Technologies: An Innovation Engine

Getting teams to collaborate, sometimes on an ad hoc basis, across boundaries of function, geography and company is crucial to manufacturing success in today’s environment.

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Because Microsoft Corp. products have become almost de facto standards within the manufacturing community, it stands to reason that a product from the Redmond, Wash., technology provider will have significant impact.

Such is the case with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server. An integrated suite of server capabilities, it can help improve organizational effectiveness by providing comprehensive content management and enterprise search, accelerating shared business processes and facilitating information sharing across boundaries for better business insight. Additionally, this collaboration and content management server provides information technology (IT) professionals and developers with the platform and tools they need for server administration, application extensibility and interoperability.

Drew Gude, industry solutions director in the Microsoft’s High Tech Manufacturing Group, says, “SharePoint is our fastest growing product at just over $1 billion in sales last year. Key manufacturing and solution providers are using it in a lot of important platforms. Companies are taking product discussion and ideation to the supply chain. Manufacturing has become virtualized in many respects and many of our partners are designing it into their products.”

Siemens PLM, for example, the product lifecycle management (PLM) software arm of German-based Siemens AG, uses SharePoint in its Teamcenter product that allows product design and development professionals to collaborate in a secure environment. “SharePoint enables teams to rapidly create communities of interest around a topic. Information workers with SharePoint can create a team site with interactive documents through Active Directory. If you add Voice over Internet Protocol, you have a knowledge management hub,” adds Gude. “The site is searchable and indexable. It can be used in an extranet, so large engineering projects spanning multiple companies are possible.”

The Teamcenter example shows how SharePoint allows Siemens PLM customers to create community collaboration within a safe and secure environment—and not everyone must know how to use a PLM or computer aided design (CAD) system. Suppliers, allied partners and trusted customers can gather with the designers in a virtual environment in a way that facilitates concept studies, program reviews, design reviews and engineering change reviews. Virtual design reviews quickly resolve quality concerns, mitigate costs and preserve acquired knowledge.

Another example is cadence.com. Cadence Design Systems Inc. is a billion dollar company in the electronic semiconductor design market located in San Jose, Calif. Its Web site puts its design engineers in touch with customers who manufacture custom chips for use in electronic devices. It leverages the Web and SharePoint secure collaboration technology through a workflow engine to give each customer a secure collaboration site separate from every other customer. SharePoint technology let Cadence ramp up from 6,000 users to 40,000 users, while a connection to its customer relationship manager system allows the company to keep track of projects and customers.

Foster innovation

“A large number of partners use it to template workflow around innovation on specific projects. It’s simple and easy to use. No application developer or coder is required, or even a chief information officer for governance. A line-of-business leader can configure and get it up and running out of the box with the capability to create ‘mySite’ and a team collaboration page quickly. If you are a Facebook user, SharePoint is about the same,” says Gude.

Companies that adopt SharePoint find they have come to rely on more than one instance. Gude notes that the chief executive officer’s challenge is how to get everyone to participate in the conversations in order to make the company more innovative. “This is the area we’ve seen grow greatly,” says Gude. “Innovation and ideation lead the way, then portfolio and project management. It’s about people connecting to people with the assurance that the technology is secure and reliable.”

Gary Mintchell, gmintchell@automationworld.com, is Editor in Chief of Automation World.

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