Long before there was Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), there was Product Data Management (PDM). The shift of emphasis from Data to Lifecycle, in my view, is largely semantic. At its core, a PLM system is still an archive of product and project data. For the most part, using PLM means searching and retrieving relevant data to avoid costly blunders, like designing a landing gear from scratch when one already exists in your database.
But today, the knowledge you seek, be it the properties of a new thermoplastic brand or the schematics of a decommissioned World War II aircraft, might be found outside your company’s firewalls, on a public forum or an aeronautic enthusiasts’ discussion board. The latest compliance requirements about your product are posted somewhere on a regulatory agency’s home page. You may have a copy in your internal server, but that’s fraught with outdated information that could lead to a hefty fine.
So the ability to index, query, and retrieve not just your own enterprise data but other sources, like online encyclopedias and free research papers, becomes a critical function of product development. How much is that ability worth? For Dassault Systemes, it’s worth about €135 million (U.S. $166 million). That’s how much the PLM company paid last week to snatch up Exalead, often described as the French Google.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel; Find the Wheel You Need
“If you’re a designer using CATIA, your first priority is not to design a new part,” observed Michel Tellier, CEO of DS’ ENOVIA brand. “You’re using as much existing, pre-sourced, prefabricated data as possible.”
In the future, Exalead-powered search functions may become part of DS’ CAD and PLM toolbars. “We are going to make [Exalead] the core search engine within ENOVIA and across DS’ V6 portfolio,” said Tellier.
Many PLM systems let you locate parts, assemblies, and project documents via predefined filters (a classic method derived from Excel columns), but Exalead’s semantic engine provides a guided search based on natural language. (Looking for used cars? The search function will prompt you with the brands available. Know how much you want to spend? Your choices will be further narrowed by the price-range prompts.)
For businesses that maintain online catalogs or market configurable products, Exalead could dramatically improve the e-storefront’s navigation experience.
DS’ CEO Bernard Charles is a firm believer in crowd-sourcing, or mining the social media landscape for nuggets of wisdom. He often refers to his vision as PLM 2.0, a Web 2.0-inspired approach to PLM. But indexing content in online communities is no small feat. Most exists in the form of random comments and unstructured conversations. That’s beyond the scope of CAD and PLM, but right at the heart of what a search engine does.
In the announcement about the acquisition, Charles said, “With Exalead and its partners, we can provide a new class of search-based applications for collaborative communities.” The groundwork for that may have already been completed. In February, at the user conference for DS subsidiary SolidWorks, the audience got a glimpse of DS’ professional networking platform, 3d swymer (currently in closed beta).
A new opportunity in PLM 2.0, as Tellier put it, “is to provide a platform to support these collaborative communities.”
“Seek, and you shall find,” a Biblical saying often cited as encouragement, doesn’t exactly offer clues on how to find what you need in a timely fashion. In the age of information overload, a public search engine like Google or an enterprise search engine like Exalead is indispensable to seekers. Otherwise, you might waste precious time-to-market doing endless rounds of research.
If you’d like to try Exalead, visit its search window here.
For more, listen to my recorded conversation with Dassault Systemes’ CEO of ENOVIA, Michel Tellier (roughly 17 minutes).