ROI? Process Improvement? KISS!

When engineering companies start to talk about improving engineering processes, it isn’t very long before someone mentions ROI — Return On Investment. When this happens, it is important to understand the motivation. Is there truly a desire to make sure spending on process improvement is valuable? Or is it a way to delay inevitable changes? Some people are resistant to change; they find it easy to wave the “ROI” flag with a subconscious hope it means Run Off Immediately.

In the classic guide to software-based engineering improvement, ROI of Software Process Improvement, D.F. Rico works through the internal processes that always seem to take place when companies re-examine workflow. Rico wants the reader to realize the metrics of software-based process improvements don’t have to be complicated. In other words, if you are looking at ROI, be sure to KISS! (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)

Rico says the initial assessment is the key, and if a company follows three simple rules the assessment will go smoothly and offer meaningful insights:

Step 1

Define goals before measuring. Too often, engineering departments struggle to establish well-defined goals that work for both senior management, and the technical managers and staff. Read More

How Joy Global Tamed their Global PDM Monsters

Joy Global (now Komatsu Mining Corp.) is a world-class manufacturer and services provider for high-productivity mining equipment. Customers around the globe use are using Joy Global products and services on the very largest mining projects in energy, industrial, and hard rock minerals. Over the years it has grown both organically and by acquisition, to the point where it how has eight major brands, 12,000 employees, and offices in 20 countries. With each acquisition came new data, new data management systems, and new challenges for creating, storing, using, and sharing engineering data.

In 2009, the company decided it must standardize on a single product data management system (PDM). “Our access and files were out of control,” says Joy Global’s Norm Kopp. Research on how to proceed started with a simple step. The small team assigned to the job looked at only 10 shared directory folders on the corporate network. More than 675 users had access across the 10 folders, with no tighter level of access control. In one directory alone, there were more than 1 million documents, taking up more than 2 terabytes. “We knew there just had to be a better way,” recalls Kopp. Their engineering data had become an uncontrolled monster hiding inside the organization. Read More

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

Securing Engineering Documents in the Cybercrime Age

These days no company should consider itself immune to the possibility of cybercrime and data theft.  Engineering documents hold the company’s crown jewels; data must always be kept secure. With careful planning you can still take advantage of the latest cloud and mobile technology; security does not mean lack of accessibility.

Outdated approaches to data management are the most vulnerable systems. There is nothing that says “STEAL ME” more than important documents just sitting naked in a file folder on the network. Once the external firewall is breached, these files become easy pickings.  A comprehensive IT security solution for engineering/manufacturing data will include the user, the data management software, and the network, as well as application layer interfaces and interconnecting systems (such as PDM to SCM).

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Synergis Adept: The Best of What Both PDM and PLM Offer

A newcomer to the engineering data management marketplace might quickly come to the conclusion there are two options if wanting to upgrade from Windows Explorer as a management tool. The first is to buy a system that helps engineers in a workgroup manage design files (PDM); the second is to buy a specialized database (PLM) that breaks down all information—CAD data and everything else—and stores it separately from the familiar files/folders structure. For many businesses looking to upgrade their engineering automation, the first option is too limiting and the second is too massive.

PDM vs. PLM

The traditional PDM (Product Data Management) approach is to make the CAD document the center of the universe. The PDM software manages sets of linked files for version control, synchronized check-in/check-out, and controls access right. The PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) approach requires the enterprise to import all data (CAD and from every other electronic document used in engineering) into a relational database, and then to adopt new workflows based on the design of the PLM system. Read More

Data Efficiency as the Engine of Creativity

A revolution in IT is underway, pressured by four strong currents: big data analysis, the cloud, mobile devices, and social media. Because of the momentum of these trends, some engineering software companies now push their customers to port every bit of design and engineering data to cloud technology, so it can be reorganized for greater efficiency.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) products take this approach; they scrape every engineering document for every bit of information, and reassemble the pieces in a new database. According to this philosophy, the key to efficiency is data granularity; the more one breaks design information into its individual pieces the more efficient the organization becomes. A small army of consulting firms make a good living doing this for PLM customers.

But as the old adage states, the devil is in the details. Is a drawing or a 3D model just a geometry database that needs the information within to be extracted? Is every cell in a spreadsheet really longing to be liberated and moved to a PLM database? Does efficiency require scrambling the existing paradigm and changing work flow? No doubt, cloud technology has tremendous value when used correctly; the question becomes how to use it wisely.

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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

Removing Fear From the Path of Progress

At a technology seminar for architects in the early days of the World Wide Web, I heard a speaker excitedly proclaim, “Change is changing!” He advocated “throwing out the rulebook” and embracing what was still very much The Wild Wild West online. For every architect in the room busily poking his Blackberry to send approving comments to the speaker in real time, there was another one who shuddered in dread and didn’t really get what was happening.

The speaker was describing change in terms of personal growth and embracing new values. But many in the room thought he was proposing radical changes to business practice. Turns out it is common in times of great change to cause confusion about the difference between personal values and business practice. Confusing practice for values in an organization, notes business philosopher Greg Satell, “is why success so often breeds failure.” He cites Xerox, when its culture of pride in technical excellence and great service was blindsided by the rise of cheap, simple copiers from new competitors Canon and Ricoh. If Xerox had been more nimble, they could have maintained their values, but changed their practice to meet the competition. Read More

Adept and Engineering Data Management is…

Personal.

In all the years I’ve been with Synergis, I’ve learned that what Adept does for organizations and their people is personal.

Some experience Adept as the product that makes it possible to find and reuse engineering files, and eliminates revision control nightmares.  Or the traffic cop that ensures documents are secure, go through the correct approval process, while maintaining an audit trail.

For many, it’s a foundational part of their product or project lifecycle management solution.  It streamlines design through delivery, and enables collaboration across global sites and partners.  Without it, their business could not grow.

Others view Adept as the solution that makes their job easier – where without it, their work life was chaos. Now they’re able to contribute more in ways they’re uniquely qualified, while enjoying greater work-life balance.

I’m absolutely amazed at what our clients have done with the solution – things we never envisioned –because they took it personally.

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