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On March 22 this year, I wrote Time to Think (and act differently) in de middle of a changing world. We were entering a lockdown in the Netherlands due to the COVID-19 virus. As it was such a disruptive change, it was an opportunity to adapt their current ways of working.

The reason for that post was my experience when discussing PLM-initiatives with companies. Often they have no time to sit down, discuss and plan their PLM targets as needed. Crucial people are too busy, leading to an implementation of a system that, in the best case, creates (some) benefits.

The well-known cartoon says it all. We are often too busy doing business as usual, making us feel comfortable. Only when it is too late, people are forced to act.  As the second COVID-19 wave seems to start in the Netherlands, I want to look back on what has happened so far in my eco-system.

Virtual Conferences

As people could not travel anymore, traditional PLM-conferences could not be organized anymore. What was going to be the new future for conferences? TECHNIA, apparently clairvoyant, organized their virtual PLM Innovation Forum as one of the first, end of April.

A more sustainable type of PLM-conference was already a part of their plans, given the carbon footprint a traditional conference induces.  The virtual conference showed that being prepared for a virtual conference pays off during a pandemic with over 1000 participants.

Being first does not always mean being the best,  as we have to learn. While preparing my session for the conference, I felt the same excitement as for a traditional conference. You can read about my initial experience here: The weekend after the PLM Innovation Forum.

Some weeks later, having attended some other virtual conferences, I realized that some points should be addressed/solved:

  • Video conferencing is a must – without seeing people talking, it becomes a podcast.
  • Do not plan long conference days. It is hard to sit behind a screen for a full day. A condensed program makes it easier to attend.
  • Virtual conferences mean that they can be attended live from almost all around the globe. Therefore, finding the right timeslots is crucial for the audience – combined with the previous point – shorter programs.
  • Playing prerecorded sessions without a Q&A session should be avoided. It does not add value.
  • A conference is about networking and discussion – I have not seen a solution for this yet. Fifty percent of the conference value for me comes from face-to-face discussions and coffee meetings. A virtual conference needs to have private chat opportunities between attendees.

In the last quarter of this year, I will present at several merely local conferences, sometimes a mix between “live” with a limited number of attendees, if it will be allowed.

And then there is the upcoming PLM Road Map & PDT Fall 2020 (virtual) conference on 17-18-19 November.

This conference has always been my favorite conference thanks to its continued focus on sharing experiences, most of the time, based on industry standards. We discuss topics and learn from each other. See my previous posts: The weekend after 2019 Day 1, 2019 Day 2, 2018 Day 1, 2018 Day2, 2017 Day 1, 2017 Day 2, etc.

The theme Digital Thread—the PLM Professionals’ Path to Delivering Innovation, Efficiency, and Quality has nothing to do with marketing. You can have a look at the full schedule here. Although there is a lot of buzz around Digital Thread, presenters discuss the reality and their plans

Later in this post, see the paragraph Digital Thread is not a BOM, I will elaborate on this theme.

Getting tired?

I discovered I am getting tired as I am missing face-to-face interaction with people. Working from home, having video calls, is probably a very sustainable way of working.  However, non-planned social interaction, meeting each other at the coffee machine, or during the breaks at a conference or workshop, is also crucial for informal interaction.

Apparently, several others in my eco-system are struggling too. I noticed a tsunami of webinars and blog posts where many of them were an attempt to be noticed. Probably the same reason: traditionally businesses have stalled. And it is all about Digital Transformation and SaaS at this moment. Meaningless if there is no interaction.

In this context, I liked Jan Bosch’s statement in his article: Does data-driven decision-making make you boring? An article not directly addressing the PLM-market; however, there is a lot of overlap related to people’s reluctance to imagine a different future.

My favorite quote:

 I still meet people that continue to express beliefs about the world, their industry, their customers or their own performance that simply aren’t true. Although some, like Steve Jobs, were known for their “reality distortion field,” for virtually all of us, just wishing for something to be true doesn’t make it so. As William Edwards Deming famously said: in God we trust; all others must bring data.

I fully concur with this statement and always get suspicious when someone claims the truth.

Still, there are some diamonds.

I enjoyed all episodes from Minerva PLM TV – Jennifer Moore started these series in the early COVID19-days (coincidence?). She was able to have a collection of interviews with known and less-known people in the PLM-domain. As most of them were vendor-independent, these episodes are a great resource to get educated.

The last episode with Angela Ippisch illustrates how often PLM in companies depends on a few enthusiastic persons, who have the energy to educate themselves. Angela mentions there is a lot of information on the internet; the challenge is to separate the useful information from marketing.

I have been publishing the past five months a series of posts under the joint theme learning from the past to understand the future. In these posts, I explained the evolution from PDM to PLM, resulting in the current item-centric approach with an EBOM, MBOM, and SBOM.

On purpose, one post per every two weeks – to avoid information overflow. Looking back, it took more posts than expected, and they are an illustration of the many different angles there are in the PLM domain – not a single truth.

Digital Thread is not a BOM

I want to address this point because I realized that in the whole blogging world there appear to be two worlds when discussing PLM terminology. Oleg Shilovitsky, CEO@OpenBOM, claims that Digital Thread and Digital Twin topics are just fancy marketing terms. I was even more surprised to read his post: 3 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Using The Word “Model” In PLM. Read the comments and discussion in these posts (if LinkedIn allows you to navigate)

Oleg’s posts have for me most of the time, always something to discuss. I would be happier if other people with different backgrounds would participate in these discussions too – A “Like” is not a discussion. The risk in a virtual world is that it becomes a person-to-person debate, and we have seen the damage such debates can do for an entire community.

In the discussion we had related to Digital Thread and BOM, I realized that when we talk about traditional products, the BOM and the Digital Thread might be the same. This is how we historically released products to the market. Once produced, there were no more changes. In these situations, you could state a PLM-backbone based on BOM-structures/views, the EBOM, MBOM, and SBOM provide a Digital Thread.

The different interpretation comes when talking about products that contain software defining its behavior. Like a computer, the operating system can be updated on the fly; meanwhile, the mechanical system remains the same. To specify and certify the behavior of the computer, we cannot rely on the BOM anymore.

Having software in the BOM and revise the BOM every time there is a software change is a mission impossible. A mistake suggested ten years ago when we started to realize the different release cycles of hardware and software. Still, it is all about the traceability of all information related to a product along its whole lifecycle.

In a connected environment, we need to manage relationships between the BOM and relations to other artifacts. Managing these relations in a connected environment is what I would call the Digital Thread – a layer above PLM. While writing this post, I saw Matthias Ahrens’ post stating the same (click on the image to see the post)

When we discuss managing all the relations, we touch the domain of Configuration Management.  Martijn Dullaart/Martin Haket’s picture shares the same mindset – here, CM is the overlapping layer.

However, in their diagram, it is not a system picture; the different systems do not need to be connected. Configuration Management is the discipline that maintains the correct definition of every product – CM maintains the Thread. When it becomes connected, it is a Digital Thread.

As I have reached my 1500 words, I will not zoom in on the PLM and Model discussion – build your opinion yourself. We have to realize that the word Model always requires a context. Perhaps many of us coming from the traditional PDM/PLM world (managing CAD data) think about CAD models. As I studied physics before even touching CAD, I grew up with a different connotation

Lars Taxén’s comment in this discussion perhaps says it all (click on the image to read it). If you want to learn and discuss more about the Digital Thread and Models, register for the PLM Roadmap & PDT2020 event as many of the sessions are in this context (and not about 3D CAD).

Conclusion

I noticed I am getting tired of all the information streams crying for my attention and look forward to real social discussions, not broadcasted. Time to think differently requires such discussion, and feel free to contact me if you want to reflect on your thoughts. My next action will be a new series named Painting the future to stay motivated. (As we understand the past).

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