recently talking to Todd Cummings, VP of Technology, about his nearly 20 years of experience helping companies of all sizes install and use Synergis Adept. One of the first things he told me was “If you haven’t worn that gift tie for several years, then it’s time to donate it to the Salvation Army.” Apply the idea to legacy data, Todd said, not as a hard-and-fast rule but “as more of a healthy challenge: don’t assume legacy data should automatically be put into the PDM/EDM system.”

It is all about the business value of the information. Todd advises clients to make business value the lens through which they review legacy data. If data created 10 years ago is still accessed by your field engineers and support team, it stays in.  When it comes to some projects—not all data is valuable. Every business is different. Read More

Understanding the Business Value of Legacy Data, Part 1

When a company invests in a new product data management (PDM) system like Synergis Adept, one of the first agenda items is (or should be) to decide what to do with legacy data (product/project information created in the past and not in active current use). When engineering information is first created it is always of high value. But over time, value diminishes. The rate of value decay varies by company. So, how important is it to make older engineering data a part of the new PDM?

Some companies want to sidestep the question. On one hand, some will think the best choice is to only use the new PDM system with current projects. On the other hand, some will think the way forward is to put everything into the PDM. Both of these choices are based on overly simplistic assumptions about the value of data. Read More

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.

Read More

Rescuing Tribal Knowledge from the Generational Shift

When a person retires after 20, 30, or more years of service in one company, an enormous amount of practical, hands-on experience and knowledge—what experts call tribal knowledge—walks out the door and never comes back. In a manufacturing environment, a production line worker may know things about machines that have never been written in a manual. If that person leaves without passing on this knowledge, it could cost thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. If a utility worker retires, the issues magnify because of the unique public service role and the 24/7 nature of utility services.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2016 members of the Millennial generation will account for 36% of the US workforce, and in nine more years will account for 75% of the global workforce. The back side of this rise of Millennials is the retirement of Baby Boomers and Generation X employees. This tidal wave of generational shift—from experienced workers with long tenure and vast tribal knowledge to inexperienced workers with much less practical knowledge and decreased interest in tenure—will be costly unless companies act quickly and strategically.

Loss of tribal knowledge impacts both operational and informational roles. In engineering environments, much of this tribal knowledge can be found in drawings and other informational documents which have accumulated over the years. But it is not enough to capture institutional knowledge in documents; there must also be clear understanding of where the information can be found. It does no good to record pipeline locations and part numbers if, when someone leaves, others don’t know where that data is stored.

A full-featured engineering document management (EDM) system will not only capture and preserve institutional knowledge; it will also automate the ability to serve up the information to the right people whenever needed. A good EDM system will also allow equal access regardless of the original technology used to record the information. Pre-digital era files can be scanned; documents created with office software and CAD or other engineering tools can all become part of one unified system.

A comprehensive EDM product like Synergis Adept eliminates the quirks of personal habits or workgroup culture and the limitations of dealing with practical knowledge when it comes to the storage, retrieval, and use of engineering data:

  • You no longer rely on human memory to recall the history of a document or where it is stored;
  • The software knows document properties and keywords; users can locate files based on keyword or phrase within any type of document;
  • Automated workflow eliminates the need for staff to continually transfer knowledge engineering business practices for any given product or project;
  • Information is centralized, not distributed on every staff member’s hard drive; users who have the necessary permissions can access information any time.

A new in-depth white paper from Synergis Software describes how four utilities in the US have automated their work with Synergis Adept, reaping significant benefits in saving time, reducing waste, and capturing that all-important tribal knowledge.

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. 

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. Read More

Bending Space and Time: A New Way to Think about Collaboration

In most engineering organizations there is an uneasy truce between teamwork and solo endeavor. The contributions of many people are necessary and the interactive processes move ideas from concept to reality. But generally speaking, each team member works best not in a meeting but when he or she enters into their personal creative zone. Time seems to stand still; performance is at its peak. Alone with their ideas and their design tools, engineers and other team members create information that becomes products or assets.

And then the ethereal bubble gets popped by collaboration. Others need the engineering data, and they usually need it in bits and pieces that require searching, compiling, copying, and sending. The processes of sharing take precious time away from the creative. In this day and age of global connectivity the sharing happens not in one particular space but across ever-increasing distances. It can feel as if space and time are collaboration hobgoblins conspiring to steal the creative bliss of engineering. Read More

5 New Year’s Resolutions to Start the EDM Conversation

It amazes me that in 2016 there are still companies that don’t know what to do with engineering and enterprise data. Do we keep it on local hard drives? Should we get a shared hard drive? Servers? Vaults? Cloud(s)? Do drawings go in the same place as plots? What about spreadsheet files?

If your company is still scratching its corporate head about how to manage enterprise data—and even worse, confusing storing data with managing it—then it is time to wake up and smell the Grade AA Arabica coffee of modern engineering data management and stop drinking the cheap Robusta of file storage. If you need some help convincing the Powers That Be in your organization about the importance of data management, here are five New Year’s Resolutions to get the conversation started. Over some really good coffee, of course. Read More

Throttle up an Adept Disaster Recovery Plan

Disaster recovery (DR) planning is a bit like purchasing those pricey, added insurance addendums when planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip—it’s distasteful to shell out the extra cash to prepare for the unlikely, but with so much at stake, it’s hard to ignore the risks.

Many companies—like too many travelers—are still doing too little to protect their key systems despite the well-publicized fall-out from catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina or even from human error, which is the biggest culprit of data loss and downtime. Data compiled by Infrascale revealed that 40% of organizations ranked their ability to recover operations after a disaster as fair or poor and that it takes almost 18.5 hours, on average, to recover after a disaster. That might explain the high price tag associated with inadequate disaster recovery practices: Research pegs the average cost of one hour of downtime at $8,000 for a small company and up to $700,000 for a large enterprise. Read More

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. Read More