Dec 13, 2008

Social Product Development Network

I am a bit overwhelmed by the number of excelent PLM related blog posts. Today I am going to try to answer the question asked by Oleg : How to implement Social Networking for PLM ?

PLM has always been the concept of managing the information produce by a variety of Computer Aided Authoring tools. In a PLM system everything is organized around the BOM, so all this information is linked to Part and the Parts are organized in a tree.
PLM vendor love to claim that they are also capturing the communication thanks to their workflow system.
But the reality is that these workflows capture at best 2 or 3 very well formalized process : RFQ, ECN, ...

But everybody in the companies knows that the most important discussion about the product developement are done else where : by emails, over phone, meetings... This is even more true with the concept of global engineering team located in several countries. Some companies have a very aggressive objective in term offshore engineering and design, I know a couple of companies that are targeting 50 % of these activities in low cost countries.

I think that time has come to invent yet another acronym Social Product Development Network -- SPDN. This new marketing beast will offer :
  • an internal blog to every employee with the possibility to publish article on internet.
  • a wiki to capture the user generated documentation around the Product
  • An issue tracker to follow the issue related to the product development
  • A twitter clone to exchange short messages
  • gallery to share pictures of the product prototypes, tests , ...
  • BOM management
  • PDM
  • Workflow to control the 2 or 3 key processes
You are going to tell me that this is impossible because PLM vendor does not have the resources/skills to implement all this software stack. You are right but the good news is that you don't have to do it. All this and much more is already available out there in many flavors. For example I have been recently contributing and using such platform recently. It is called Pinax a video presenting the solution is available there. The only pieces that you will have to worry about are the core of the PLM (BOM, PDM, Workflow) and for each of them you will have only to focuse on implementing the vision on an leveraging a modern infrastructure.
No you don't have to develop yet another ORM it is there. No you don't have to invent yet another template language, or an url dispatcher, a cache stragetgy. You use all your ressources to focus on the implementation of the PLM vision rather than the technical details. This technology power web site that receive million hits a day. So I assume it will scale the PLM needs.

But all this requires a complete shift from selling software licences to sell a vision.

Conclusion :
If you really have a vision for PLM sell it with the service to implement it rather than the licences.

Dec 12, 2008

Django fulltext search -- part 1

I have been recently working on adding full text search to a django based web application since this is not yet particularly well documented. Here it is my little stone to the amazing pyramid already in place waiting for you to use it. In order to add this "must have" feature to your great web application you will need 3 components :

Starting by the latest the first challenge is to get it installed, I haven't had luck with the usual "apt-get install solr". It must be me but after an installation I was only getting a blank page instead of solr admin interface. On #solr channel someone advise me to just grab the latest release tar ball and to run with it. Then I have performed the tutorial this help me a lot to get started with solr. Believe it or not when you are there you have done the hardest part of it.

Now you need to go inside the django project you want to work on and follow the following recipe :
  1. download and put into your PYHTONPATH djangosearch and pysolr
  2. Add djangosearch inside the INSTALLED_APPS tupple
  3. add the following settings :
  • SEARCH_ENGINE = "solr" # solr, lucene, xapian, estraier
  • SOLR_URL= "http://localhost:8983/solr"

At this point you are almost done the last operations you will need to do is to define inside the fields you want to index with solr. In order to do this djangosearch come with a class called : ModelIndex
For example if you want to index : tease, and story fields of your Story model you will do something like this :

from djangosearch import ModelIndex
class Story(models.Model):
tease = models.TextField(_('tease'), blank=True)
story = models.TextField(_('story'), blank=True)
index = ModelIndex(fields=["tease","story"])

Now you need to tell solr about this 2 new fields this is in fact easier that it seems to be, the theory is explained there. In practice what you need to do open this file (apache-solr-1.3.0/example/solr/conf/schema.xml) with your editor of choice and add this 2 lines inside the fields section:

You will now need to restart solr in order to take this modification into account.

The meal is now ready you can go and taste it.
  • Open a browser go to the admin interface and add a new story or update an existing one.
  • Open a django shell and enjoy your new full text search

from dajngosearch import search
search_results = search("foo")

I hope this will be useful to someone and will avoid you the pain I had to get all these pieces dancing together.
I would be glad to read from you what can be improve in this raw recipe and also what you are doing with your search and search_results.

Dec 8, 2008

Blindness of closed source software company

Since yesterday I am using this blog in a slightly different way than usual. For some reasons it seems that something is happening in PLM realm.

This post is again a reaction to the post from Oleg Shilovitsky's. The post was titled :

Who will play role of Google Maps in PLM?

I think this is an excelent question. I am taking this opportunity to add some information on how this could happen. I have been working closely with both concept, recently I have been working hard to developed a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform to manage Geo localized content. I will make a post related to this platform as soon as it is ready for prime time.
Let us get back to the question, just a bit of history before google map GIS was complex, expensive, not web based software, closed source, understood and used by a very small subset of the population. Do you see any resemblance with PLM ? :-)
Google maps brings it to the mass.

I agree with you that none of the application or technology below deliver something close to what google maps bring.
  • Enterprise Mashups (application area emerged from ability to mix data coming from different sources and present it to user.
  • Microsoft Excel Services (high acceptance of Excel user interface make it usable everywhere)
  • Dassault Systemes 3DLive (very promising lifelike user experience comes last year in new DS products).
My explanation to this is that google maps was just the tip of the iceberg the cherry on the cake. The nice UI that you present to your user. But the truth is that in fact there is now a complete open source stacked available to build geo enabled mashup:
This is just to named few but in reality there is plenty of component available with a vibrant community around them.
So if PLM want to get close to that ubiquity PLM vendor will need to open the doors and the windows in order to get some fresh air, idea in. This put them in front of 2 challenges :
- Ability to deliver code able to compete with other open source software. In my eyes that means improve their quality and documentation
- Build a business model to keep up this effort and make benefits from it.

Afresco manage to do it in a different realm I am sure someone will do it the only questions left are who and when.

Dec 7, 2008

What if SMB as a vision for PLM and PLM vendors don't undertand it.

This post has been started as a comment of a post from the virtualducthman but since it start to be too long I have decided to write my own post. This is not a rant but rather the impression I had after I moved from a famous PLM Vendor to tier one automotive supplier.

As always extremely well written post without any flaw in the reasoning if you buy in the initial hypothesis. However I disagree with the statement that you use as foundation : Software vendor are proposing excellent product with a good ROI and SMB customer don't understand it because they do not have a vision.

In fact as PLM manager for a tier one supplier in automotive I have seen quite the opposite. I have seen all the big player coming and trying to approach me with solutions that have all the exact same problem :
  • No interoperability between authoring tools in the Engineering department and Plant
  • No backward or forward compatibility between version with the tools that they are supposed to integrate with.
  • All these tools share an interesting feature, no open standard to exchange data (xml, json, rss, atom, ...)
  • Impossible to mash up the information you put in their repository with other source of information. Ok, I agree impossible is a bit to strong you can always develop this feature and add it to your application. At least by designed these applications are making such thing hard.

What if rather than saying that SMB do not have a vision we try to find a different explanation to your observation. I tend to believe that they have an extremely well defined vision. SMB know that if they want to be in the business in five years from know they need to be agile in order to transform the way they do things to adapt themselves to the new constraints of the OEM. It is interesting to note that nobody is blaming Ford, GM, ... of not being able to see that they have good chance to go bankrupt in some month from now. It is interesting that many people blame now these companies of not being able re-invent/adapt their products to their market. when all of them where using PLM systems and had huge PLM projects on going. May be this can be an interesting post to develop this idea. Why PLM system only help you to develop faster/cheaper product that you are used to produce ? or Why PLM system can hurt your creativity in introducing innovative to your customer ?

In order to develop this agility SMB need to put very high in the list of capabilities for their information system the following features : Agility, re-configuration, continuous evolution / transformation, openness, ease of integration with unknown system, overall strategy of the PLM vendor.

That put us in front of a slightly different picture, isn't it? I am not going to develop in that post why and how each of this term could help to contribute to convince the SMB to change their mind on the value proposition your are doing but I am convince that the impact will be significant. Also I hope that you understand that now known on the solution on the market give them such freedom.

As an example, Alfresco has proven that this approach can work, I understand that this is not in the PLM realm but in content management and web content management but this area shared a couple of similarity with PLM. The market was dominated by closed source vendors providing the same kind of solution for the last 15 years, with no major evolution nor integration of the new tools introduced by the development of internet : wiki, Blog, chat, tag, fulltext search, low cost, commodity software, ... Of course each PLM product have changed several times their names but unfortunately the code, concepts, people behind them are the same it was just a marketing transformation.

Where is the fresh air, idea, innovation ... May be this industry need to show some code rather than powerpoint. It would be nice also if they change their approach in trying to force their solution rather than listening to their customer SMB is not OEM. They do not have will/money to spend in top/down project they need to be able to scale their solution with a bottom up approach. They need to be able to scale from 1 project to a department then a division and at the end to the whole company.

Any way Mr virtualduchman thanks for writing your excellent posts. This post shouldn't be read as PLM do not bring value to SMB but rather like PLM bring value but this can be highly increased by listening to their needs and feedbacks.