What I want to discuss this time is the challenging transformation related to product data that needs to take place.

The top image of this post illustrates the current PLM world on the left, and on the right the potential future positioning of PLM in a digital enterprise.  How the right side will behave is still vague – it can be a collection of platforms or a vast collection of small services all contributing to the performance of the company.  Some vendors might dream, all these capabilities are defined in one system of systems, like the human body; all functions are available and connected.

Coordinated or connected?

This is THE big question for a future digital enterprise. In the current PLM approach, there are governance structures that allow people to share data along the product lifecycle in a structured way.

These governance structures can be project breakdown structures, where with a phase-gate approach the full delivery is guided. Deliverables related to task and gates will make sure information is stored available for every stakeholder. For example, a well-known process in the automotive industry, the Advanced Product Quality Process ( APQP process) is a standardized approach to make sure parts or products are introduced with the right quality for the customer.

Deliverables at any stage in the process can be reviewed or consumed by another stakeholder. The result is most of the time a collection of approved documents (Office-type, Design & Test files) stored centrally. This is what I would call a coordinated data approach.

In complex environments, besides the project governance, there will be product structures and Bill of Materials, where each object in such a structure will be the placeholder for related information. In case of a product structure it can be its specifications per component, in case of a Bill of Materials, it can be its design specification (usually in CAD models) and its manufacturing specifications, in case of an MBOM.

An example of structures used in Enovia

Although these structures contain information about the product composition themselves, the related information makes the content understandable/realizable.

Again it is a coordinated approach, and most PLM systems and implementations are focusing on providing these structures.

Sometimes with their own system only – you need to follow the vendor portfolio to get the full benefit  or sometimes the system is positioned as an overlay to existing systems in the company, therefore less invasive.

Presentation from Martin Eigner – explaining the overlay concept based on Aras

Providing the single version of the truth is often associated with this approach. The question is: Is the green bin on the left the single version of the truth?

The Coordinated – Single Version of the Truth – problem

The challenge of a coordinated approach is that there is no thorough consistency checking if the data delivered is representing the real truth. Through serious review procedures, we do our best to make sure every deliverable has the required content and quality. As information inside these deliverables is not connected to the outside world, there will be discrepancies between reality and what has been stored. Still, we feel comfortable enough as an organization to pretend we know where the risks are. Until the costly impossible happens !

The connected enterprise

The ultimate dream of a digital enterprise is that everything relevant is connected in context. This means no more documents or files but a very granular information model for linking data and keeping it in context. We can apply algorithms and automation to connected data and use Artificial Intelligence to make sense of massive amounts of data.

Connected data allows us to share combined sets of information that are relevant to a particular role. Real-time dashboarding is one of the benefits of such an infrastructure. There are still a lot of challenges with this approach. How do we know which information is valid in the context of other information? What are the rules that describe a valid product or project baseline at a particular time?

Although all data is stored as unique information objects in a network of information, we cannot apply the old mechanisms for a coordinated approach all the time. Generated reports from a connected environment can still serve as baselines or records related to a specific state, such as when the design was approved for manufacturing, we can generate approved Product Baselines structures or Bill of Materials structures.

However, this linearity in lifecycle for passing information through an enterprise will not exist anymore. It might be there are various design alternatives and the delivery process is already part of the design phase. Through integrated virtual simulation and testing, we reach a state that the product satisfies the market for that moment and the delivery process is known at the same time

Almost immediately and based on first experiences from the field, new features can be added virtually tested and validated for the next stage. We need to design new PLM infrastructures that can support this granularity and therefore complexity.

The connected – Single Version of the Truth – problem

The concepts I described related to the connected enterprise made me realize that this is analogue to how the brain works. Our brain is a giant network of connected information, dynamically maintaining associations, having different abstraction levels and always pretending there is one truth.

If you want to understand a potential model of the brain, please read On Intelligence from Jeff Hawkins. With the possible upcoming of the Quantum Computer, we might be able to create performing brain models.

In my earlier post: Are we blocking our future,  I referred to the book; The Idiot Brain: What Your Head is Really Up To from Dean Burnett, where Dean is stating that due to the complexity of stored information our brain continuously adapts “non-compliant” information to make sure the owner of the brain feels comfortable.

What we think that is the truth might be just the creation from the brain, combining the positive parts into a compelling story and suppressing or deleting information that does not fit.  Although it sounds absurd, I believe if we are able to create a connected digital enterprise we will face the same symptoms.  Due to the complexity of connected information, we are looking for the best suitable version, and as all became so complex, ordinary human beings will no longer be able to distinguish this

 

Conclusion:

As part of the preparation for the upcoming PDT Europe 2018, I was investigating the topics coordinated and connected enterprise to discover potential transformation steps. We all need to explore the future with an open mind, and the challenge is: WHERE and HOW FAST can we transform from coordinated to connected? I am curious if you have experiences or thoughts on this topic.

 

 

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