Most manufacturers already know what they need to share with suppliers and customers, they just don’t know how, or perhaps better said, don’t know the best way to share that data. That data is probably drawings, or perhaps a rendition of a drawing, product information, product structure or BOM information, etc. If you have implemented a PLM system, it is likely that this data, or a large part of it, is already stored in that system.
When it comes to sharing critical product information with suppliers and customers, most companies admit they would like to share more but are afraid of losing control of precious intellectual property. To be fair, most would also agree that the technology is available to provide this level of data sharing but hasn’t been implemented.
Most PLM systems today provide a web-based interface (thin-client) that enables access to the company’s product data from anywhere. Furthermore, these systems can provide advanced security, such as project-based security, that can limit user access to only data they are authorized to access within projects for which they are authorized. This type of access would be real-time access to the latest data, but only access to a single data source.
SharePoint is becoming a very popular portal that enables a single entry point to product information. Because of its popularity, other data management systems are starting to provide API access or methodologies to enable SharePoint integration. Using SharePoint as a portal, several data sources can be combined in the background and their accumulated data (data from PDM and ERP, for instance) can be presented to the user. The background access of the data in this scenario could be real time, batched from an offline database, etc. and could also be sanitized on the query or the retrieval, depending what was requested or found.
Companies are also exploring Digital Rights Management (DRM) strategies, whereby a neutral file, say a PDF file, is secured by either an internal security mechanism that limits printing or copying of the file, to date stamps that set an end date for a file, after which point the file is rendered useless. DRM can be extended to a listening server that processes requests for file access based on login and/or another piece of information, such as a randomly generated code or biometrics such as a fingerprint. Although this data is disconnected from the “live” business system, it is portable and easy to share.