(Eng) Standards for Process/Workflow management

Posted on January 9, 2012

StandardWorkflowPart of my continuous improvement process in this enterprise product lifecycle environment is to keep an eye on standards. When I started to work in PLM, mainly with Aras Innovator the first few discussions I had about standards were with Professor Pascal Morenton from Ecole Centrale de Paris. We were mainly discussing about how Aras Innovator was able to work with a datamodel which would comply with the AP214 standard regarding the Product – Part – Document section of the data-model. More recenlty I talked about some other standards in this blog like the whole collection of xml standards managed by OASIS. That was at a time I was focusing on standards to describe invoices. And as workflows and lifecycles are some of the main features of a PLM system, I was wondering if there were some standard defined. As some of you may know, I mainly focused on XML so we’ll explore standards with this description format.

Some Standard to handle Process/Workflows

I recently made some search on potential standards about workflows and lifecycles and I stumbled upon this document from 2002. As the document is almost 10 years old, I wondered if anyone have had a use out of it. So I used my tiny Twitter network with no success.


I wonder if any of the existing BPM solution or PLM solutions, is using a standard or at least a common way to describe and manage a workflow.

So, the first thing to watch is the data-model. And this document presents what is the data model of a Workflow Process Definition and also the data-model of a Workflow package containing processes, participants,…

Standard datamodel workflow


I won’t go too much into details to talk about this models. The idea is just to show that there are some open structured definitions of a workflow which my have to be improved as the document hasen’t changed for years. Once the definition of the whole workflow model is set up, they show how they implement it with a real life example. Following is a simple order process:


If then, you read the document, you’ll see that accordingly to the workflow datamodel defintion, they define the order workflow example with an XSD schema. And this is an important element to me as XML is just everywhere on the web. And from xsd schema you can easily create robust User Interfaces which will comply to the defined model.


So, this definition exists… are there others? I don’t know and I would welcome any reference or any suggestion of such information. While functionnal consultants will work on standard process like CMII workflows for change management, we need to provide some standard basis to help the interoperability of systems and the understanding of how the system they are using works.

The Aras Innovator way

Being an active professionnal member of the Aras Community, I’ve tried to check if Aras was close to the same way of managing the workflow information. In order to do so, I’ve used our tool Aras2UML and I extracted the objects which were included in the process definition.


Some of the information we see here is close to the previous definition but there are differences that let us understand that it was not based on a standard. This is the only software I can really dive into to check that, but i’m pretty sure they all have different data-models.

A huge benefit for migrations

Migrating workflows never is an easy task and you always come up with an important loss of information from your legacy system. This is mainly because mapping these different data-models is most of the time very complicated. This is a dynamic part of the PLM mixing workflow definitions and their instanciation through workflow maps. If you have different ways of managing workflows, most of the time you’ll state that most of the instanciated workflows that are not finished will not be migrated.


It took me a while to write this article (holidays haven’t helped) and during this time, Oleg Shilovitsky made another article about Process simplification and the importance of Business Process management. This is an important topic to cover as I’ve seen during presentations that editing a workflow in front of a prospect is really one of the keypoint where he can see the software helping him on a daily basis for all his regular processes. My thought about that, and it’s just about working on a different level, we need to push editors to use standards or at least clear data-models before building new UIs and new features. I’m not sure yet about what would be the selling point for the editor by mentioning that he follows a certain standard but there must be some. I definitely miss a lot of information and experience for this article and I’m sure I’ll get back to this topic later.  In the mean time, feel free to chat with me about it.

Yoann Maingon

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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(Eng) Thinking “out of the box” with “out of the box” features

Posted on October 21, 2011

OOTBThis is an article following a discussion I had a while ago with Graham McCall from AESSIS (yes, one of our competitor/friend in the UK) when we were working on a common Aras Pilot implementation in France. When I was working at Accenture some years ago, I went to this Worldwide training close to Chicago called “Core Analyst School” which you need to go to during your first year. My colleagues, during exercices described me as an “out of the box” thinker. Then, when I worked with Graham on this Aras Innovator pilot implementation we were trying to work as much  as we could with “out of the box” features to avoid customizing (always scares customers when they are not aware of the Aras Unlimited subscription covering Upgrades). So I found it funny that in English you could have a same expression having two real opposite meaning in different context like this. And with my recent experiences on customer sites and working in the particular business environment made by the Aras open model in PLM I wanted to talk about how you can benefit really quickly from a Innovator PLM solution by thinking out of the box about PLM and using the out of the box features of Aras to fulfill IT needs.

Thinking out of the box about PLM

This is one of the main reason I came into PLM. Even if you can read in many articles that “PLM is a company-wise strategy”, PLM manages”the whole product lifecycle related information from marketing to support and recycling”, in real life (meaning “on customer’s sites”) PLM is still mainly focused on engineering. Think about all the information that are related to the product, maybe not directly, but for example skills management throught the company will be somehow related to the product. In order to detect these process and informations I suggest you list all the Ms Excel files and Ms Access databases you use in the enterprise and think about how these informations are related to the product or how they need to be managed in a collaborative way.

From this statement, you should see that it is almost impossible to get one single manager for the whole company leading the initiative of thinking how you should manage these informations with a new IT systems adding collaboration and process status follow-up features. Does that mean it is not possible to work on it? Of course not. But you need a tool which could handle that. And so far, Ms Excel and Ms Access where the one you found right to do the job.

Using Out of the box features from Aras Innovator

Now that you’ve tought about all the process in the extended enterprise and you have some first Ms Excel files, Ms Access databases and process to replace and manage, you have Aras Innovator just a few click away. And don’t think about customizing yet. You don’t need to be a PLM expert to understand what Aras Innovator can be as a start. Out of the box, it’s a toolbox (some people will hate the fact that I use this naming, as this word became banned of any PLM marketing these last years) providing Item management features with Lifecycles and workflows features. So think about all your files that are in fact managing Items. Start managing them with Aras. Until then you may have bought maybe one training session from an Aras partner, you have not signed any other contract and your data can be exported freely as XML. You can have 1, 2, 10 Aras databases for a start. Small projects won’t need much infrastructures (it works on a simple PC) and it will still be more reliable than your distributed Ms Excel files on the network.

Use the Aras forum, look for simple question like:

  • how much time it takes to install Aras Innovator?
  • does it crash sometimes?

Answers should be some like 30 minutes and no (IE crashes not Aras :-)).

Then you can look into the PLM datamodel, but that may be more directly product management related… you’ve got time to get there.

Enjoy testing Aras Innovator !

Yoann Maingon

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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(Eng) AML Studio – Open Source on Codeplex

Posted on July 26, 2011

codeplexWhen we started working on Aras Innovator we created a Codeplex page to gather some developments we were doing open source around the PLM solution. We now have two projects, one has some sources for different solutions and the other ona which is on hold today is the Innovator ETL, an ETL solution for Aras Innovator and based on the Open Source ETL solution Talend. I was looking at these pages again and made a search about “Aras Innovator” in codeplex and I found a new project which is not made by us.

Here is the result of the search:

Codeplex About Aras Innovator

So this new project is called “AML studio” and has been created recently (late June 2011), less than a month ago to share a very nice tool. Natively, when you install Aras Innovator, you can access a very useful interface to test your developments by querying the PLM solution through AML queries (Aras Markup Language). This online tool, called “the Nash”, is very important but you need to know the syntax and all the possibilities you can add to your queries. The problem for me is that I have a very bad memory and I always need to have some documentation around to be able to be efficient on producing queries. This tool is fixing my memory problem by adding sort of intellisens feature while editing the AML.

Here is a screenshot of the “Nash” tool for query test:


And this is the much more friendly user interface provided by tge codeplex project AML studio


I made a quick video to show you the difference and mainly the intellisens feature.

Yoann Maingon

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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(Fr) Formats de documents type Office en XML

Posted on July 25, 2011

xmlLundi dernier je publiais l’article “Osons le tout XML” dans lequel je présentais quelques éléments qu’il convenait de gérer dans un format XML. Parmi ces éléments je faisais la promotion de la gestion de documents au format XML en indiquant qu’il serait nettement plus intéressant si les documents que l’on gère au jour le jour étaient définis avec une structure XML simple à manipuler. J’avou sur le coup avoir été un peu vite dans ma critique implicite des systèmes actuels. En effet, sans le savoir pour la majorité d’entre nous, tous les jours nous travaillons déjà avec ces documents décris en XML grâce à Microsoft Word depuis l’utilisation de fichiers au format .docx. En lisant différents sites sur les combats de formats XML de documents, j’ai appris que le format .docx était en fait une archive.

Microsoft Office Document: Office Open XML

Alors je me suis empressé d’ouvrir un de ces fichiers d’abord avec Microsoft Word…


… puis ensuite avec un outil de décompression d’archives et voilà le résultat:


Tout le contenu du document est lisible dans le fichier xml “document.xml” que l’on retrouve dans le sous-dossier “word”:


Donc j’ai l’air un peu bête car cela fait pas mal d’années que ce format est sorti, vous pouvez d’ailleurs retrouver une page dédiée sur wikipedia : http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_Open_XML . Mais cependant c’est une très bonne nouvelle car on peut alors entrevoir la disparition du fichier en lui même pour intégrer tout ce contenu dans une solution toute XML. Seul résidu non intégrable dans ce format, les images restent ici sous forme de fichier, contrairement au pur export excel que l’on peut faire depuis Microsoft Office.

Côté Open Source : OASIS et Open Document Format

La bataille sur les standards est souvent engagé avec OASIS et les standards d’OASIS sont en général poussés par le monde du logiciel libre dont la solution OpenOffice. Donc pour comparer rapidement les deux formats, j’ai ouvert mon fichier Ms Office avec Open Office. Je perds donc pas mal d’informations à l’ouverture (la faute à personne, juste des formats différents).


Je l’enregistre ensuite au format ODT (format texte d’ODF):


Et comme pour office je l’ouvre avec un logiciel de gestion d’archives:

archive ODT

Je trouve le contenu un peu plus clair dans cet archive ODT plutôt que dans le docx avec toujours cependant la même problématique des images.

Tout le contenu est dans le fichier “content.xml” qui encore une fois me semble plus simple à lire que l’xml de Microsoft (en toute subjectivité mais aucunement conduite pas un coté Open Source).

xml_ odt

Tout XML?

La solution qu’il reste pour chacun des éditeurs est de sauvegarder le document en pure xml. Dans ce cas on perd plus d’informations du coté OpenOffice, et du coté Microsoft Word on permet la conservation des images codifiées dans le xml.

Yoann Maingon

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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(Fr) Osons le tout XML !!!

Posted on July 18, 2011

XMLIl y a un tout petit peu plus d’un an, le 13 juillet pour être précis, je publiais l’article “CAD/CAO – PDM/SGDT – PLM/???” qui avait été source d’un nombre important de commentaires et de certaines discussions engagées à propos du PLM, de ses concepts et aussi des différents niveaux, différents métiers que composent l’édition d’une solution PLM . En un an, mon constat n’a pas changé. Je pense que le domaine du PLM, encore trop focalisé sur un historique lié à la CAO, se bride lui-même aussi bien en terme de business qu’en terme de technologie. La presse “spécialisée” et les éditeurs historiques le disent eux-mêmes le PLM est un marché de niche. Ce constat m’interpelle toujours. PLM, product lifecycle management, c’est la gestion d’informations accompagnant le cycle de vie d’un produit. Toute entreprise a un produit, sans exception. Le PLM a l’avantage de se centrer sur le produit, comment cela peut-il rester un marché de niche?

Suite à l’été 2010, pour poursuivre les discussions ouvertes sur les concepts de base du PLM, le PLMLab était créé avec Pascal Morenton à sa tête. Le périmètre est cependant clair, les discussions portent sur les concepts et les modèles de données mais pas sur les technologies informatiques. Il n’y a pas de critique sur ce point c’est le but de cette association de se concentrer sur la partie fonctionnelle métier. Pourtant ayant participé à des projets de migration de données et d’implémentation de solutions PLM, c’est vraiment le point de la technologie utilisée qui gène encore les projets d’implémentation de solutions PLM.

Le PLMLab travaille actuellement sur un document sur les standards et à ma grande frustration, nous ne descendons pas au niveau technique pour aborder des langages de description tel que l’XML. Et c’est pourtant là qu’un standard peut apporter une vrai valeur ajoutée. Avec mon activité sur Aras Innovator je suis plongé dans le XML tout le temps et je suis de plus en plus convaincu du fait que l’on peut pousser son usage plus loin.

Que veut dire tout XML? Quels éléments traduire en XML?

– les méta-données:

On le sait déjà, toutes les méta-données d’une solution PLM peuvent être taduites en XML. Aras Innovator permet de le démontrer tous les jours puisque tout le modèle de données est exposé en XML (même si le schéma XML utilisé pourrait être encore plus propre) favorisant l’exposition aux webservices et les capacités de visualisation (exposition du XML en page web).

– les documents:

On remarque qu’il y a toujours un besoin d’intégration assez importante entre les applications de type Ms Office et la solution PLM. En général ce sont des champs qu’il faut pouvoir mettre à jour ou des résultats de cellules de tableurs qu’il faut remonter dans le système. Il serait tellement plus simple d’aller chercher ou mettre à jour ces informations si elles étaient disponibles au format XML. Aujourd’hui l’outil le plus utilisé pour gérer des documents “Word”, des tableurs, des présentations reste Microsoft Office. Microsoft a lancé son propre format XML de document, mais qui l’utilise aujourd’hui? La référence en matière de documents XML j’en ai parlé récemment, c’est OASIS, organisation qui propose des standards de description de documents types.

Les possibilités sont ensuite illimitées en termes de gestion documentaire. Un document ne sera plus un fichier mais un modèle de données en lui-même permettant différents niveaux d’accès, différentes vues.

– et la CAO ?

Je ne suis pas un spécialiste de la CAO et j’aurais aimé ne pas séparer cette section des documents. Cependant il est vrai qu’il est plus compliqué de décrire un modèle CAO complexe qu’une fiche de paye ou qu’une spécification. Malgré tout il existe des solutions. STEP a sa traduction en XML…

En termes de Base de données?

Aujourd’hui on voit deux types de modèles de base de données PLM. Le modèle classique de base de données, où un type d’objet équivaut à une table. Le second modèle est de type “entité-attributs-valeurs” dans lequel le nombre de tables est fixe et son contenu définit le modèle de données.

Le problème est que ces deux représentations ne permettent pas une lecture aisée du système géré. Alors, comme j’en avais parlé dans un précédent article, les systèmes de gestion de bases de données au format XML se multiplient. j’avais présenté BaseX mais il en existe bien d’autres. Quoi de plus rassurant pour une entreprise de savoir que son système est défini en clair dans une base de données. Et je dis en clair non seulement pour les valeurs stockées mais aussi pour toute la structure d’informations.

Et les interfaces?

Il n’y a pas besoin d’aller chercher bien loin l’intérêt de l’XML pour les interfaces, le format XSLT permet de transformer très simplement n’importe quel contenu XML en une page HTML. Et aujourd’hui avec notre utilisation intensive des technologies internet, ce détail a son importance. Le format HTML est de toute façon lui-même au format XML avec les balises suivantes <HTML><HEAD></HEAD><BODY></BODY></HTML>.

Il y aurait bien plus à écrire sur ce sujet, mais le format du blog ne valorise pas une telle quantité de contenu. Je travaillerai à en rédiger plus dans un document plus consistant.

En attendant j’intègre deux référence d’ouvrages qui alimenteront en partie mes réflexions estivales.

Yoann Maingon

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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(Eng) Aras Innovator to PDX Export v0.7

Posted on July 12, 2011

PDX07It’s been just a few days since I made a video for our export tool from Aras Innovator to a PDX file. After some test and use of this application we have reported some issues and enhancement request internally (We really enjoy to give ourselves challenge by using our Mantis bug tracking systems there’s a race between testers and developpers providing a mix of professional and friendly working environment 🙂 ) and the development has been made pretty fast to answer the major needs.  The plan is that we are still in version 0.7 for this development. We will release a version 0.8 once this application will have all the feature we requested. And then we will work on a version 1.0 completely integrated in Aras Innovator. I hope people who have used this feature in other softwares will see how usefull this feature is for Aras Innovator.

Yoann Maingon

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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(Eng) Using Xslt for a new TreeView Visualization

Posted on June 30, 2011

1308909040_sitemapI recently made an article about XSLT transformation to explain how easy it is to transform XML information to either send the new format to another tool or to directly create reports (I will present this custom reporting feature soon). One of the thing we would like to be improved in Aras Innovator is the treebrowser capability. In the existing treebrowser, for example, it is not possible to read properties that are existing on the relationship between two items. The best example for that is the quantity of a child item in a BOM. The issue is that if you change a quantity in a BOM, the side to side comparaison tool using the treebrowser won’t notice any difference. So we are looking for other treebrowser tools which we could implement for customers. Some tools need to be supplied with xml based graph format like graphml. For that matter we use Xslt to transform the native AML (XML with Aras core model format) into the graphml format. Here is a quick video presenting how we do it:

Yoann Maingon

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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(Fr) vidéo – La puissance du XSLT – exemple simple

Posted on June 12, 2011

xmlLe mois dernier j’ai rédigé 14 articles sur ce blog. A chaque fin de mois je prépare la lettre d’information de Minerva France dans laquelle j’intègre un lien vers chacun des articles que j’ai rédigés le mois précédent. Donc à la fin du mois de mai j’ai commencé cette tâche qui s’est avérée vite lourde et sans valeur ajoutée. Elle consiste simplement à ouvrir chaque article, en récupérer le nom et l’url pour les coller au bon endroit dans la lettre d’information. Le résultat de cela est une liste de liens précédés de puces et pointant vers chaque article du mois passé. Techniquement, ce que je dois produire est donc, pour chaque article, l’élément suivant:

<div id="_mcePaste" style="position: absolute; left: -10000px; top: 0px; width: 1px; height: 1px; overflow-x: hidden; overflow-y: hidden;">&lt;li&gt;&lt;a href="http://www.prodeos.fr/2011/06/11/fr-back-to-basics-4-les-nomenclatures/#utm_source=feed&amp;amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;amp;utm_campaign=feed"&gt;(Fr) Back To Basics 4 : les nomenclatures&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/li&gt;</div>
<div id="_mcePaste" style="position: absolute; left: -10000px; top: 0px; width: 1px; height: 1px; overflow-x: hidden; overflow-y: hidden;">

<li><a href=”URL DU LIEN”>NOM DE L’ARTICLE</a></li>

Et cela donne le résultat suivant sur la newsletter:


L’avantage de ce blog fait avec WordPress est qu’il met à disposition un flux RSS qui a donc un format XML que je vais pouvoir transformer vers la mise en forme nécessaire à la lettre d’information. Ci-dessous je reproduis les deux modèles de données et la transformation à effectuer.


Cette transformation peut-être réalisée en quelques minutes voire quelques secondes tel que je le montre dans la vidéo ci-dessous.

Ce court tutoriel est dans la continuité de mon envie d’utiliser au maximum le support du format xml pour toutes les données manipulées dans le cadre du PLM.

Yoann Maingon

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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(Eng) XML Documentation and UBL example

Posted on May 25, 2011

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(Fr) BaseX : SGBD sur base XML

Posted on March 9, 2011

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(Eng) XHP : will Facebook bring useful technologies for PLM?!

Posted on January 14, 2011

Facebook EngineeringThe silicon valley is being pretty active on communication these days because of how some trends are changing in IT companies, some articles are already talking about the decline of Google, Facebook Engineering is communicating more and more about their development and just like google they advertise a lot on how good it is to work there. Many new startup are raising funds and the developpers job market is very active. What’s the link with PLM? For more than a year after seing some PLM solution and discussing about how they were made and where they were coming from, I’ve been convinced that what PLM needs is a technological shift. And this has to come from an important investment in developpping new platforms and frameworks. Why do i talk about facebook? Because today companies like facebook are the one able to pay a lot to have the best developpers. As an Aras Innovator partner, we see when we present this solution that the difference is really technological and make them wonder why others architecture are so complicated.

The long term Business Plan

The issues that Google is facing are not surprising. Google is definitely getting money on search and advertising platform. I’d like to know what is the percentage of google employees working on these main topics that are easy to moneytize for them. They’ve launched a lot more projects (watch Google Code and Google Labs), and they manage developper communities, but the question for which you don’t get a lot of answers (and I think they just sometimes know the answer) is how do you monetize the application you develop. I think some big products fail like Google wave or even their Nexus phone could have been avoided by spending more time on understanding how it would be profitable.

Benefits for PLM

Even if these developpers are not working on PLM there can be some benefit regarding technological evolution. Google is working a lot on standards, on open architectures, documentation management and search, etc. Facebook is working on how storing data and accessing it easily. So some day, I’m sure that people will realize that these developments can benefit some new PLM solution.

Well, it might have some risk due to the fact that they are not always working in the same direction and they may put a lot of effort and attract a lot of developpers, avoiding then some technologies that can be interesting for PLM. I mainly think about databases. Facebook recently followed Google on the way to store information which doesn’t correspond to PLM needs. I’m not an expert in Database architecture, but i know you can have different architecture for different needs and there is a big gap between managing facebook data (stable data-model, high volume, low need of data conservation) and PLM informations.


So here is the source of this article.I follow the Facebook Engineering page and here is what came out on monday. I haven’t spent much time yet on evaluating how much it could help new PLM applications or extensions. From what I understand, it will help defining and designing web pages in an easier way then what classic PHP provides. It’s not yet related to XML parsing enhancement which i’d like to see for most languages i use. But that’s an example about the fact that some solution could benefit from these companies that apparently are not targeting the PLM in this whole set of possible features.

Please, developpers, get involved in developping useful software infrastructure and productivity tools for Product Lifecycle Management strategies.

Yoann Maingon

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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