Collaboration in SCM

Over the years, many technologies have evolved to support both asynchronous and real-time collaboration. Most of the older technologies, such as teleconferencing, video conferencing, e-mail, etc., have major limitations that lower their value in product development environments. The newer and still-evolving technologies that enable PLM allow the management of product information and the processes that are used to create, configure, and use the information in a manner never previously thought of before.
We talk a lot about collaboration, but do we really understand what it means? In general, collaboration is an iterative process where multiple people work together toward a common goal. Methods of working collaboratively have existed as long as humans have joined together to accomplish tasks that could be done better by a team than an individual. Early man is probably the best example of collaboration when hunting for food for the village or the tribe.

There are two modes of collaboration: synchronous and asynchronous. Users working in an asynchronous manner carry out their assigned tasks and then forward the data to the next person. This way of working is serial in nature and only allows users to participate one at a time. Communication among collaborators is normally carried out using telephone or e-mail. Effective collaboration requires an area of storage for information from which product definition data can be shared with all those that require it. This shared area is commonly referred to as a data vault. Flow control and task execution is performed in an asynchronous way using workflow and project management tools. These tools allow data to be routed to users and progress to be monitored.

Synchronous or real-time collaboration enables users to view, work with 2D (e.g., specifications, drawings, documents, etc.) and 3D data (e.g., mechanical CAD models), and carry out interactive communications with each other in real-time. In addition, PLM-enabled collaborative solutions often support the ability to view, rotate, add notes and annotation pointers, and some also offer functionality to change the 3D design model data. This provides the same communication effectiveness as having all participants in the same room, at the same time, looking at the same data.
The following describes some of the processes commonly supported by PLM-enabled collaborative technologies.

Supply Chain Management—The move to a partnership-oriented supply chain means that suppliers, partners, sub-contractors, and customers are all involved in product definition. For companies to embrace the true potential of the distributed supply chain, collaborative tools can be used to manage data and processes across a distributed environment.

Sales and Bidding—Opportunities exist for sales, engineering, purchasing, and manufacturing to engage in collaborative sessions where product options, alternatives, and concepts are reviewed by each discipline at the same time. This is faster, more efficient, and can produce more accurate and cost-effective bids.

Maintenance and Support—The application of collaborative tools in maintenance and support activities is gaining acceptance in a number of different sectors such as aerospace and defense, automotive, process, and machine tools. For example, animation and simulation tools are being used to demonstrate how products are operated and maintained.

Change Management and Design Review—Adopting a different design review process, where project teams join a shared collaborative review session can result in significant benefits as potential conflicts and errors can be identified early in the product development lifecycle.

Senior Managers in the business world understand economic cycles are a known fact of life. The key to success is the way managers and organizations adapt to these cycles. Since they are a fact of life, we know that we can’t just ignore downturns and hope for a better day. So instead, those that are successful learn how to become more efficient while still ensuring that they deliver the best value to the markets they serve (i.e., making available the right product, at the right price, to the right market, at the right time, at the right quality, (The 5 Rights!)).

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