PLM Personalized21 Jul, 2010 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson
Modular 360 Enterprise lets companies build a solution to suit unique product-development needs.
Like the younger sibling of a star athlete or a class clown, product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions often have to overcome the reputation of those that came before. Specifically, older PLM solutions were thought by many to be technology overkill, expensive, or too challenging to implement. The new kids on the block, however, are challenging that notion by offering modular and scalable functionality, more affordable pricing, and improved ease of use. One such solution — and possibly the newest — is 360 Enterprise Software.
When it came out of the gate last year, 360 Enterprise was christened PLM360. But as its developers began to introduce the enterprise solution to potential customers, they found that a name focused on "product lifecycle" was limiting and sometimes confusing. General manager Morty Smolash explained, "We elected to change the name to 360 Enterprise because we were not conveying the true ability of the software. We’re saying engineering does not live by itself. For PLM to be meaningful, vital data must be utilized across departments."
360 Enterprise is an offshoot of Montreal-based Mecanica Solutions, a company that has been providing engineering services and technology — including research and development, engineering services, PLM solutions, and other engineering software — to the aerospace, automotive, and AEC (architecture/engineering/construction) industries for 30 years.
360 Enterprise can work in an environment with any CAD solution or solutions and promises many of the benefits that are common among PLM solutions on the market today:
- improved on-time and on-budget project performance
- improved time to market
- minimized design errors and recalls
- consistent capture and reuse of best practices
- improved productivity and collaboration
- overall increased efficiency, reduced costs, and improved profits
Like many PLM systems today, 360 Enterprise is designed to facilitate communication, workflows, and document management among all parties in a company who contribute to the product-development process.
360 Enterprise is designed to fit into any type of manufacturing- or services-based company that is significantly process centric, manages multiple and complex projects, manages large quantities of heterogeneous engineering and non-engineering documents, and needs to manage its business by tightly controlling all these normally disparate items.
In a market full of PLM software options, what makes 360 Enterprise unique?
- 360 Enterprise comprises modular but fully integrated components that can work as a standalone PLM solution or in conjunction with other systems a company might already have in place, such as Autodesk Vault or any time-tracking system.
- 360 Enterprise takes what Smolash describes as the best-in-class capabilities of other data- and project-management solutions on the market and embeds them in one place, providing a single gateway to business-critical applications.
- It offers extended functionality where traditional PLM and ERP (engineering resource planning) systems fall short. Smolash explains: “Traditional PLM and ERP solutions do not provide the extremely high level of integration between different parts of the business that are necessary to ensure that information is available and leveraged, in context, to all of the organization within the enterprise as well as key outside trading partners (extended enterprise). It can be said that 360 Enterprise Software actually fills in the critically important gap that exists between traditional PLM and ERP.”
- The system is intuitive, customizable, simplified, and easy to deploy and use.
"What 360 Enterprise is designed to do from the ground up is work with clients to find their best practices and modify the software to fit that," Smolash said. The software doesn’t define clients' best practices, he explained. "We work with them to determine what they need."
360 Enterprise Software is licensed on either a named user or, more typically, a concurrent user basis. According to the company, the cost of acquiring and deploying the solution is typically significantly less than the costs of an equal quantity of just one standalone module of a competitive piece of software -- that is, standalone project management.
In the tree structure of the Workspace area, users can see quickly that a sticky note and a redlined version of a file are associated with the original. Access to a variety of tools is a right-click away.
- dynamic project management
- process monitoring and automation
- executive dashboards
- 3D viewing
- data management
- document storage
- time tracking.
360 Enterprise runs on the desktop, requiring installation once per system and only a user ID and password to install. The user interface, which resembles a web browser, is each user's portal to the modules, project nodes, folders, and files that he or she has permission to access. A dashboard can be customized by each user to display desired information and links.
360 Enterprise converts any CAD data to a lightweight file that can be shared, viewed, and measured. Each data file links to the original model, always reflects updates, and includes history and an audit trail of information related to the design. Every file that goes into the 360 Enterprise vault gets a unique address that begins with KRL:// — which Smolash explains stands for knowledge resource locator.
For hands-on workers, the Workspace in 360 Enterprise is the hub of activity, providing access to models, animations, and all other project files. From there, a user can initiate a new process such as a purchase order, or create a redlined version of a document using built-in mark-up tools. Revision control is powerful but simple, with a red check mark serving as a visual indicator that a file is in use. A sticky note, which becomes a separate document, can be created to add an informal note or automatic reminder associated with the original file. The Register for Notification function lets a user request updates regarding any activity related to a project or file.
Other Workspace actions accessible via a simple right-click include Check Out Document, Rollback (to a previous version), Compare Local to Vault, Change Lifecycle State To, and New Discussion.
Live discussions can take place in the 360 Enterprise environment much like instant messaging, and a record of each conversation is logged within the project.
Every document in the 360 Enterprise system has a detail page that provides a history of activity; revisions; links to other projects where that file is being used; who has viewed, downloaded, or modified the file; and so forth.
In the 360 Enterprise Workflow space, the detail page displays a variety of information associated with a given file. (Click to view larger version.)
"Killing manual processes" is a motto of this software, which aims to substitute repeatable, robust automated processes whenever and wherever possible.
For example, creating a new purchase order or any engineering change order begins with an intelligent form that recognizes a company's proper workflow and doesn’t allow actions that are premature or that a particular user doesn’t have permission to access. Appropriate, predetermined options are presented for populating each field of a form. The form moves through the proper people automatically based on the company's established procedures, imposing structure on the process and the users that you don’t get with processes that are left to human control only.
On top of a user interface and tools that are optimized for hands-on users, 360 Enterprise offers dashboards and features that support the role of managers involved in the product-development process. "Every company has its own key performance indicators," Smolash said. "We are able to set up reporting to reflect exactly what the company and the manager need to monitor and assess progress. We can customize on the fly or within a day to create exactly what the client needs to see."
Dashboards are tightly integrated with all modules of the 360 Enterprise system and offer a comprehensive overview of tasks, scheduling, and progress over time, as well as direct links to documents when detailed information is required. The Linking function allows managers to bring any document from the document management vault into a project, such as a schedule for quick reference.
This Program Management overview shows that the early stage of project was completed faster than scheduled, helping a company allocate time better on similar projects in the future and build project templates to support more efficient practices going forward. (Click to view larger version.)
Project managers and executives get an overview of pertinent aspects of a given project, such as EVM (earned value management), available staffing resources, financial forecast, and overall project performance. (Click to view larger version.)
Green, yellow, and red color-coding in the Program Management interface indicates whether given tasks are on track or require attention. (Click to view larger version.)
360 Enterprise customers are responding positively to the system's tight integration of modules and "automated document management that just happens as you go about the processes," Smolash said. "This tight integration is key to the 360 Enterprise solution. How you have your projects integrated in 360 Enterprise matches the way your company does things in the real world — rather than the old way of 'throw it over the wall,'" where each user completed a portion of the project, then handed it off wholesale to the next person in line, often introducing inefficiency and errors. "Integration maintains intent, context, and entirety of data," Smolash said. "We're providing a far more user-friendly experience vs. any system that is comprised of various components."
The next version of 360 Enterprise will be released later this summer. One highlight will be the new Schedule Management module, which will overlap a project schedule with the schedules of the company’s resources (displaying vacations and so forth) to support better allocation of assets.