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Hope Springs Eternal

13 Apr

I recently read a blog over at from Verdi Ogewell about the new Joint Venture between PTC and GE Intelligent Platforms.  One the one hand, this is exciting news.  PLM vendors, one by one, seeing the benefit of TRUE Product Lifecycle management, not just the design side, but all the way through prototype, production, service and retirement.  PTC now joins  the ranks of Siemens (with Tecnomatix and Simatic IT) and Dassault Systemes (with the Delmia family including former Intercim and Apriso product lines), in adding Manufacturing Execution to their arsenal.

The thing is, creating a joint venture or making an acquisition is just the start.   The PLM-MES combination has been a work in progress for many years.  Why have we not seen widespread success?

Here are a few thoughts:

1) The focus of PLM as an engineering project management tool does not translate well into ERP driven manufacturing execution.  Actual production (in many industries) has too many variables.  What if the part called out in the BOM is not available, what substitutions can be made?  Can the design tool actually define the best method of manufacture?  Maybe the ‘Model-Based Plan’ calls out a machine that is down for maintenance, or a process that is currently a bottleneck.  Do we hold production until the machine is available in order to use the plan created by the PLM system?  Tell that to the plant manager…

2) The driver for any manufacturing concern is fulfilling orders.  There is nothing in the PLM environment that takes order management into account.  That’s an ERP function.  Having a PLM system manage the engineering side of the equation is fine, but the technology is woefully inadequate for paying the bills by getting orders out the door.  Work will shift to other workcenters, schedules will change, suppliers will be late with deliveries. Driving the PLM design to MES does nothing to solve these issues.

3) Also, history has shown that JVs and acquisitions don’t immediately solve anything.  How many PeopleSoft and Oracle eBS users are clamoring for Oracle Fusion?  The truth of the matter is most of these acquisitions/JVs spend a great deal of time effectively taking an EXTERNAL integration problem and turning it into an INTERNAL integration problem.

4) Everybody wants to be on top.  A good friend of mine was involved in a gigantic ERP/PLM/MES implementation at a major US corporation.  I asked him at one point how the project was going, he chuckled and said, “Very little progress, right now it’s a holy war between ERP, PLM and MES on who owns the BOM.”

I think the bottom line on why tying these technologies together is so frustrating is that, well, you are attempting to solve problems across multiple domains, with multiple drivers and conflicting priorities with a single toolset.

In the end, I applaud GE and PTC for their approach; ‘bridging the gap’.  However, the gap they are bridging (in their own words) is between Windchill and Proficy.  They have now joined the arms race with Siemens, Dassault, Oracle and SAP.

For those who live in the world of a global supply chain, there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions.  Your supplier/customer/partner/acquisition will most likely NOT share your vendor stack.  What then?

Maybe we should make sure that each domain has the best tools in place to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their subject area, and that these tools embrace whatever integration technology standards are out there to make sure that vital communication exists between these domains, regardless of vendor.



Big Bad Data – the return of GIGO

17 Mar

A company I know made a major change to their search capability a couple of years ago.  In the past, they searched only live sources of data to retrieve results for their customers.  There were two complaints, 1) the search was too slow and 2) the result set was limited.  This company completely revamped the system and change their approach, searching not only live sources, but also searching a repository of all previous searches made by anyone in the company.  This repository provided almost instantaneous response, solving issue #1.  However, this approach created an unexpected problem; users complaining about TOO MANY search results.

I can relate.  I have a hobby/cottage industry building virtual train models for train simulators.  My ‘specialty’ is North American railroad equipment from the mid-1940’s to the mid 1960’s.  In order to build these models, I need actual color photographs to work from.  There are more occasions than I can count where I went out to the internet (the mother of all Big Data sources), and was unable to find what I was looking for, only to ask someone else, and have them respond almost immediately with something that THEY found on the ‘net.  Why can they find this information when I can’t?

The issue is not the availability of data, it’s the RELEVANCE of data.

Early in my career, I was involved with part and process classification, something called Group Technology (GT).  GT classification got a bad rap because of the added time and effort required to classify everything you made and how you made it.  The keyword there is ‘everything’.  The best GT consultants knew that it wasn’t how much data you captured, but how relevant the data was.  

One of our customers would capture 20-30 data elements for each ‘quality characteristic’ on their parts, some of these parts would have hundreds of characteristics, and the final product had thousands of parts.  In reviewing the taxonomy that they had built, one data element was a flag called ‘Critical_to_Quality’ (yes or no), which begs the question, if it is not critical to quality, why are we tracking it?

My generation of engineers was the first generation that bridged the slide rule era and the engineering calculator era.   By the time I had been in the engineering world a couple of years, engineer’s behavior had changed from critical thinking to running dozens of computer simulations to put a box around the problem.

As data grows, the problem of relevance grows with it.

I remember making a presentation on the value of GT to Carrier Corporation in Syracuse, explaining the dangers of part proliferation, only to have the VP of my company take the wind out of my sails by proclaiming that larger disk drives could store more CAD data.

We now have access to more data than ever before, and an almost unlimited storage capacity

I found a book review on the LA Times online (3/16/2014), here is an excerpt:

The message of a new book, “Big Data @Work,” by Thomas H. Davenport, a fellow of the MIT Center for Digital Business, is that companies are only beginning to understand the questions they can ask of their vast stores of data.


The BIG issue with BIG data is RELEVANCE.  Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean you can make sense of it.  While there is great promise in Big Data, do we really understand what we are looking for?  Do we have the critical thinking skills to make the most of Big data?  Or, as Mukul Chopra cleverly stated on LinkedIn “Is Critical Thinking Being Outsourced To Google”

Good question!



It’s All About Your Niche, Do You WANT to Leave There?

9 Apr

Back to reading my original blog muse, Oleg Shilovitsky.  In a recent blog (“Ugly vs. Cool”) he took PLM vendors to task re: their product user interface.  It got me thinking:

What do my previous company, CIMx Software, and my current company, Vinimaya, have in common?

Although there are many differences, and many other reasons for their success, both software companies are, in part, successful because of the failings of another industry’s functionality and user interface.

Ask any PLM vendor and they will say that they support manufacturing.  Truth be told, they have products designed and built for the design engineer and management of design projects.  The user interface is designed by engineers and for engineers.   The schemas and taxonomies of the PLM system do not support the workings of the manufacturing shop, and the user interface is way too complex for the casual user.  In the case of CIMx  Software, there have been numerous attempts by the engineering organizations at CIMx customers to ‘standard ize’ on the PLM environment for manufacturing and shop floor.  At one particulart customer, there were close to 1/2 dozen ‘pilots’ of the PLM system in manufacturing engineering.  They all failed to provide what CIMx had out of the box.

The same can be said for ERP ‘eProc’ applications and Vinimaya.  If ERP vendors provided simple federated search across all of their internal and external suppliers with a user interface like Google or Amazon, there would be no need for SmartSearch™.   That’s not the case.  eProc systems tend to have the same laborious click-heavy, multi-screen UI issues as most ERP and PLM functions.

Why is this so?  It boils down to two elements, legacy and domain expertise.

1) Legacy.  One of my favorite quotes about the software industry is “God created the universe in six days because he didn’t have an installed base”.  It is extremely difficult for established vendors in a particular space (ERP, PLM) to completely re-write their large monolithic systems.  They can certainly apply a web ‘veneer’ and update icons and other visual elements, but it’s the same old code underneath.

2) Domain Expertise.  I recall the amazement in the voice of a colleague in the MES space when he had to explain to their PLM partner the  concept of a work order.  You may know the technology behind and engineering bill of materials backwards and forwards, but that does not mean your expertise has any value down on the shop floor.

So, where do you want to live, Mr. ERP vendor?  Mr. PLM vendor?  The more you decide to venture outside of your area of core competence, the more you will have to be concerned about functionality and UI, and the less likely you will be able to compete with the likes of CIMx and Vinimaya.


Commenting on Team Building

20 Mar

While I have managed a team at various times during my career, my most recent assignment was more of an individual contributor role, and, I’ve not had to ‘inherit’ a team in quite a while.  With this in mind, I found this blog over at Harvard Business Review to be very interesting.

The blog was called “The Hard Science of Teamwork” reported by Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland.  The author is the Director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program.   The ‘Hard Science’ in the title refered to the use of ‘sociometric badges’ to mathematically measure communication.  The blog stated with points related to the ‘new science of building great teams’.

Our data show that great teams:

  • Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
  • Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
  • Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
  • Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

An interesting point made by Mr. Pentland was that content of communication (the ‘what‘) did not matter as much as they way that communication took place (the ‘how‘).  This makes sense to me.   Material presented in dull monotone will not have the effect as the same material present with passion.

One learning from this blog that did suprise me was Pentland’s assertion that communication (charisma?) can be taught:

In our work we’ve found that these patterns of communication are highly trainable, and that personality traits we usually chalk up to the “it” factor — personal charisma, for example — are actually teachable skills.

This bears watching.  In my new role, an effective team will be key to our continued success, and communication will be a very important factor.

More to come….


Is Being Unique Unique? Is Being Unique Enough?

27 Feb

Is anything sustainable and unique?

Yogi Berra once said, “This is like Déjà vu all over again”

John Franzosa once said, “There’s a difference between 20 years experience and 1 year experience 20 times” (actually, my Dad said this a lot more than once).

There is an excitement, a freshness when a child first discovers the things that soon become commonplace.  I especially enjoyed hearing all of those awful corny jokes from my kids when they first discovered ‘humor’ in the 2nd or 3rd grade.

From the reverse perspective, when they become young adults and you, as a parent, begin to look for their perspective? That is also very cool.

At a certain level, we are all unique.  At a certain level we are all the same (I think I learned this watching ‘Sesame Street’ with my kids)…

The point of my topic?

In the world of business, uniqueness can be a red flag.  What we disparagingly call ‘bleeding edge’ technology…

There will always be a subset of companies that are drawn to the ‘bleeding edge’, the “early adopters”.  It is not particularly difficult to attract early adopters.

Many new technology firms start fast out of the chute, only to lose momentum in trying to get to the ‘mainstream’.   Does uniqueness work for or against a company when they hit that lull, when they move from early adopter to mainstream?

Ultimately, I think that companies that just rely on being ‘unique’ will stumble.  What matters in business (and in life, I suppose), is being dependable and adding value.  Don’t get hung up on unique.  We can’t all be Steve Jobs, but we can all be dependable and we can all add value.


If It’s All About Process, Why Focus On Features?

22 Feb

The following was tweeted from the PLM Conference at the Westin in Munich this morning by Gabriel Gheorghiu:

“Marc Halpern (Gartner) some of the best #PLM implementations done without PLM software. Processes matter most #plm2012

If this is true, and I believe it is, then why on God’s green earth do companies still go through the same drill, asking for a feature list, looking at features, providing RFIs/RFPs that talk about features (example: 314 features in an RFP that we answered last year).

What do features matter?  It’s ALL ABOUT THE PROCESS.  It doesn’t matter how shiny it is, whether or not it’s on the cloud, what technology platform it runs on.  Here’s all that matters:

Do you have a reliable, efficient process?

Does this software make that process better?

’nuff said


Standardization – What’s YOUR job Mr. Software Vendor?

21 Feb

There is a discussion going on over at LinkedIn  about whether or not a single MES system can be used across multiple plants.  The topic of standardization is a hot one.   Individual plants (and individuals) believe that they are ‘different’, that one size does not fit all.  We all believe that we are unique, that no one does exactly what we do.  In the case of manufacturing, there is some truth to that.  Efforts to ‘standardize’ manufacturing have the tendency to stifle creativity.  They also tend toward creeping bureaucracy.

Uniqueness is not always a good thing.  As someone once told me “Do it once, it might be a mistake, do it twice it’s a habit, three times it’s a tradition”.    There are a lot of traditions out there in manufacturing that would lend themselves to retirement.  If the rationale for a process is “But we’ve always done it this way”, then maybe you have to dig a bit deeper.

So what is the software vendor’s job in all of this?  Standardization?  Uniqueness?

In a timeless blog from 2009, David Meerman Scott provided the “Top Gobbledygook phrases used in 2008 and how to avoid them”.  Our friend ‘Unique’ checks in at #3 on the list of most overused phrases in B2B press releases, right after #2 “Pleased To” and #1 “Innovate”….

… but we have all bases covered with #14 Flexible and #18 Scalability!

So, now that we are all pleased to uniquely innovate, what are we really saying here?

The point of my title is that how a software product is designed and implemented goes a long way in balancing the business need for standardization in the face of  the users desire for ”uniqueness’.  Hey, if it was easy, ANYONE could do it!

The key for software vendors is standardization that fosters uniqueness.  What does that mean?  If you’re too unique, you may miss your target.  If you’re approach is ‘forced’ standardization, you aren’t allowing your customers to use their uniqueness to their advantage.

Being unique is a good thing, otherwise we wouldn’t make such a big deal about it in our B2B press releases!  A BETTER thing is to foster the uniqueness that the end-user requires in a structured framework that the business requires.  Give them what they want, make it simple, hide the rules and complexity.  Now THAT’S innovation!  (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

more here



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