Ein PLM-Reisebericht: The curse of isolated data islands

Reisen bedeuten oft das Verlassen ausgetretener Pfade und dieser Artikel tut das gleich in zweifacher Hinsicht. Zum einen gibt es eine Premiere: Ich freue mich sehr, dass Thomas Skogen, Director Product Management bei der Minerva Group AS, als erster Gastautor meinen Blog bereichtert. Zum anderen begibt sich Thomas in seinem Artikel auf eine Reise über die einsamen Inseln in der PLM-Welt. Ich wünsche Ihnen viel Spaß beim Lesen.

The curse of isolated data islands

The other PLM islandsday I was enjoying a very nice ocean view. I was standing on the top of a hill and I could spot a few islands on the horizon. As I was trying to single out that island I was going to visit later that day, the whole experience made me think of the concept of isolated data islands.

What is a data island?

  • When product quality data is stored in a spreadsheet on a laptop with no connectivity to the rest of the department.
  • When customer data is stored in the sales database and the rest of the organization cannot access the customer data.

Isolated data islands are like those islands I could spot on the horizon because the distances in between those islands are like the disconnect between various databases. And while the view from above is nice and scenic, things start to become complicated once you need access to one of these islands because:

  • Islands are difficult to get to as access is limited or rigidly defined.
  • It also costs a lot more to “get to” the island.
  • Once you get to the island, you find out that you don’t speak the same language (file types are different and/or difficult to work with).
  • You also have to learn how to live (operate) in the island’s environment that will most likely feel very foreign, perhaps even intimidating.

Isolated data islands exist in all organizations

PLM Chaos

This scenario essentially reflects the situation that exists in companies of all sizes across the globe. Companies have been using a wide variety of point solution applications and tools to support daily operational tasks such as change management, quality, tooling and requirements management etc. By following this pattern, companies develop isolated data islands which are not shared nor maintained very well across the enterprise.

The curse of isolated data islands

The are several issues here.

  • If data is not easily available to those who need it within the organization, they will waste an unnecessary amount of time searching for that data.
  • Without a clear central data source, the risk of finding the incorrect version of that data increases dramatically.

The end result of data islands is that staff as well as managers makes decisions based on incorrect data.

Departments turn to the Excel solution

Used by many, the Excel solution reflects the cheapest and most common solution utilized across companies. This “powerful” tool provides the basic business functionality of being readily available, holding data, and providing the option to write simple code. As a result, it is used to implement  “business applications” that is comprised of a combination of data governed by “business rules”.

The problem with the Excel solution

In time, the basic functionality of Excel will no longer suffice, due to the overwhelming size and complexity of the file. What is more important. There is no traceability, no history and no collaboration tools integrated in Excel.But it doesn’t stop there. Because multiple departments exist within a company, a number of database products exist, as well. Sometimes, these products have simple functionalities and every so often, they even hold the same data across departments. This creates islands of data with duplicate data within a company. It leaves the question, where is the correct master file? When each department or division possesses its own Excel, without any cross-departmental communication, data is shared without a centralized database to keep it normalized. While new versions of Excel may be able to hold near 65,000 records, the bigger the file, the slower the access speed to data, which is delayed even further when complex codes are utilized.

How a proper data management system can help

A data management system  can provide the configuration simplicity of an Excel solution with a centralized location for data that is authorized and scalable. It covers all drawbacks that generally accompany customized applications. In addition, it offers the security of a backup feature and a notification mechanism that links up to the enterprise.