FRAMINGHAM (03/02/2000) - SAP AG last month announced the release of an expanded version of an application that lets manufacturers collect and manage databases of information about their products.
SAP joins other vendors in reinventing product data management (PDM) applications - once confined to engineering departments - as Web-based systems.
They can now be used to track and update products from the development stage through manufacturing and use by customers.
For example, SAP's new Product Lifecycle Management software includes links to its business planning and product configuration applications, plus a set of Web-based tools that can be used to collaborate with customers, suppliers and contractors on product designs and engineering changes.
Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (Saudi Aramco) is one of the first to work with the new software. It plans to turn on the beefed-up PDM applications late next year as part of a wider rollout of SAP's R/3 enterprise resource planning system, said Guy Pengelly, lead designer on the logistics piece of the project.
The new product should make it easier to gather data about the equipment used in the company's refineries, Pengelly said. Currently, manufacturers send in floppy disks with information that's vital to keeping the refineries running.
With the new PDM software, manufacturers will enter data directly through a Saudi Aramco Web site, he said.
Access, Security Issues
But business challenges remain. Pengelly said manufacturers are sometimes reluctant to provide all the information Saudi Aramco wants because they fear the company will buy parts directly from their subcontractors. Web-based collaboration "is a great idea, but you have to place a reality check on it, because in some sense we're competing entities," he said.
Schindler Management Ltd., a Switzerland-based maker of elevators and escalators that already uses an earlier release of SAP's PDM software, faces similar issues in planning for an upgrade to the new version that's slated for next year.
Giving suppliers unlimited access to data "is a little bit dangerous," said Edwin Ming, a senior PDM engineer at Schindler. The company still needs to work with external users to determine what kind of data they should see and how the information can be safeguarded, Ming said.
But the new software should provide benefits internally, he added. SAP's Web support will free Schindler from having to maintain a custom browser-based user interface it developed when the PDM software was installed in late 1998.
The expanded application is being beta-tested now and should be ready for shipment in May, SAP said.
Bringing Data Back Alive
As companies recognize that the record of a customer's last call can be worth its weight in gold, data recovery has become a hot issue for information technology professionals. According to one study conducted last year, U.S. companies spent $11.8 billion to recover data during 1998. New technologies can help, but they need to be combined with serious contingency planning.