By Jamie J. Gooch
It’s a new year, full of the promise of doing things better than the year before. Take a moment to look at 2014 with an optimistic eye before succumbing to the harsh pressures of reality. This could be the year you organize and optimize all of your tasks into a streamlined thing of beauty that lets you work smarter, not harder. This could be the year you lead the charge to an efficient data management platform for your entire department — let’s make it your entire company — saving your bosses so much money that you get that raise/promotion/new workstation/software license you deserve.
Or, this could be another year of struggling in vain to keep up with increasingly complicated designs and simulations that require more information to be stored, accessed, updated, and exchanged with more people. Unfortunately, that’s the potential reality faced by many design engineers who are already overworked without what they see as the added chore of data management.
Alter Your Reality
Chances are, someone has taken a look at the hodgepodge of data floating around your company — concepts, CAD models, test results, analyses, market intelligence, renderings — and decided to implement a way to organize it all. If a data management platform is already in place, you’re that much closer to an optimized workflow. If everyone in your company is using the data management system properly — whether it’s product data management, document management, product lifecycle management, or any other company-wide platform for organizing and sharing data — you’re way ahead of the game.
If not, why not? The "this is the way we’ve always done it crowd" is often responsible via small acts of civil disobedience: refusing to check in files, not working on shared drives, not annotating designs with information that is useful to other departments, and generally trying to maintain the status quo. The root cause of their attitude may have merit: A poorly implemented data management platform can easily cause more workflow headaches than it solves.
That’s why it’s so important to get involved in the process. Data management touches every aspect of a company, from the CEO to the guys delivering the finished product. Without a strong voice from the design engineering corner, it’s more likely that decisions will be made that will either hinder your workflow, force (or at least tempt) you to defy the data management system, or both.
Implementing a data management platform is an opportunity for design engineers to help ensure the design cycle is adequately supported without being overly burdened. Whether your company has a data management taskforce, committee, or just a few guys wondering how to improve efficiencies over lunch, make sure they consider:
- What are the objectives of the data management platform, and how do design engineers fit into that objective?
- How much time is spent managing data vs. producing, simulating, analyzing and testing designs? How does that compare to the efficiencies lost without a data management platform?
- Will new hardware be needed? Creating a central repository of data means that data needs to be stored, backed up and those backups backed up. Are your current storage and networking solutions up to the task?
- Will the system support the way you work, or force you into a rigid workflow? If it’s the latter, is that something you and your colleagues can embrace?
- Will the data management platform support customization? If so, how will that affect updates, maintenance and support?
- Once the data is collected, how will it be used? Knowing and sharing the big picture can go a long way toward making sure everyone complies with new routines that will build a more complete repository.
- How is the data secured? Are security measures robust without hindering the use of the data management platform?
- How will the company get everyone — from executives on down — to support and use the data management platform?
Properly implemented, supported and maintained, data management can drastically reduce design cycle times, reduce frustrations associated with engineering change orders, and ultimately improve your company’s time to market. Without the right guidance, those benefits can disappear.
The need for data management isn’t going away. It’s only going to increase. You can take the lead or you can take your chances.
Jamie Gooch is the managing editor of Desktop Engineering. Contact him at email@example.com.