Effective collaboration through intuitive user experiences

Jan Larsson explains the importance of enabling effective collaboration by creating intuitive user experiences that bring together the latest technological developments

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By Guest on 15 September 2014
Effective collaboration through intuitive user experiences

This article was first published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Prime

The best decisions are made when everyone can easily collaborate, share and engage with all the other stakeholders, and gain access to all the relevant data they need, in a way that makes sense to them.

In all of the processes a company goes through to produce a product, thousands of decisions must be made, from the start to finish of the product’s lifecycle. The faster these decisions are made, the faster each process is completed. And the more accurate these decisions are, the fewer the problems that occur downstream.

Fast, accurate decision-making is no easy feat, given all of the information that must be considered and the number of people involved. Information is usually spread throughout the company, its supply base, its joint-venture partners and its customers.

Up to this stage, product lifecycle management (PLM) has done a good job of helping people collaborate more (as long as they know who best to collaborate with), leverage information effectively (assuming they can find it), make complex product decisions (if they understand the context within the system) and make those decisions within time constraints (whether they’re optimal or not).

But in an environment of increasing complexity, PLM needs to rise to the challenge and address these shortfalls. This is the objective of high definition product lifecycle management (HD-PLM). One of the core pillars of this approach is centred on the need to collaborate, and the technologies and trends that are shaping this.

Traditionally, design and development meetings have consisted of large amounts of paper, a projector and single presenter trying to gather requirements, feedback, updates and comments from everyone else in the room. Once the meeting ended, the leader would then try to collate all this information and set about making the required alterations, and then commit those for testing before starting the process all over again. But we live in an increasingly high-definition, touch-focused world. The ongoing evolution of smartphones and tablets has had a massive impact on application design, which now requires a visual and interactive approach.

Even modern desktop operating systems are incorporating touch into their layout and design. Similarly, advancements in multi-touch are being used to create new applications for engaging and collaborating.

When it comes to product design, we can harness these developments to enable more immersive and naturally collaborative platforms. By scrapping the paper and projector approach, and opting for large-format touch-screen interfaces, companies can create a dynamic, immersive environment that enables much more effective collaboration.

This approach also means that everyone can get hands-on with the design process. By removing the single ‘gatekeeper’ it becomes possible to engage in parallel collaboration as designs can be passed from one person to another, suggestions inputted in real time, and then any changes can be viewed and discussed.

Taking this a step further – beyond just point, click and view – modern systems are powerful enough to render and even simulate, test and analyse suggested changes and ideas in real time.

So, in the first instance we have a laborious and manual process where one person showcases a design on a projector and collects different types of feedback from a range of people. They then go back to their desk to incorporate that information into the design and test the results before starting the cycle again.

In the second case, we have all the relevant people gathered around a dynamic and responsive interface, where ideas can be bandied about, evaluated and tested, all in real time. The impact of this is magnified when every stakeholder can engage via the interface and context that makes the most sense to them.

Of course, different users interact with information differently. For some users, 3D product geometry is how they need to view information. Others prefer a spreadsheet view or perhaps graphs and charts. What ‘intuitive’ means depends on the person and the task being performed. To present information intuitively, it must be in the right format, the right context and at the right level of granularity.

But even within the context of in-room collaboration, a large-format multi-window display means every attendee can participate in the way that makes the most sense to his or her role. Furthermore, when disparate business systems are tightly integrated as part of the platform, changes on one side can be immediately reflected in the other elements. For instance, updating one part on the CAD design can automatically feed through to the bill of materials and the enterprise resource planning system.

As a result, every person involved in the decision-making process can be engaged and their input immediately viewed, discussed and tested. This effectively makes it possible to capture the thought processes through which decisions are made and encapsulate them as best practice. There are now more people who need to access PLM data and the audience for the software that creates and uses this data is expanding throughout the enterprise. These workers need to be able to search for things that are of interest to them, look at different configurations of the product, and do it all in a very intuitive user experience.

Collaboration is the key to how any successful, modern business should operate. Having the right infrastructure is required to enable people to access and share information easily and effectively.

For manufacturers, PLM is the backbone that enables this collaboration, but it's only truly effective when it taps into the changing way we engage. In today's environment, this includes making data more visual, intuitive and touch focused.

Each of these elements already exists. We have high-definition displays, touch screens and collaboration tools, as well as the PLM framework for product design, testing and sharing. It's when we can combine these that we start to see a new level of intelligence emerge.

Once this can be integrated with other systems within the business and delivered in such a way as to enable parallel collaboration and deeper analysis, so the business can reap the rewards of faster and more agile product development.

Jan Larsson is senior marketing director EMEA of Product Engineering Software at Siemens PLM Software

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