Secure DevOps for PLM

Driving to victory with older tanks and slightly obsolete PLM

My cousin served as a tank driver in the Israeli army about 20 years ago. Not that he was too excited about it, as he rather enjoyed slacking around, dating girls and playing the guitar. Instead, he found himself (and three other teenagers) locked in what felt like a mobile steel coffin, while complete strangers were regularly trying to hurt him for reasons beyond his understanding.

He went to war because of tradition and became a hero by accident. One day in late May 2000 he woke up to the news that the Israel-allied South Lebanon Army had collapsed overnight, and Israel began an urgent withdrawal of all its troops from South Lebanon. Hezbollah was following on their heels, trying to inflict maximum possible damage by all possible means, including by using the freshly captured equipment.

That was how my cousin’s crew encountered an enemy T-55 tank and accompanying RPG-carrying infantry. My cousin’s tank successfully maneuvered to take out the enemy’s machine first, and then rushed through the hail of projectiles to dispatch the infantry with its caterpillars (this is not a joke, you poor safe space dwellers).

He told me he never really hated Hezbollah, though he didn’t like them either. But he absolutely and unconditionally despised his own tank. You see, he was driving an M-60, made in the USA in 1970s. Pieces of the tank were simply falling off under their own weight, which required constant repairs. It also lacked modern crew-friendly features like good ventilation. Even now, 20 years later, he still cannot forget that smell.

All things being equal, my cousin would have preferred to drive a Merkava tank, and the newer the better. Unfortunately for him, Israel’s high command considered continued employment of hundreds of M-60s economically and militarily justified at the time. With its powerful gun, reinforced armor, reliable engine, and upgraded with modern optics and electronics, the tank still remained quite competitive on the battlefield.

Which brings me to large SMARTEAM customers who are not migrating anywhere for the time being. These are truly enterprise implementations, usually with Multi-site deployment across several countries or even continents. These companies can certainly afford new generation PLM products. However, they have so much business logic associated with existing SMARTEAM based processes that they either need to remap and recreate these processes in a new platform or completely reinvent the entire landscape using a new platform’s paradigms. This might become rather expensive even for them, and they are not ready to pay that price yet. They know they will have to migrate to a modern system one day (just like Israel to Merkava), but they want to delay it for as long as possible. To the extent their end-users remain content, this may actually be a legitimate and competitive money-saving strategy.

Still, two major questions loom for these companies: which SMARTEAM modules will start falling apart soon, and what new shiny gadgets do they need to attach to keep their old system effective for as long as possible?

The main issues related to the crumbling problem are the SMARTEAM Editor clashing with Windows upgrades, malfunctions in CAD integrations, and Multi-site compatibility with newer Oracle releases:

  • SMARTEAM Editor users may experience strange UI effects with newer versions of Windows. Some of them may be handled by inexpensive local hacks (like OS-level window handle intercepts), while others will require Dassault Systemes hotfixes.
  • I cannot speak about all SMARTEAM CAD integrations, but I believe CATIA V5 updates will continue be stable enough with SMARTEAM, mostly because both of these products fall into the same “strategically obsolete” category with no major changes expected.
  • Multi-site users may be coming between a rock and a hard place if they want to use the latest release of SMARTEAM and the latest release of Oracle at the same time. Oracle 19 has several Advanced Replication features disabled, while the present porting of Multi-site on top of Oracle Golden Gate is only mildly successful.

Gadget-wise, the way forward may be to:

  • Roll out a STEP-based data exchange mechanism, both internally and with suppliers, to get an early start on the digital thread paradigm. This proactive approach can dramatically minimize time and cost associated with eventually jumping to a future CAD system. In parallel to that, deploying lightweight CAD viewers (commercial or custom WebGL-based) could use data from the same pipeline that creates the STEP files.
  • Maintaining SMARTEAM Windows installs is not cheap; SMARTEAM’s outdated Windows UI/UX is not that intuitive, and it comes with a long learning curve. Developing purpose-built Web apps to replace basic SMARTEAM functionality would provide many efficiencies for new users and streamline processes for existing users, plus significantly reduce deployment and maintenance costs. Technology wise, we are speaking about vue.js – in combination with electron.js if dealing with local files becomes a priority.
  • Implement an Enterprise Service Bus to connect various pieces of the engineering and manufacturing landscapes using a single data exchange standard instead of custom one-to-one bridges. This step would make any future PLM implementation far easier.
  • Enterprise Search is a major force multiplier, no matter what PLM the company uses. An ElasticSearch open-source or commercial tool like Exalead will go long way to make the system more productive. It may even make sense to connect the enterprise search engine directly to SMARTEAM, or via some kind of data warehouse type of system to make it more SMARTEAM-independent.

Walking that walk requires deep understanding of SMARTEAM and modern technologies for development and for subsequent support the resulting old-new system.

As our satisfied customers can attest, we at Senticore can “do it all” while following methodology that would not require subsequent “call backs” by our clients; or we can help to guide the client’s strategy and tactics if they prefer to use their own resources in order to be more self-reliant in the future. This includes system architecture, best practices and choice of technologies.

Back to the tanks story, one of the key reasons for Israel’s military successes during pre-Merkava times, particularly in 1967 and 1973, were all kinds of small features installed on top of their mostly foreign-sourced vehicles combined with great training of their forces. This helped IDF to win against opponents who often possessed much more modern tanks.

So, dear enterprise PLM tank drivers, if you must, keep your beloved SMARTEAM for the time being. Do as described above, and you can still crush your targets and ignore elitist sneers. The lord of hosts is with you.