Collaboration is vital to any engineering process, but the actual mechanics of such collaboration can vary widely both in theory and in practice. Not helping at all is the fact that the term itself has been long hijacked as a piece of technical vocabulary, serving to push new products and features in a protracted marketing war including PDM, PLM, ERP, and ECM, and now CAD. When we throw “real time” in there, confusion mounts as to what exactly that is supposed to imply. More specifically what does that mean for engineering? Do engineers want it? Will it work? Morpheus might say that collaboration is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. For purely creative and/or artistic ventures collaboration can be organic, boundless. For engineering however, collaboration must necessarily be coupled with a critically important concept: change management.
Almost a decade-and-a-half after ANSI 14.41 first saw the light of day, many had predicted by now that the bulk of the engineering world would have adopted Model Based Definition (MBD) by now with open arms. And while there are isolated pockets of success, the overall engineering documentation landscape looks remarkably undisturbed from 2003. In fact, if you pick up your average engineering drawing, you might feel like you’re holding a time capsule, noting what little has practically changed since draftsmen laboriously hacked things out manually back in the mid twentieth century. The only true consolation is the non-associative drawing fakery that plagued early CAD drawings has been all but banished, the relationship between model and drawing has never been tighter. In case you’ve been hiding under an oordinate dimension, CAD is in a bit of a renaissance lately, with all the hoopla generated from the rise of new-fangled cloud-centric products like Fusion 360, Onshape and others. While these new platforms present a great opportunity to take a leap forward in MBD, it’s just not happening. Did MBD just miss a very important boat? Gilligan!
There are two steadily falling barriers in the Computer Aided Design (CAD) universe: the barrier of entry to develop a new CAD platform and the barrier of accessibility to actually learn and use such software. This revolution stands to grant virtually anyone the access to the power of CAD software, be they a hobbyist, tinkerer, chartered accountant, or reasonably intelligent canine. It is a democratization of the industry, where complex tools relevant only to specialists are supplemented, but not necessarily wholly displaced, with simpler paradigms relevant to everyone. The entire industry stands to benefit, as more and more people become proficient in 3D design, free to manipulate and even additively manufacture what they can imagine. Among the entrants in this simpler, more accessible paradigm is SolidFace, which up to now has been a rather affordable yet capable desktop CAD package. But now SolidFace is moving onward up into to the cloud via their new effort, Solid Share. And they’re now looking to Kickstarter and all of you for help.
Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s PLM data on a bus. Once more than 5 people interact with that data it becomes important. But if that data isn’t integrated properly, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do? We’ve long lamented about PLM complexity as a limiting factor to adoption, including the requisite wrangling to get product data moving efficiently across an enterprise in a loose federation of heterogeneous IT systems. For the most part, this has been the sole domain of data architects and development teams, wrangling robust SOA services onto ESB highways among a bewildering hodgepodge of enterprise data platforms, APIs, and disparate data models. But hopefully things get easier from here. One of the more interesting promises of moving PLM technology forward and into the cloud is handing over the integration data modeling keys to the nontechnical business side. Let’s try to get through this without shooting any hostages.
Some might surmise that if software is eating the world, then perhaps cloud software is eating conventional software. But is this true in the enterprise? Judging from the explosion of cloud-centric solutions that have entered the market over the last few years, the answer must be an unequivocal yes. However, when we narrow the scope of the discussion to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) there’s a perceptible shift in tone, the hand wringing and teeth grinding and grumpy grumbling commences. Maybe there’s some concern over who’s responsible for downtime or performance bubbles. Or what it really means to have your IP slightly out of your control, but not (in theory). Yet every major vendor in the PLM space has some type of cloud-flavored offering on hand. But is it really? Depending on the particular vendor, attitude toward offering cloud PLM ranges from “What, you mean there’s some other way besides cloud?” to “I guess we have to have cloud in there somewhere or people will make fun of us.” But wait, are we talking apples to apples? Is cloud PLM really cloud PLM? Oh hell, no.
As an alarming legal predicament builds momentum in the software world, the dangers of a not-quite-dystopian Taco Bell centric future saturated with legal barriers continues to threaten the enterprise landscape, and undermine innovation and interoperability. Litigious quagmires involving software patents and copyrights has become the technology equivalent of the cold war, a mostly silent battle where software titans calculate strategies in mutually assured destruction. Two of those titans, Oracle and Google have been entrenched in a protracted legal squabble involving Application Programming Interfaces (API). One of the primary points of contention is whether API’s are copyrightable, and as a consequence, whether they can be reverse engineered without permission. All of this is happening just as we’re seeing pockets of innovation emerge in largely conventional software markets such as PLM, ERP, ECM, and CRM for which API’s play a central role. Will every innovative enterprise software startup be litigated and fined into oblivion as a result? You’ve been fined $10 million dollars for violating the API Morality Statute. Continue reading
Google, Alphabet, or whatever Chef Boyardee-style nonsense they decide to call themselves in the future have thrown in the towel on an important technology warfront: the battle for social network dominance. As Google+ thrashes about in its deathbed, shedding off functionality such as Google Photos as standalone products, the plan (if there really is one) is that G+ will remain as some kind of social stream and that its core technology will live on as components for other products. Soon enough we’ll have the opportunity to answer an existential question: If a social network gets deleted off the server and there’s no one around to log in, does it make a sound? In the interim, I’ve committed a heinous, unspeakable act for which I previously would infer as requiring frigid temperatures in hell. Well here comes the cold front; I joined Facebook. But my suffering is not in vain -for there’s a larger lesson to be had for those attempting to build enterprise social networks.
In the spray-on chrome frenzy to banish the very concept of perpetual software licenses before anyone stops to think and/or notice, professional authoring software is fully embracing cloud subscription Valhalla, with Adobe infamously leading the way. Considering Adobe’s bold push into cloud has netted them cartoonish amounts of cash, established CAD vendors who were cautiously dipping into subscription models are no doubt looking redeem themselves. After all, what works for creative workflows should work for engineering, right? While Adobe successfully squashed early Creative Cloud resistance by deep discounting and even providing a dedicated Photography plan, long-term affordability is about as likely as a far away green place. On the engineering front, however, resistance to cloud subscriptions is more resolute. Do not, my friends, become addicted to the cloud. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence! Which leaves an important question: Is there still room to innovate with cloud subscription models?