We have been reviewing our options for collaborative space and data management needs for business, design, and simulation. I wanted to take a look at how the cloud is enabling the lightweight collaborative design data management needs of some SMBs, and later, try to point out what to watch for in the near future.
Summary of the SMB Design Management Review
Why Collaborative Design Data Management?
Product Lifecycle Management – PLM
Product Design Management – PDM
Enterprise Resource Planning – ERP
Customer Relations Management – CRM
Document Management System – DMS
…and on and on.
The list is endless and quite likely you need some form of most of these in your day to day work. The problem is that the really useful tools are part of very large expensive systems developed by only a handful of vendors, who by virtue of their vast market share, have defined the way we are expected to behave around design data.
New collaborative needs and incredible cost have forced many small businesses to rely on less capable systems, terrible data workflows, and limited features.
Which Features are Important?
That is the crux of the entire issue, and being asked by the wrong people, namely you. In this market it should be the other way around.
Data management software is typically either too vague about how it organizes data, or too specific to one particular industry or another, and all of them require some tuning and programming to get the software to match the way you work.
…and no one wants to do all the customization.
If you are still playing ‘Hansel and Gretel’ data discovery with MS Office and Windows Explorer you are not alone. So why don’t we all just jump out and get some data management?
One important factor is the short period between the emergence and focus on SMB PLM needs, and the sudden upswing in collaborative possibilities. “I need some PLM and PDM, but how do I include collaboration?”
Let’s take a moment and completely jumble everything up. Growing trends in collaboration and market globalization, fueled by accessibility of the internet are pouring in data from all angles and unthought-of workflows. We don’t quite know how to deal with it all yet, and neither do the data management vendors.
I need to catalogue…:
- Information, instructions, correspondence, and specifications for clients, subcontractors and manufacturers
- Proposals, agreements, and correspondence
- Design and non-design data, including iterations, versions, and revisions
- Industry / company standards and compliance
- Visualization data
- The almighty BOM(s)
- Subcontractor orders, inspections, and correspondence
- Municipal and organizational review comments
- Analysis data and reports
This scenario represents the least common denominator of many company’s needs, regardless of size. All of this information must be tied together in a project type relevance, but also permitted to associate with other data inherently. This information needs to be discoverable in a myriad of ways, and it needs to be accessible, and easy to use.
The trick is that we also need this data to be compiled between multiple collaborators that are all part of the common design process, on a globally accessible, but relatively light-weight framework.
So, which software serves SMB design firms best?
We’d love to hear from everyone about what has been going right for you, and what has not. Are there holes in your data management setup, or do you have the magic balance of management and collaboration? Leave a comment and let us know what you’ve discovered.
Image Credit: Norman Lear Center – Flickr