Open for business

Open for business

Those outside the engineering team must access critical design data for making sound business decisions.

By Ulrich Mahle

Mr. Mahle is vice president, product development, of CoCreate Software, Fort Collins, Colo.

XML Web services let applications share data and invoke capabilities from other applications without regard to how those applications were built, what operating system or platform they run on and what devices are used to access them.

CoCreate's Model Manager software manages data during highly iterative design processes, while XML Web services open the data up to downstream enterprise applications that manage manufacturing and resource planning in a product's lifecycle.


People and systems outside design teams need access to design data. Without it, companies can't effectively respond to fast-changing business conditions, so most product-lifecycle-management strategies are shifting away from typical homogeneous, single-vendor architecture to ones that unite engineering and business systems.

As this shift and integration occurs, companies are less willing than ever to struggle with proprietary system extensions and expensive point-to-point integrations. Instead, they leverage the power of XML Web services, along with CAD and datamanagement products that combine to provide control and management of data during product design, then seamlessly open to users of downstream enterprise systems for a truly interconnected company. The results are increased business value and lessexpensive implementation, integration and maintenance costs as compared with brittle, point-to-point integrations.

XML Web services technology lets systems exchange data in a common structural format and communicate securely with each other within and between company boundaries. The technology offers functionality and the use of services provided by other systems.

Data-management-product developers, such as CoCreate Software, are embracing Web services to provide system connectivity for integration with PDM or other systems in the PLM space through Web service interfaces at database levels. CoCreate says its products, such as Model Manager, can generate new opportunities for specialized users based on Microsoft's InfoPath and for enterprise-wide process and workflow orchestration with Microsoft's BizTalk server.

Model Manager, which includes Drawing Manager software, is an extension to CoCreate's OneSpace Designer Modeling and Drafting software for design engineers. Teamed with web services, Model Manager forms the building blocks for enterprise-system integration and lets companies create, read, compare, update and delete data.

Working with Model Manager, BizTalk provides efficient engineering change orders, notifications and any other types of approval processes. Combining electronic form-creation tools, such as InfoPath, with BizTalk delivers complete sets of electronic document interchange or specialized clients.

While such capability exists in various prior systems, BizTalk is reportedly one of the first that works via Web services, XML and a set of emerging international standards that describe business processes in an open standard format. This increases a company's options when using outside consultants to automate their engineering processes because consultants can focus on automating the process rather than spending time learning proprietary, closed PDM systems.

In fact, XML changes the entire cost structure of automating processes. Web services allow extensions without requiring the consultant to understand internal schemas of the interconnected systems, and XML lets systems use standard search, formatting and transformation tools, which lowers costs associated with learning multiple systems and tools.

Integration is paramount
When system needs exceed vendor capabilities, companies typically bridge gaps with complicated, timeconsuming and expensive point-topoint integrations. However, these patchworks grow, as does maintenance costs, especially when users try to update any of the involved software packages. But why do companies pay for and maintain such costly integrations? There are two reasons.

The first is that general data-management problems drive companies to adapt more than one system for specialized areas of work. Document management, enterprise-resource planning, supply-chain management, customerrelationship management and other systems all serve some special need. The downside is this generates integration demands for every new system added to the landscape. Each new system must leverage existing capabilities and complement the overall enterprise solution with respect to its dedicated purpose. So, as specific, best-in-class systems evolve and solve focused problem areas, single-vendor solutions are less realistic and system interoperability more paramount.

Mergers and acquisitions are the second reason companies endure costly integrations. Consolidation and globalization spawn heterogeneous system environments. Global projects are more the rule than an exception, and mergers and acquisitions leave companies with predominantly multiple systems, which calls for robust, standardized, cost-effective enterprise application integration. Classical, proprietary point-to-point integrations typically violate several aspects of these requirements because they are neither standardized nor cost-effective.

XML AND XML SERVICES

Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a universal, open standard technology. It allows applications to exchange information over an intranet or the Internet regardless of which systems, machines or applications are communicating.

An XML Web service is a small reusable application that communicates in XML language. These services let applications share data and invoke capabilities from other applications without regard to how those applications were built, what operating system or platform they run on, and what devices are used to access them.

According to experts, Web services are a catalyst for creating serviceoriented architectures where business functionalities take the form of modules, often referred to as services. With these services, companies can speed reaction time by shortening development schedules and quickly and reliably disseminating critical data to more applications and, in turn, to more users.

Application developers freely access a service instead of having to perform tight integration between applications or develop critical functionality on their own. Companies thus spend less time developing new data-access capabilities, and applications share information faster.

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