Rolling out an enterprise-level document management solution across your organization can be a daunting task. While there’s no be-all, end-all method to implementation, setting up enterprise software does require several layers of planning and cross-communication. In fact, the success of the solution often relies as much on the implementation process as it does on the technology itself.
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.
When Synergis Software Vice President Todd Cummings introduced Adept 2017 at the company’s first user conference, Adept Experience, last month, he said the mission for the development team was “to deliver more power to users in an easier and more accessible way.” He and fellow presenter Chris Fabri then showed how the transition to web services technology did more than provide a faster “under the hood” experience, but also transformed how users get their work done.
Much of the work to create the user experience in Adept 2017 was about simplifying the way people worked within the program. The web-based clients were recreated from the ground up, with an eye to simplify every aspect of using Adept. The desktop client was simplified and makes users more productive in their every day tasks.
The Desktop Client has an all-new user interface, replacing the original toolbars and menus with a new Ribbon and Tab interface. This approach reduces the number of clicks required to perform tasks. In testing most common tasks were increased by a factor of four, and some by much more.
For the past 14 months, Synergis Software has been hard at work creating a new version of Adept. This isn’t the typical software update with some new features and various bug fixes. This is a serious reworking of the product from its foundation up, designed to make Adept the best possible engineering document management solution. As Scott Lamond said at the launch webinar attended by hundreds of Adept users, “Our mission is to free you from operational chaos, so you can make the difference in the world you want to make.”
For Adept 2017, delivering users from “operational chaos” meant big changes to the inner working of the product, and to the user experience. In this article I want to take a look at the new platform technology of Adept 2017. In my next article I’ll take a close look at how the user experience (UX) in Adept 2017 has improved.
Development of both the new foundation and the new UX were guided by the Synergis mantra, “simple, fast ways to find documents anywhere.” The goal is always to make it as easy as possible for engineering companies to work with one version of the truth, keeping everyone in sync and on schedule. Documents remain secure, collaboration is enhanced, and manual workflow processes are automated.
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.
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.
One of the best reasons engineering companies invest in product data management (PDM) is process automation; you turn manual methods into a digital workflow. All your information has greater visibility and better, trackable management. But we all know that much of what is designed and approved in the digital world has to be printed sooner or later, or at least published to a PDF document. Once a document is printed/published, there is a break from the all the advantages inherent in using PDM. It is like taking an axe to a landline telephone cord (you still have one of those, don’t you?); The pieces are still there, but nothing’s happening.
It's no secret that engineers live in a multi-CAD world. As part of their daily routines, engineers routinely collaborate with customers, suppliers, and partners, each working with different CAD tools, yet all needing to be on the same page.
Most companies use, on average, 2.7 different CAD systems internally, according to CAD maker PTC, and that doesn't account for other tools put into play by external partners. Each tool has a distinct file format and different flair for handling 3D CAD data and models. The variances can quickly turn into a nightmare for engineers who are simply trying to collaborate and share designs to get their jobs done.
CAD vendors have tried to address the multi-CAD issue for years, but it remains a struggle for many companies--some trapped by manual processes that don't effectively do the job, others saddled with CAD management solutions that don't live up to their promise of dealing with disparate models and CAD file types.
The decision to invest in a modern engineering document management system is a big deal. A variety of questions arise, from the financial (What’s the budget?) to the logistical (How do we deploy and not fall behind in our work?) and the practical (Who is in charge of random issues?). Sometimes the answer comes from within the organization, and sometimes the answer is more like, “We’ll solve that with the software vendor.”
When the answers require a joint venture, it is important to enter into the conversation with the software vendor as an equal partner. Every vendor of product data management (PDM) and/or engineering document management (EDM) software wants a happy customer—but they prefer happy and compliant. If you let the vendor drive the conversation, you may not get what you really need from your new software.