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How can the extended enterprise leverage PLM?

These are real questions from real customers we have been asked in the last year.

– Our service engineers on site in Africa need to see the latest drawings.
– The shop floor needs easy access to the latest process plans.
– The purchasing manager wants to see if they should order 10 or 10,000 parts
– The engineering manager needs to approve a design whilst getting on a plane

A fully featured PLM such as Windchill or Ennovia has an interface that scares most people, even inside the engineering community. However we need this power to answer our complex engineering questions, but PLM also holds information that is crucial to the success of the extended enterprise, so how do we make it more accessible?

Why apps?

People use technology differently now; apps on mobile platforms are one clear example. “I don’t need a map unless I am studying geography; I want to get from A to B”. In PLM terms: “I don’t want to learn about effectivity; I want to find a drawing”. Simply put, an app is a highly focused interface that does one thing well, like find a drawing.

Interestingly this shift is happening everywhere, as pointed out by Oleg Shilovitsky, PLM Think Tank in his article “What Social PLM Can Learn From Facebook Decline?” where task oriented apps, such as messaging, are being used in preference to Facebook in some situations. Now Facebook is not about to go bust, but apps like WhatsApp and Line are definitely on the rise.

PLM is full of very useful information, but it is really used primarily by users who live and breathe engineering. A simple app does not compel users to enter the PLM, it gives them a limited view of the PLM, focused on what they need it for. “There’s an app for that”. A classic example would be a mobile or tablet app and each one is designed to help with a specific task, however apps in business should not just be mobile, they may also live on the desktop but they are always simple to use and highly focused on an activity. If you think this is another fad then think again, you probably already use a task oriented app, configurable reports are simply non-interactive “apps”

Maybe if we can deploy a few strategic task focused apps in our organization, we can provide the extended enterprise a vital source of information, without teaching them all PLM. (they don’t want to learn it anyway)

Vendor Mobile apps

The big mistake PLM vendors make here is to try to make a mini-PLM. Mobile is different, and the applications should be task oriented, is it really important to have a 3D model on my iPad (except because it looks cool)? Custom apps can help here, and the PLM eco-system is starting to create a number of apps that plug into PLM’s like Windchill.

Custom apps

For example an app was developed for a Bell Equipment that makes trucks, big trucks, which are used across the world. Bell wanted to put in the hands of their service engineers a tablet app that given a truck id, they could have instant access to the manuals and drawings. Interestingly a future update will be an offline mode, as the customer pointed out to us, they have tablets but there is no high speed internet in the jungle.

Searching outside the box

Searching for information is another classic app and there can be configurable apps that show different searches to different users. The PLM administrator configures searches, each one is for a different task, some via mobile and some using the desktop. Shop floor can find process plans, purchasing can check part usages etc. etc. Nobody has to access the PLM to find information, simple apps, quick answers.

Watch this space…

The world is not going to stop using powerful PLMs or that apps will replace them, but the way we interact with information is changing and engineering data is no different. Also it is getting dramatically easier to create apps and coupled with a PLM like Windchill with its open architecture there is a real return on a quite small investment. Technology is moving fast and if we can “think differently” maybe we can apply it to finally get PLM to make its promised impact on the extended enterprise.