What Kept Document Management Pros Awake at Night in 2016?

As the semi-official guest blogger for Synergis Software, I was recently granted a sneak peek at the analytical data for this blog in 2016. What did I learn? I was a bit surprised to learn most regular readers of this blog read the entire article (measured by time on page). I get less time-on-page for my news articles elsewhere than for my commentary here. Such a stat tells me people who come here are passionate about engineering data and document management and are looking for useful information.

I also learned the most-read articles in 2016 can be organized into two broad themes:

How others use Synergis Adept

This could be characterized either as “best practices” or as “what the guy like me somewhere else is doing.”

Current risks and challenges

Engineering document management is not trivial, easy, or static; new challenges in the field are significant.

In tribute to the retired David Letterman and his nightly Top Ten lists (which we also paid homage to in 2016), here are the top ten Synergis Adept Blog articles for 2016. If you want to know what kept document management pros like you up late this year, here’s what they were thinking about:

Number 10: “Make sure you understand the risk of not having a solid data management plan” (What is your company’s risk in the new data management age?) Read More

When Legacy Data Projects Go Bad

All engineering software vendors publish case studies about successful clients and projects. Good case studies help others understand the specific value a software product or service can be. But what about projects that nobody wants to talk about?

Two recent articles here have discussed the business value of legacy data, and how to decide what data is worth putting into the new PDM.

Today I want to tell you about an engineering legacy data project that will never make it into a case study. They say experience is the best teacher, when it comes to failure I think it is better to observe it second hand than to experience it directly.

By the way, I know this is a guest post for Synergis, but this case does not involve Synergis Software or any of its customers. I am going to be intentionally vague to avoid embarrassing those involved and to avoid violating confidentiality agreements. 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

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. 

Who holds the keys to your project data?

Ready to upgrade your engineering data management from Windows Explorer? There are plenty of choices available. Your CAD vendor probably has a PDM system, and there are CAD-neutral options including Synergis Adept. Each vendor has plenty of information available to share about their PDM product, in spec sheets, white papers, case studies, videos, webinars, and direct sales calls. The marketing teams at each company have worked hard to be ready with answers to questions customers might ask. But there is one question most of them don’t consider: Who holds the keys to your engineering data?

By “holds the keys” I am referring to what happens when your valuable data and documents get sucked into the PDM. Databases are complicated systems, and there are engineering trade-offs involved in how these programs operate. Read More

From Dirt to Data

There is economic value in connecting people to information; improve the connections and you increase the value of the information.

Consider the analogy in which your manufacturing or construction project is a ditch, and data inside your files is water that will flow through that ditch. What sort of tool are you using to move the dirt and prepare for the water, shovels or backhoes? I would submit that Windows Explorer is the equivalent of a shovel, and product data management (PDM) software is the backhoe. Product Data Management (PDM) moves a lot of data fast. And it does much more than that. PDM also improves access, reuse, sharing, record keeping, and security that affect data files.

After digging the ditch, you have a nice place to store data. But that place to store data is not a static repository. It is a moving river, where data flows freely. Data is created by CAD users, deposited into the river, and then flows downstream to manufacturing shop floors, documentation departments, and customers, and other consumers of the data.

When your data management metaphor is a river, you can gain valuable insights into managing the data in your organization. These four V’s demonstrate things about the rivers of data that can help you understand and solve some of the data problems in your organization.

Read More