Most people that follow this blog might notice a recurring theme in my posts: engineers simply have too many lifecycle responsibilities to be come experts in any software application or system. A few weeks ago, this line of thinking led me to post some thoughts on how mashup applications could bring access to many enterprise systems to the engineer in one place. And I still think that’s one of the more feasible alternatives for engineers. But, at least from a PLM perspective, Siemens PLM has offered an option that’s a little more pragmatic.
The capabilities that we’ll be discussing today were actually released as part of Teamcenter 8 and have their roots back further than that.. However with so much going into each release of Teamcenter, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. And I think that’s exactly what’s happened with this functionality especially with respect to engineering roles.
In essence, this set of capabilities enable data to be passed back and forth between the Teamcenter PLM system and Microsoft Office Applications including Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. Here’s a little more detail on each one.
- Teamcenter-Word/Excel/Powerpoint Integration: The core functionality here is the ability to associatively embed object attributes that exists within Teamcenter within the Office Document. This information can be embedded inline within a Word Document, a Powerpoint Presentation or into the cell of an Excel Spreadsheet. The idea is that you can make a change in either Teamcenter or in the document and the change is propagated into the other. Furthermore, the embedded information is configuration controlled. So The advantage is that you are always looking at the latest and most accurate information. And these use cases are extended with new releases of Teamcenter.
- Teamcenter-Outlook Integration: The core functionality here is the associative integration of task lists and meetings from Teamcenter into the task lists and calendar of Outlook. The idea is that as you tick off tasks lists in Outlook, they are likewise completed in Teamcenter. You can also browse and search within Teamcenter, insert data from Teamcenter to the Outlook New message window and save emails into Teamcenter to capture decisions and supporting information for future reference.
We’ll put this integration capability into the context of engineering in a moment, but as you can imagine, there are various product development scenarios where this capability would come into play. Especially with a supply chain. Given that, there are some options for this integration to work inside and outside a firewall.
- Import/Export: Information, like Bills of Materials, Requirements and other artifacts, can be exported out of Teamcenter as Office documents. A powerful capability here is the ability to control or limit the changes that can be made to the Office document once it is exported. So for example, if there are only three options for the completion of a requirement in Teamcenter, you can export it such that in the corresponding cell in the Excel spreadsheet, there are only three options available for the value. Overall, this integraton option could support outside the firewall scenarios.
- Live Link: The other option is to maintain a live integration between the Teamcenter PLM system and the Office document. So as things are changed in the document, they are simultaneously changed in the Teamcenter PLM system. This integration option would be preferred as changes can be seen in real time. However it would require that the Office application could ‘see’ the Teamcenter PLM system to work.
Analysis and Commentary
So, this might seem like interesting functionality, but how would it be used? There’s a few different scenarios where it would make sense.
- System Engineering: System engineers often must take initial requirements, break them down and then allocate them to functions and eventually items in a product structure or Bill of Materials. The Teamcenter System Engineering module has extensive functionality to support these scenarios, however system engineers have been getting it done with Word documents and Excel spreadsheets for years. With tight development schedules, system engineers can often ill afford to take the time to learn new systems, even if they were tailor made for them. This integration offers them a gradual onramp or even and long terms way to contribute and work with the Teamcenter PLM system from the tools they are already familiar with.
- Engineering Specifications: Not long ago, the combination of the engineering specification and drawing were the definitive source of truth in product development. But over time, the engineering specification has become increasingly federated into more granular pieces of information that is managed by various enterprise systems. Requirements and product attributes can now sit in Teamcenter, and all of this information can be placed into a living Word document the engineer can own again.
- Project Management: When it comes project managers planning and engineers completing tasks, it seems like the two are world apart. Project managers utilize specialty software, like Microsoft’s Project integrated with Teamcenter’s Project Management module, to lay out greatly detailed plans. Engineers on the other hand want to use the application on their desktop, Outlook, to manage not only project tasks but their own individual reminders too. The new integration enables both roles to use the systems and applications they want. Engineers can manage their tasks in Outlook. Project managers have their gantt charts in Teamcenter. Information is exchanged between the two. Both can be happy.
Overall, the underlying theme that this integration enables is that the roles in product development can keep using the desktop applications they’ve always been using. The only difference is that information can now flow from those desktop applications into the Teamcenter PLM system and vice-versa. That can be a powerful thing.
What’s the catch? There’s always some downside, right? The only negative I see is that to utilize this integration, some interaction with the Teamcenter PLM system is required. It’s not completely hands off. And I don’t see any way that it could be. But in the end, these roles will have to export and / or export information to and from the Teamcenter PLM system in the form of these Microsoft Office documents.
Summary and Conclusions
As part of the Teamcenter 8 release of 2009, Siemens PLM introduced new integration capabilities to create a connection between their PLM system and Microsoft Office. Essentially this integration enables the associative exchange of things such as requirements, product attributes and others between the PLM system and Office documents. That in turn enables a variety of scenarios for roles that have long used desktop applications to get their job done. This integration lets them continue to do that while simultaneously getting that information back into the PLM system. The only downside is that utilizing the integration will require those roles to interact with the PLM system minimally.
Time for you to weigh in. To get some perspective, how many of the product development stakeholders in your company are Microsoft Office dependent today? Does this approach seem like a viable way to get more of those stakeholders utilizing and contributing to PLM? Sound off and let us know what you think.
Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.