The not-so-secret sauce for collaboration in CAD and PLM

Office is the secret sauce for PLM and CAD users who want to collaborate

So, now that Acrobat 3D has shipped and everyone is thinking about how they might use it, let’s separate the obvious uses from the not-as-clear applications.

It’s clear that Acrobat 3D offers great file translation capabilities. But we’ve consistently argued that this is, essentially, a utility function. As such, it’s not a strategic application. The addition of a new utility to the utility drawer, like the choice between WinRAR and WinZip, is always a good thing.

But file utilities are not the basis of entererprise collaboration infrastructures. Thinking about PDF (3D or not) as the ultimate collaboration unit-of-work misses the basic requirement for improving the use of 3D information throughout the enterprise: the ability to add value to that 3D design data.

I’m not talking about simple comments or markup. Real value comes from content creation. Adobe likes to demo post-it notes on 3D models. It’s cute, and we’ve all used features like this, but it’s not the same thing as adding a BOM to an assembly or being able to animate how a special tool is used to take the product apart.

In short, Acrobat 3D doesn’t create any content. The next questions, of course, are how do non-engineering users create content? And how do they want to interact with digital product definitions?

The overwhelming answer is that people use Microsoft Office for non-product design content creation. The secret sauce of collaboration for CAD and PLM users is simple: give them a way to combine Office content and product content. Whether or not PDF is used to store and transmit that information is only a question of cosmetics, like whether the inter-office envelopes are brown or white.

Rodney Bowen-Wright blogged about this very topic in a post he wrote about Seemage last month. Rodney said:

Seemage figured that most people in enterprises “live” in Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Office PowerPoint®, and Microsoft Office Excel®. WIth 300 million+ office users worldwide, most enterprise workers have their messaging and collaboration needs delivered by Microsoft Office Outlook® and Office SharePoint Server 2007.Their bet is that most users want to access core product information from their current applications. They decided to tightly integrate their product around Sharepoint and Office…

Rodney is exactly correct that we think the real promise of PLM and CAD systems in in making sure that desktop Office users have the ability to combine design content with Office content creation. Send it around as a PDF if you like. But at the end of the day, it’s not the carrier you care about, it’s the content.

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