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Friday, November 02, 2018

Discussion Related to CIMdata’s Educational Webinar: Blockchain for Enhancing the Value of PLM

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BlockchainCIMdata has chosen blockchain as a strategic direction of focus in product lifecycle management (PLM) for accelerating the digital transformation of businesses. In a webinar on September 27th,[1] the CIMdata Value Lens™ for blockchain was introduced for systematically studying different stages of PLM to identify potential new value that could be enabled by blockchain. The idea is to apply a structured innovation approach to analyze all activities performed in different stages of PLM and investigate how they could benefit from blockchain capabilities.

Our next webinar which takes place on November 8th, entitled “Blockchain in PLM for Digital Asset Innovation,”[2] will touch upon potentially new ways of conceiving, segmenting, and transacting digital assets by applying blockchain, while revisiting the structure of PLM.

Hopefully, the questions and the responses will generate further discussion that enriches the understanding of the topic.

Before getting to the Q&A let’s take a quick look at the results from attendee polls taken during the webinar.

Best wishes,

Venki

Audience poll

During the September 27th webinar, responses to three statements were polled from the attending audience. Those statements along with percentage responses is shown below.

  1. I currently see a growing number of blockchain projects in my field of expertise.
    (Fully agree 29%. Somewhat agree 38%. Don’t agree 33%)
  2. I already know the material covered in this webinar so far.
    (More than 2/3 of the content 14%. Less than 2/3 but more than 1/3 of the content 59%. Less than 1/3 of the content 21%)
  3. I know of a different way of searching for blockchain related value in PLM.
    (Yes 8%. No 92%. Don’t know enough about PLM 0%)

One-third of the respondents don’t seem to be seeing growth in blockchain related projects in their areas of expertise. Out of the remaining two-thirds, less than half are clearly seeing growth in blockchain related projects in their fields of expertise. About one-fifth of the respondents found most of the webinar content new to them, whereas more than half the respondents were quite familiar with blockchain. However, only one attendee responded “yes” to the question on prior knowledge about how to search for blockchain related value in PLM.

Q&A

During the September 27th webinar, all the questions asked by the attendees could not be addressed during the webinar time slot. This blog is an attempt to respond to those questions. In addition, the questions which were addressed have also been included for completeness.

Q.1 - Which enterprise solution providers do you think could help with blockchain application in PLM?

Some of the solutions mentioned below could prove useful for trying out blockchain in PLM although very few applications of blockchain in PLM [3] [4] [5] have been reported.

  • Microsoft – Azure Blockchain Service, Enterprise Smart Contracts, Etherium Blockchain as a Service
  • IBM – Blockchain Platform
  • SAP – Leonardo Blockchain as a Service for IoT and Machine Learning
  • HPE R3 – Mission Critical DLT based on Corda
  • BitSE and PwC – VeChain based system for supply chain and asset management
  • Deloitte – Rubix Core for Etherium based Smart Contracts applied to private networks
  • Amazon and Kaleido – Blockchain as a Service
  • Oracle – Blockchain Cloud Service

Exploration into blockchain in PLM would need service providers who are experienced in working with these offerings and systems integrators who can enable bi-directional integrations with other internal and external systems.

Q.2 – How should industrial businesses go about exploring the potential for blockchain in PLM?

First, the industrial businesses need to get a good understanding of what blockchain can or cannot do. Based on that, they need to search for PLM-related use cases that could potentially bring value in the short-term, so that informed decisions and plans about future transformational applications can be made. Next, the industrial businesses need to identify blockchain service providers, distributed ledger technology solution providers, and network and system integrators, who could help execute the selected pilot projects, hopefully leading to strategic partnerships in the future. The pilot projects must not only demonstrate the feasibility of blockchain in key use cases, they must also enable a broad understanding, which can help develop the strategy and the roadmap for a transformational journey of the industrial businesses, by leveraging blockchain applied to PLM.

Q.3 - What is the complexity and effort involved in planning and executing blockchain pilot projects?

The complexity lies in identifying blockchain pilot projects whose short-term outcomes are aligned with the potential long-term positive impact of blockchain on the organization. and the effort that lies in systematically working towards achieving that transformational goal.[6]

  • The blockchain innovation funnel can begin with ideas from a wide realm of possibilities but the pilot projects should be chosen based on their potential for strategic impact on the most distinctive and differentiating capabilities of the business, as well as, insights into risks and costs involved.
  • The creation of a blockchain exploration group is considered helpful albeit with constraints on its activities from the need for discernable positive business outcomes. Hence, the group should compile a list of potential pilot projects, focusing first on the obvious pain points such as customer satisfaction, launch delays, and operational inefficiencies, by consulting with stakeholders from both inside and outside the business.
  • The implementation constraints on the pilot projects are likely to adjust the design of the projects themselves, as well as the business practices followed in the past. It is also likely that there will be new information about how to use blockchain, leading to improved insights for making future strategic decisions. No matter how the implementation constraints redefine the pilot projects, it is necessary that the projects remain relevant to the company’s strategy and distinctive capabilities.
  • The outcomes of the pilot projects must be tracked to ensure that expected milestones are met, and corrective reorientation is undertaken whenever deviation is observed.
  • If external consultants and technology providers are engaged in the pilot projects, it is necessary to ensure that they demonstrably understand the company’s strategic direction and can engage in a long-term transformational journey.
  • A few long-range company goals such as increased revenue, improved compliance, improved quality, or reduced cost should be used to match the outcomes of the attempted pilot projects. Based on that a road map should be developed to scale up the projects in a measurable and achievable way.

Through this systematic approach, risks will likely be minimized while augmenting blockchain-related learning under realistic business constraints.

Q.5 - Have you seen any instances of blockchain being used for maintaining an as maintained BOM with external maintenance providers?

Fast, reliable service depends on having the right parts, technicians, and tools on-site to repair and return the asset to service as soon as possible. Several attempts are being made to improve maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) efficiency, cost, and parts authenticity by leveraging blockchain. Some examples are[7]:

  • Ramco Systems has demonstrated its blockchain prototype for handling part repairs and transactions for AFI-KLM E&M with manual entry of repair and removal actions.
  • IFS Labs recently did a proof-of-concept on how blockchain can be integrated with aviation ERP systems for asset management, mapping supply chains, tracking part shipments, and, logging and verifying commercial maintenance work.
  • Accenture has a blockchain project collaboration with Thales to streamline and secure the technical supply chain to track, trace and authenticate critical aircraft parts and materials.

It seems that all these projects would involve tracking the as maintained BOM closely, whether with external maintenance providers or not. However, that specific use case has not been highlighted in these examples.

Q.6 - Are there existing IIoT platforms using the blockchain for sensor data governance?

Some of the commonly known Industrial IoT platforms are[8]:

  • Azure IoT Suite by Microsoft
  • IBM Watson IoT Platform
  • Leonardo by SAP
  • Predix by General Electric
  • Bosch IoT Suite
  • Cisco Jasper
  • PTC Thingworx
  • Siemens MindSphere
  • Condence IIoT platform
  • AXOOM
  • Losant Enterprise IoT platform
  • Altizon Datonis IIoT platform

Based on the response to Q.1 above, Microsoft, IBM, and SAP have IIoT platforms and blockchain solutions capable of sensor data governance.

Q.7 - Please mention few cases where CIMdata has implemented blockchain in PLM.

CIMdata is a strategic management consulting company which advises industrial businesses and software solution providers in leveraging technology for improving the effectiveness of PLM. CIMdata’s role lies in helping businesses leverage blockchain in PLM by identifying and prioritizing relevant use cases, detailing the structure of the pilot projects, selecting the technology solution providers who could potentially become long-term strategic partners, as well as, in helping relate the outcomes of the pilot projects to the long-term vision. CIMdata also helps its clients assess the effectiveness of the technologies that they have chosen to implement, as well as, suggest changes if expected results are not being attained. CIMdata however, does not itself undertake the implementation of technologies such as blockchain.

Q.8 - What applications do you see during the design stage of a product?

Looking through CIMdata’s Value Lens for blockchain, one could think of many use cases that could bring incremental or disruptive innovation to product development. Any product development activity that needs tracking of transactions or transformation of digital assets is a potential opportunity for leveraging blockchain. With the separation of design and production based on distributed/decentralized manufacturing, the digital assets would need to be segmented in appropriate ways, which opens the door to distributed designing which would need incremental intellectual property additions to be tracked and remunerated appropriately. This is just one direction of innovation that could be thought of. Once this step is conceived/realized, many other value streams in product development could be researched for blockchain impact.

Q.9 - Do you see applications for workflow and change management?

Workflow and change management represent processes followed in businesses. Blockchain is particularly well suited for provenance and traceability and should be studied particularly closely in relation to change management and workflows for the subsequent root cause analysis of issues, as well as, for certification or conformance to standards, e.g., ISO 26262.

Q.10 - What is the experience regarding performance with blockchain?

One performance issue stems from the need for every transaction to be processed at every node, slowing down the blockchain. Due to its chain nature, each new record inserted into a blockchain must be serialized, which means that the rate of updates is slower than traditional databases, which can update data in parallel. This slowing down of transaction processing also affects scalability. Fixes such as "sharding" and data-link layers are being attempted to improve the situation.[9]

A comparative analysis of three major blockchain systems, namely Ethereum, Parity, and Hyperledger[10] showed that current blockchains are not well suited for large scale data processing workloads due to several bottlenecks and design trade-offs at different layers of the software stack.

Q.11 - How can we compare proven RDBMS-based solutions to a new blockchain solution which needs an additional database? Struggling to find use cases to justify blockchain.

Blockchain and relational databases are both useful tools for storing information. However, each technology excels differently.

Blockchain provides a robust, fault-tolerant way to store critical data whereas relational databases are superior when it comes to performance. Today, it appears unlikely that relational databases will be as robust as the massively parallel blockchain and that blockchain will provide the performance of relational databases. In some areas neither technology has a clear advantage. For example, it is not clear that disintermediation can provide the expected gains, once the costs to support blockchain are factored in. On the other hand, stored procedures from the world of relational databases could serve as smart contracts.

We should consider the suitability of one technology relative to the other based on the application of interest. If use cases that justify blockchain application are difficult to identify, one should put down a list of uses cases of strategic interest, where relational databases are falling short despite creative adoptions. From that list, see if some members could be considered as pilot projects.

Don't forget to register for CIMdata's next webinar on Blockchain and PLM, and I hope you will find the resources in the footnotes useful in your quest for more information on Blockchain and PLM.

Best wishes,

Venki



[3] Why Blockchain Will Be a Game Changer for the Food and Beverage Industry, SpecPage Whitepaper, https://www.specpage.com/lp/free-e-book-blockchain/
[5] LINK3D brings blockchain technology to Additive Manufacturing, Metal AM, http://www.metal-am.com/link3d-brings-blockchain-technology-to-additive-manufacturing/
[6] A Strategist’s Guide to Blockchain, Strategy + Business, https://www.strategy-business.com/article/A-Strategists-Guide-to-Blockchain?gko=0d586
[8] Landscaping IIoT Platforms—Vendor Clusters and Growth Prospects, Frost & Sullivan 2018, https://go.frost.com/NA_PR_JBrinkley_MD6B_Dec17?utm_source=frost&utm_campaign=cc-na-jb-pr-md6b-3jan18
[10] BLOCKBENCH: A Framework for Analyzing Private Blockchains, https://arxiv.org/pdf/1703.04057.pdf

 

Venki Agaram

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