cloudThe trigger for this post is based was a discussion I had around the Autodesk 360 cloud based PLM solution. To position this solution and to simplify the message for my conversation partner Joe the plumber, I told him”: “You can compare the solution with Excel on-line. As many small mid-market companies are running around with metadata (no CAD files) in Excel, the simplified game changer with this cloud based PLM offering is that the metadata is now in the cloud, much easier to access and only a single version exists.

(sorry for Autodesk, if I simplified it too much, but sometimes your conversation partner does not have an IT background as they are plumbers)

google_docs

Interesting enough Joe said: “But what is the difference with Google docs or SharePoint where I can centralize my Excel files too  – and Google Docs is like a cloud solution, right ?”

He was right and I had to go more in-depth to explain difference. This part of the conversation was similar to discussions I had in some meetings with owner / operators in the civil and energy sector, discussing the benefits of PLM practices for their industry.

I wrote about this in previous posts:

Using a PLM system for asset lifecycle management requires a vision

PLM practices for the engineering / construction industry

The trouble with dumb documents

tiff_pdfHere it was even more a key point of the discussion that most of the legacy data is stored in dumb documents. And the main reason dumb documents are used is because the data needs to be available during the long lifecycle of the the plant, application independent if possible. So in the previous century this was paper, later scanned documents (TIFF – PDF) and currently mainly PDF. Most of the data now is digital but where is the intelligence ?

The challenges these companies have is that despite the fact information is now stored in a digital file, the next step is how to deal with the information in an intelligent manner. A document or an Excel file is a collection of information, you might call it knowledge, but to get access to the knowledge you need to find it.

Did you try to find a specific document in Google docs or SharePoint ? The conclusion will be the file name becomes very important, and perhaps some keywords ?

Is search the solution ?

searchTo overcome this problem, full text search and search based applications were developed, that allow us to index and search inside the documents. A piece of cake for Google and a niche for others to index not only standard documents but also more technical data (drawings, scans from P&ID, etc, etc).

Does this solve the problem ?

Partly, as suddenly the user finds a lot more data. Search on Google for the words “Right data” and you have 3.760.000.000 hits (or more). But what is the right data ? The user can only decide what is the right data by understanding the context.

  • Is it the latest version ?
  • Is it reflecting the change we made at that functional position ?
  • What has changed ?

rel_model

And here comes the need for more intelligent data. And this is typically where a PLM system provides the answer.

A PLM systems is able to manage different types of information, not only documents. In the context of a plant or a building, the PLM system would also contain:

  • a functional definition / structure (linked to its requirements)
  • a logical definition / structure  (how is it supposed to be ?)
  • a physical definition / structure (what is physically there ?)
  • a location definition / structure  (where in the plant / building ?)

and this is all version managed and related to the supported documents and other types of information. This brings context to the documents and therefore it exposes knowledge.

As there is no automatic switch from dumb documents towards intelligent data, it will be a gradual process to move towards this vision. I see a major role for search based applications to support data discovery. Find a lot of information, but than have the capability to capture the result (or generate a digest of the result) and store it connected to your PLM system, where is it managed in the future and provides the context.

Conclusion:  We understand that paper documents are out of time. Moving these documents to digital files stored in a central location, either in SharePoint or a cloud-based storage location is a step we will regret in ten years from now, as intelligent data is not only inside the digital files but also depending on its context.

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