From Email Attachments and Shared Excel Files To Information Flow And Digital Transformation

Oleg Shilovitsky
Oleg Shilovitsky
17 August, 2022 | 5 min for reading
From Email Attachments and Shared Excel Files To Information Flow And Digital Transformation

Bad habits die hard, especially when it comes to engineers using Excel. Dumping CAD and other engineering and manufacturing data to Excel and sharing it with everyone who needs it in the organization is a reality for all engineering and manufacturing companies. It brings wrong data, absence of updates, additional costs, and mistakes, but engineers hold their Excel stronghold because this is how they feel in control. Some companies I’ve been talking to told me that engineers prefer to leave rather than change their bad habits and use PDM/PLM systems. And, to be honest, I’m not surprised. There are some good reasons for that. Here are the top three reasons I found after helping thousands of engineers and manufacturing companies to switch from Excelware to OpenBOM web services.

Why Engineers Love Their Excel-based Workflows

Manufacturing is a complex and sophisticated process. It requires an orchestration of many companies and activities – 3D design, electronics, software, production planning, supply chain management, procurement, contract manufacturing, and many others. Nothing is more important than bringing the product on time, with the right quality and the competitive cost. While the goal seems to be very clear, information technology and data management are not a strong side of manufacturing companies. They are continuously looking for shortcuts and… Excel is the second best choice for everything that companies need to manage product lifecycle is there. Here are the reasons I found companies are relying on Excel and emails flow:

  1. Easy to understand (fake simplicity)
  2. Absence of dependencies (everyone can do it)
  3. Perceived as free (no upfront or subscription cost)

It is very hard to say no when it is well known and used by so many organizations. Tools developers made it so easy to export Excel almost from any place (all CAD system with very few exceptions has their Excel export feature). So, dumping data into Excel feels natural while thinking about digital technologies and product lifecycle management feels hard. Most legacy PDM and PLM systems are like going back to 1995 or (let’s be fair) to the middle of the 2000s. They require IT support and implementation services. They cost money and the majority of them are not user-friendly.

It is very hard to compete with something that normally doesn’t require any cost. Free is a magic word, but it also comes as a state of independence from IT and budgetary constraints. It is extremely important for everyone (especially engineers) to come to the point when they can say “I completed my job” and push the ball on someone else’s side.

Houston, we have a problem…

The realization of Excel mess and hidden costs comes later and is not directly related to engineering activities. There are multiple people and organizations in any manufacturing company that can be blamed for bad IT strategy, lost Excel files, purchase orders done late, and, as a result, missed delivery data, missed cost targets, and many other problems.

Digital technology and digital data are knocking on the doors of companies and IT management and the demand to have business processes relying on digital data, data analytics, digital representation of processes, and business models and operating models is coming on the priority list.

Customer experience is another reason why companies are looking how to bring new technologies and new capabilities to exchange information. When your customers are missing maintenance dates or ordering the wrong replacement parts, the discussion about bad Excels is moving from engineering cubicles and IT meetings to boardrooms.

The demand for digital transformation, artificial intelligence, optimization of supply chains, real-time data operational access, and market pressures are great triggers all manufacturing companies are getting these days.

The Goal – Information Flow

To fix the problem of data management, manufacturing companies need to think beyond the point of “let’s fix Excel” or “let’s find a better data sync and Excel dumping procedure”. The goal should be to re-think business processes and to think about how to bring digital technology to create a holistic view of the information, and how it is used by any business functions and business processes. This is where the digital thread begins. There are two main elements of this process:

  1. A single source of information (eliminate data silos)
  2. Data sharing (move from sync to link and share)

The organization has its own operational silos based on organizational structure, business processes, and customer relationships. This is absolutely normal. If someone would ask you to break those silos, run away – operational and process silos are absolutely necessary to organize business and companies should stay focused on business process improvements every day. What is wrong is having data silos. This is something that companies need to kill. Data must not be duplicated in multiple places and available (based on business rules, of course) to everyone in the company. It leads to better decision-making and customer experience.

How OpenBOM Can Help?

At OpenBOM, we’ve been working with thousands of engineers and different manufacturing organizations to understand how to help them to get out of Excel hell and organize their data and processes. Here are a few useful articles you can check

While reading articles is good, we understand that each company has its own history, experience, and issues. At OpenBOM we developed a customer experience that includes dedicated onboarding training and consulting to help you to rethink your data management strategy. Check it out here and contact our support for help.

REGISTER FOR FREE to get your hands on a full OpenBOM experience during the free trial.

Best, Oleg

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