Firstly, credit where credit is due. This article was inspired by fellow PLM soldier Rob Ferrone who includes the title “Digital Plumber” in his LinkedIn profile.
How does the plumbing analogy fits into PLM? A generalized definition of plumbing from Wikipedia:
“Plumbing is any system that conveys fluids for a wide range of applications” (Interestingly derived from the Latin word plumbum or lead – these were the first pipes used for water delivery).
Of course, the term has subsequently been extended to cover any system that facilitates the flow of fluids, information, air etc. For example, people talk about “a problem with the plumbing of my heart” when referring to arterial blockages. Or “Our network plumbing is inefficient” meaning that there are bottlenecks in the passage of data in the network.
So, how does this extended definition apply to PLM and why is it important to pay attention to “PLM Plumbing”. Let me try my own definition:
PLM Plumbing – The art and science of optimizing background systems to ensure that information, processes and workflows in a PLM system flow efficiently as possible for a user.
It is important to split this definition into two parts because really, we are talking about two different participants in a PLM system. Let’s examine the sides below.
What does a user want out of a PLM system? Here is a partial list of features or behaviors that are likely to result in great User adoption:
- Intuitive user interface
- Minimal button clicks
- Fresh, modern look
- Easy access to help screens, tooltips and other aides
- Presentation of the right information
- Easy “drill down capabilities” for looking up details
- Dashboards and reports
- Responsive screens (no “slow load”)
- Use on any device
- Work anywhere anytime
- Accessible and intelligent search capability (users compare to Google)
- Simple and easy to understand workflows
- Simple process to create objects with uncluttered forms
The list above is obviously incomplete and high level. Also, many of the requirements are functions of the underlying software and its design, and cannot be changed easily, certainly not at a specific implementation.
The PLM Plumber
So, what are PLM Plumbers? They are the heroes of a PLM Implementation, constantly working in the background to provide Users with all their requirements. They take care of the “plumbing”; all the background setup, infrastructure and configurations that a User does not want to deal with but allows for efficient data flow.
Here are a few areas where an expert PLM Plumber can have an impact:
A crucial part of any PLM implementation is ensuring that a robust infrastructure supports the system. Not designing this correctly can have implications for user performance and hence acceptance. Another complete blog could be written about this subject but, suffice to say the PLM plumber is an expert at these matters – this is the essence of plumbing. (Just a word of warning, don’t create something analogous to the title picture of this article)
It is a fact of modern life that everybody expects to be able to conduct business anywhere, anytime. More and more business interactions are migrating to smart devices – should not PLM? The system can be configured and enabled to allow for this. In terms of the plumbing, this may entail some behind the scenes IT systems (VPN, Mobile web pages, device security etc.). Include in implementations!
Workflows and processes
Often committees design convoluted and complicated workflows that are then implemented in a PLM system. The result of this is that Users do not understand them, are frustrated when they don’t work and make multiple mistakes. It is the duty of the PLM Plumber to simplify and streamline workflows and processes – Users will appreciate this. And, reduce the number of clicks to approve a workflow.
User Entry Forms
Another irritation to Users is the large forms that needs to be completed when creating an object in PLM. Multiple fields with lots of information are presented. The average user completes the mandatory fields only (those with *) and hits create. So why have the non-mandatory fields in the first place? It is the duty of the PLM Plumber to fight against unnecessary fields.
Organization and Security
This is an important part of any PLM Implementation and one where the PLM Plumber can have a large impact because most PLM systems must be configured from scratch when it comes to the security model. It should be noted that nothing is more annoying to a user than to get a message such as “the user is not authorized for this function”. Not only is it a blow to their ego, it also is one of the events guaranteed to result in non-adoption. Of course, there are good reasons to have security in place, one must prevent unauthorized actions in the system. This is where the PLM plumber comes in by designing a good security policy that balances corporate policies with User convenience. The actual design is transparent to the User, they want to get their job done.
Reports and Dashboards
All Users want certain information from the system that will allow them to effectively do their job. Each User may require a different set of information, presented in a certain manner. Here is where the PLM Plumber can become very useful by configuring the correct reports and dashboards for Users. In general, Users don’t want to be bothered with this task – they want to see the results.
Note that my original definition included the word “art”. This may seem an overreach when discussing a technology such as PLM, but it can be defended. For example, faced with trying to balance complexity and simplicity in a workflow the PLM Plumber applies his art and produces an elegant result. Consider also Reports and Dashboards – is not the correct design of a sleek dashboard an art?
Here is to Plumbing in PLM. Just as Plumbers create complex, background, invisible systems that deliver fluids, so does a PLM Plumber deliver information to Users in an efficient manner. Embrace your destiny!
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