Top 5 Reasons Why your PLM Collaboration Tool Should be a Hub

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Implementing PLM Collaboration using a Hub

In today’s globalized and digitalized society, efficient information sharing is crucial for most organizations to run efficiently. This holds regardless if the company is offering solutions or services. At the same time, social media services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat have rewritten the rules of social interaction for the younger generation, turning sharing personal information with friends and family into second nature. These services were made with pictures of cats, meals and loved ones in mind, but what if there was a similar service, specifically tailor-made for the sharing of company data? Things like product definitions, the requirements for a specific market and the information required to create a product are usually highly sensitive and classified, but must still be shared in today’s business.

So, given the fact that the information should flow, regardless of how large or small companies are, the question we should be asking ourselves is not if we can avoid sharing, but how we can share with confidence. For instance, how can a company with several global production centres make sure that the correct and updated information reaches the team on the other side of the world? How can you share information with a supplier without exposing critical systems and classified information unrelated to that project? And at the same time ensuring that only the intended people in given roles gain access to this critical and valuable information.

For the last 15 years, Eurostep has been delivering solutions to these issues. The solutions are based on a secure and neutral hub where one can easily collaborate with partners, suppliers and customers. Below are the top five reasons why this is such a brilliant idea.

1. It lets you collaborate efficiently without changing your internal processes

Your company has invested significant time and money in defining and fine-tuning your design and manufacturing processes to ensure a streamlined and efficient ability to put new and updated products on the market at great speed. This might be one of your key differentiators that keeps you ahead of the competition. But if you have invested this much in process improvements, isn’t it likely that your suppliers and partners have done the same? This means they will be as reluctant to change their internal processes as you are to change yours.

The hub offers a neutral place where you agree on a common collaboration process. This process does not necessarily have to be a copy of your internal process. It can be beneficial if it isn’t. Let the collaboration process stay as simple as possible and focus on the collaborative parts of it. This way you can easily add (and later remove) partners and quickly get them up-to-speed while at the same time letting participants keep their internal design and manufacturing processes (and IT systems).

2. It makes it easier to trace and audit the information sharing

Who sent the last version of the production plan? When? Did you also include the latest drawings? Where did you find them? Was it the released version or the latest preliminary ones?

These are not uncommon questions when trying to find out what went wrong in a collaborative project between organizations but this kind of mess is not acceptable. Who accessed what and when? This is crucial information when building a reliable audit trail and a must for a data-sharing solution to be used for real.

A collaboration hub can and should keep a record of who has access to what information at any time. The hub also has a record of what system is the source (or master) of that particular piece of information. Data is primarily updated in the source system and then published in the hub. This way the master system is in control of what is allowed to be shared and there is a single source for that specific information.

3. It allows you to combine information from several systems

There is a minimal chance that all the information you want to share with an external partner can be found in just one of your existing IT systems. If that’s the case, congratulations! In most cases though, the data you want to share with partners is found in two or more systems. For example, if you want to engage an external manufacturer producing your new product, they are probably interested in the product designs found in your PDM system; perhaps you have the manufacturing bill of materials (BOM) in your ERP system. You also want them to report potential quality issues found in your design in your Quality Management System. If they are supposed to give you input for innovations and improvements you may need to share some of the original requirements on this new product.

A hub is not just a portal or web GUI to one internal master system (such as PDM or ERP). A hub, as the name indicates, combines the data from several sources, relevant to the partners with whom you want to collaborate. A hub can incrementally build up the network of information so that suppliers and partners easily can understand how the pieces of information relate to each other. Presenting the right data, limited to the specific case in this project but in the context of the overall picture, is key to the capability of taking smart and correct decisions.

4. It makes information sharing more secure

Security is a big concern in any kind of IT implementation, and it’s a complex problem with multiple challenges. For a start, you need to ensure that the communication line with your partners is secure. This is solved by encrypting the communication, either through a secure web protocol or by using a VPN solution. Furthermore, you have to make sure that only authorized people can access the system. There are several ways to do this, but the most important is that you find a solution that fits your specific needs. If, for instance, you want to make it easier for a large number of internal users to access the system, you should probably be looking at a Single Sign On (SSO) solution. If you want a flexible system while at the same time maintaining a high level of security, a two- or multifactor login system might be the preferred choice for you. Your collaboration tool should be able to support any of these solutions.

When a user has managed to pass the authentication of your choice to access the collaboration tool, the next step is to manage what access that specific user should have. The optimal solution is one based on the specific role that the user has in the project, as this “role-based” authorization gives you the benefit of assigning any number of roles to a single user. By making the access to the information role-based it lets the company owning the information decide exactly what objects, documents, views and even specific attributes should be shared with the partners or manufacturers based on the roles they are assigned in the system.

While these functions might be included in your company’s current PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solutions, the real strength of a hub-based solution is that you can select what information you want to expose to any partner and supplier. The next top-secret R&D project should not be shared nor should all of the other product lines that are not relevant to a specific supplier. The hub is a complementary system that is loaded with exactly the information that you need to share. No more, no less.

5. It improves the quality of the information that you share with your partners

Your intellectual property, such as the information about products and services that are stored in your internal systems, is one of your company’s most valuable assets. If you want to streamline your process with suppliers and partners, you want them to receive and return information on the same level of detail you have in your internal systems. This way you can minimize the effort needed to import the information and at the same time avoid potential human errors while entering data. But still, there has to be some sort of gate before accepting external data into your existing in-house systems.

The hub can act like a loading bay for data when receiving new or updated information from partners or suppliers. Before you accept the information received, it is consolidated with the current information you have loaded into the hub from your internal systems. Missing attributes, references to non-existing data or documents that haven’t been approved, can be discovered and caught in the hub and external partners can be prompted to deliver better overall quality information. This is an important quality step before you update your internal master systems with this external information.

Conclusion

As outlined above, there are multiple reasons why your next collaboration tool should be a hub. However, if there’s is one key take-away from this it should be that you should only share what you need to share and keep the collaboration process as simple as possible. When you accept that, you will realize that a collaboration hub is the only path to take.

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