During last week’s PLM Connection 2011 Conference (Las Vegas, Nevada, April 29-May 4), as he was moderating the Q&A session with the media, Bill Carrelli, Siemens PLM Software’s VP of business development, said, “There are some things that are not yet ready for public announcement, but we can certainly share thoughts, directions, those kind of things.”
One of the items Siemens PLM Software may not yet be ready to discuss in depth was Active Workspace. Nevertheless, the curtain has already been lifted, by none other than the company’s president Chuck Grindstaff. During his keynote address on the first day of the conference, Grindstaff give attendees a brief glimpse of Active Workspace. He had also shared a few details about the same thing at PLM Connection Europe last year (Linz, Austria, October 18-20): “A single entry point into a variety of data sources, with an always-on search [feature], and the ability to collaborate,” as he put it.
“What we’re trying to do,” said Bruce Feldt, Siemens PLM Software’s VP of Open Tools, “is to provide access to information, that complex PLM information, though a transcendent user interface …”
The end product, revealed Feldt, “is intended to be a new client [with which] PLM workers of all classes will start their work day. Active Workspace will know who the workers are, what’s on their work list, what kind of things they’re working on. It’s all centered around the notion of improved decision-making … It is a search-based application. Do not consider it as a search engine … the user interface has to be very simple to use … it’s a highly visual environment. Going through lists of texts, product structures, and information presented in hierarchical ways is useful, but we think if we present them in a more visual way, it would be more useful and easier to understand.”
The search capability, Feldt said, would be “very high speed, very rapid return.” It would also include “shape-based search.” Distinctly different from Siemens PLM Software’s CAD packages, Active Workspace is not meant to be an authoring application (but you may conveniently launch an authoring application from Active Workspace).
Active Workspace will also come with a new technology, currently in the work, dubbed “Network Navigator.” It’s meant for navigating through complex relationships in the PLM environment.
The only image of Active Workspace I’ve seen online was a snapshot taken by the quick-handed tech blogger and tweeter Rick Stavanja (@stavanja on Twitter), which shows what appears to be an NX model surrounded by floating instant messenger windows. Siemens has not released any images of Active Workspace to the press yet, as it’s an R&D project with uncertain launch date.
Search-based PLM application is also pursued by Siemens PLM Software’s rival Dassault Systemes, which owns the enterprise search engine Exalead. (For more, read “Dassault Plays Semantic with Exalead Acquisition,” June, 2010.) Another rival, PTC, has been focusing its efforts on integrating social media-like functions into its Windchill PLM Software. In time, PLM software may become an integration of product data management tools (for CAD files, bills of materials, suppliers, compliance histories, and so on) and community management tools (social media-style collaboration tools), with robust text- and shape-based search.
New comer Inforbix, cofounded by PLM blogger Oleg Shilovitsky, seeks to promote semantic search as a way to tackle the data deluge in product data management. Explaining his vision in the new startup’s blog, Shilovitsky said, “Data is located in many places within a company, in CAD files, Excels, PDM/PLM, ERP, CRM and other sources. To harness the power (rather than trying to control) all this data, we are focusing on how to semantically connect and provide meaningful access to this growing amount of product data in ways that make it possible for anyone to easily and effectively do so.” Inforbix is currently running a beta program with select customers.
As the volume of data grow in PLM databases, it presents a challenge to navigate through a hierarchical data structure to find and locate the file you need. Search function — now a standard practice for instantaneous data query and retrieval, thanks to Google — may become the preferred method to cut through the complexity to locate the right data.
PLM vendors are also experimenting with new ways to display product data and search results. With tight-integration of 3D CAD models, both Siemens PLM Software’s HD PLM and Dassault Systemes’ 3D Live represent a departure from the traditional row and columns, variations of Excel’s grid-based data-display system. Though not a fan of the PLM discipline, design software maker Autodesk has also adopted its own version of CAD-integrated data management via Autodesk Vault. (For more, read “Visualizing the Forest of Data Beyond the Trees,” April 2011).