What I learned as a follow up to my report on Product Data Accessibility is that there is a lot more angst about finding product data than I ever realized. I was amazed at the discussion generated by my blog post about accessing all product data regardless of how it is stored. In particular, there as a lot of PDA discussion on LinkedIn. For those that can’t access it (I was told you have to join the group) I decided to share some of what I learned from it here.
What I Learned
One of the key findings of the report was that “accessing product data and centralizing it are not absolutely linked.” That really seems to resonate with people. One person I spoke with (Skype, not in the LinkedIn thread or my comments) reiterated that point, saying that “you need control, but regardless of where you are with that you have to be able to find data.” That brings up some interesting thoughts about PDM. My report on the business value of Product Data Management highlights controlling/securing data, finding/reusing data, and sharing data as primary benefits of PDM. There is clearly overlap in finding/reusing data between PDM and PDA. My view is that PDM and PDA are complementary solutions, and the discussion seems to indicate that there is no requirement to have one in place before the other, either can help regardless of whether the other is in place. One example brought up in the LinkedIn group is how useful search can be after an acquisition, and not having to wait for systems to be migrated. This need (and opportunity) was echoed by others.
Time for a Maturity Model?
I have seen maturity models for PDM and PLM (among others), but given a lot of the comments and the research for the report about the need for product data accessibility I thought I would take a stab at a few levels of accessibility:
- The Wild, Wild West – No formal accessibility strategy. From the discussions I have had, this is very common. Searching on document names and looking for things where they are “supposed to be.”
- Basic Search – Ability to search for information in known locations based on known parameters, perhaps with some full text search thrown in.
- Advanced Search – A formal strategy based on an index, most likely including helpful capabilities like saved and shared searches. One comment mentioned Zakta.com that offers guides for searches, although I am not familiar with the solution (but I guess I should be). I am feeling a matrix might be applicable here, though, because there are different approaches that include text, attributes, metadata, or shape (like what ShapeSpace or Siemens PLM’s Geolus solution offers), and I am sure others.
- Access and Aggregate – Accessing disparate data and pulling it together to get a more full view of the product. Perhaps this is two levels, depending on the intelligence behind the aggregation, or maybe there is another matrix forming here. For example, using semantics to intelligently discover relationships like Inforbix does is more powerful than simply aggregating on part numbers.
- Search Based Applications – Accessing, aggregating, and acting on product data. This would include Search based applications (SBA) such as Dassault Systemes’ Exelead (focused more broadly products) and Inforbix xApps. Perhaps another capability that belongs here (or another level?) is the ability to develop composite applications that can both access and update underlying data? Or maybe that belongs somewhere else, not sure.
Implications for Manufacturers
I am not suggesting that the above is ready for prime time, it needs some work in order to really be robust. And no maturity model should really include a level called “the Wild, Wild West.” But I hope it serves as a way to get people thinking about the different ways companies can access, aggregate, and use their product data to drive more business value.
I don’t see this as a replacement for centralizing and controlling product data. One commenter even mentioned it would be nice to link data to workflows. That starts to sound like PDM and PLM to me. In fact, I think we will see incorporation of these capabilities in PLM, as well as offer independently. The value is clear, and there are options to pursue, so it’s time to take a look.
So those are some thoughts on product data accessibility, I hope you found it interesting. Who knew? I didn’t, if you did let us know about it. Another good resource on the topic is the Inforbix product data space blog. For full disclosure, Inforbix is a client, but they didn’t ask for this mention and I bring it up because Oleg has really taken the time to explore this issue and communicate about it. Let me know what you think.