Questions I should have, but never received from prospects… #1 : PLM evolutions admin

Posted on August 14, 2012

I’m starting a serie of article which might be spread over multiple month or years (in fact as long as I feel like I’m not asked with the right questions from PLM prospects). This serie is about the questions that I think are important to ask when you select an IT solution to support your Product Lifecycle Management initiatives, but questions that I don’t quite get from prospects. Competitors will be happy to read that they will say: “nice! the guy is almost insulting the prospects for not asking the ‘smart’ questions! Thanx for his help”. Well, I don’t think I’m insulting anyone when I provide results of projects insights that are only visible by consultants jumping from projects to projects. These questions are usually impacting the long term cost and management of PLM but we see nowadays that the impact on initial implementation using Lean implementation methodology is approximately the same. This serie is then starting with “PLM Evolutions administration” which is something that I don’t get asked many times and which not only involves the software but also the integrator’s methodology.

What are PLM Evolutions in our implementations?

 For our PLM implementation, as you can read it in our previous article “Applying a lean strategy for PLM solutions implementation”, we are used to run through quick iterations. This is also mentionned in most agile methodology for software deployment. So every time we have delivered a new release, we look at the new feature request entry list, we select the important enhancement request or pending bugs and from that we build a list of tasks which will be attached to a milestone. During the development, for new feature we make sure to communicate heavily with a sample of future users in order to make sure we go in the right direction. These developments can be made on one or multiple up-to-date Aras instances. Once we believe it is all set, we update the staging database, we push our new devs on this stating instance and we get some users, key-users and ourselves to test. Once the test is validated we push the new content into production.

A well understood process but varying from on application to another

So the process is pretty common to most software implementations, this may be one reason one prospects are not asking. This is not so much, in appearance, a software issue but more an IT project best practices management. Issue is that software have different architectures, rely on different technologies and cloud added an other important alternative to managing software evolution. For Aras Innovator you have different things to take into account when pushing a new version. Here are the main components:

  • The web-application files
  • The Database
  • The Vault

As a result, web-application files are versionned controled, the configuration of your Innovator instance are stored in packages that are applied to the database though the Aras Innovator application using the Import/Export utility tool and the Vault is usually not changed through evolution.

Tools to manage the evolution release

With our experience using other systems, we believe Aras Innovator allows a pretty straight forward process for evolutions. But still we realise today that if you’re not having good established process and automation tools, you end-up with a lack of visibility on your changes and difficulties to track the full integrity of your change chain from development instances to production. This can make it complicated to replay changes.

But these tools are not easy to set up and that’s why we believe at Minerva that our increasing experience in Aras Innovator provides us with great capabilities to build these tools taking into account that changes are not always perfectly handled. We will always have very simple change made directly in Production (permission change for example). So we need to take these facts into account to make sure we maintain the integrity and impact other instances by bringing impacting our version controlled system with these quick fix in production.

Cost of the administration

The cost of the administration is the reason why I’m wondering prospects are not asking for the questions. This can be so much different from one system to another. In the past I’ve been working for a company who was providing PLM ressources and some of these ressources were in teams from 2 to 10 people to maintain PLM instances of competitor products. Tuning the database, building queries, working on evolutions, working to process evolutions from devs to production. I’ve always been amazed by the amount of people needed for these projects.  We have Aras projects with users spread over the globe (Instance in France with people connecting in Brazil, USA, China…) and we’re hardly reach the load of a full ressource on the project. And by keeping a high daily rate, we even encourage customers to get trained on the system and reduce even more the administration cost.

Conclusion

System administration is key and if you go to reference companies provided by editors, make sure to get the information about administration. Who is doing what and how long it takes to make changes in the system. Compare multiple customers (just call them)to understand if there are differences and to know if the difference are based on the team’s processes or from their activity. Remember that most actual PLM major vendors are based on old technologies and changing colors or UI is not helping so much on the administrative side. Prospects! If you don’t ask me this quuestion next time, you can be sure I’ll provide an answer anyway 🙂 !

Yoann Maingon

Yoann Maingon is an Entrepreneur and a PLM enthousiast. He is our main blogger at Minerva as he has been publishing articles about General PLM concepts and Aras Innovator for more than three years.

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