Building PLM After Hackers Take Your Data Hostage
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on February 28, 2019 |

Imagine walking into the office one day and finding your project has suddenly disappeared.  As you attempt to locate the file, your anxiety increases and questions frantically fly through your mind.  Was it saved correctly, was it deleted? Now imagine that not just this project disappeared, but so have all of the projects the company has been working on for months. For Boa Technology, this scenario was no imagining. The entire company’s data for third-party manufacturing was gone. Hijacked in the middle of the night and held for ransom. 

“We all came to work one day and found that another piece of software that we used to capture collaboration between our Boa engineering division and our manufacturers in China had been hacked,” recalled David Clifton, manager of Document Control for Boa. “We had received a message overnight saying that our data was locked up and was being held for Bitcoin ransom.”

Though the day kicked off as a disaster, Clifton and his team spun the incident into an opportunity to completely rethink the way the company performed product lifecycle management (PLM). Ultimately, Boa redesigned its PLM into what could be considered a groundbreaking approach to managing its production operation, introducing features previously unheard of in other PLM systems.  

About Boa

Boa Technology is the inventor and supplier of the Boa System, a closure device installed primarily on athletic footwear—from snowboarding to golf and hiking—as well as some medical devices and safety shoes. Launched from a garage in Colorado, the company now has 45 million systems installed worldwide.

Here the Boa system included on a pair of Adidas trail running shoes. (Image courtesy of Boa Technology.)
Here the Boa system included on a pair of Adidas trail running shoes. (Image courtesy of Boa Technology.)

With increasing size and complexity, Boa determined three years ago that growth would no longer be sustainable without replacing its ad-hoc product management of emails, spreadsheets and other software tools with an official IT system. The company first brought on a PLM platform commonly found in the manufacturing world, capable of controlling bill of materials (BOM), managing parts and assemblies with revision control, and handling engineering change orders. 

Then, the cyberattack happened. 

“It was a panic to a degree because all of that history, all of that collaboration was important to us,” Clifton said. “But it wasn’t something that we couldn’t live without.”

As Boa was working to understand the extent of the damage, it was clear that its collaboration software was going to be unavailable for a period of time, possibly forever. This presented the opportunity to build something in PLM as a solution. Boa liked the PLM solution so much the company never went back.

Building New PLM

Boa decided to use Fusion Lifecycle from Autodesk, in part because it was the most open of the PLM platforms on the market. “Unlike other systems, [Fusion Lifecycle] does allow you to highly customize the software by going in the back and doing some JavaScripting. We’re pretty much unlimited in what types of data we can control with it,” Clifton said. 

Autodesk’s Fusion Lifecycle is a cloud-based PLM platform that allows users across departments and locations to collaborate and manage various aspects of design and production operations, including product data management for CAD design, as well as BOM management, supplier collaboration, new product introduction, engineering change management and quality management.

The morning of the hack, Boa created a new workspace in Fusion Lifecycle that would be totally isolated from other workspaces the company had created with the software for other purposes. The team created all of the possible fields it needed and designed the user interface. By the end of the day, they had thoroughly tested and gone live with the new workspace.

Change Requests and Change Orders are traceable within Fusion Lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
Change Requests and Change Orders are traceable within Fusion Lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

“It worked so well that we continue to use it to this day,” Clifton said. “Our IT department was able to break the hack on the other system, but we’ve been so enthralled with how the new system’s working that we’ve never gone back to it.”

Getting a JavaScript Assist

Though the platform is more open to user customization, Clifton was unfamiliar with JavaScript when he initially began building the collaboration workspace. What might seem like a difficult obstacle to some was overcome because, through its license agreement, Boa had access to a consulting firm.

Depending on the size and scope of a particular company, Autodesk will connect customers with a particular organization that can help them implement the software. In this case, Boa was given vouchers for time with Autodesk Platinum Partner, Advanced Solutions PLM. For Clifton, this was crucial to picking up the JavaScript knowledge necessary for building Fusion Lifecycle workspaces. 

Some JavaScript code for creating new workflows in Fusion Lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
Some JavaScript code for creating new workflows in Fusion Lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

“I had a lot of experience with PLM and I knew what I wanted it to do,” Clifton said. “If I had a question or reached a roadblock, I would transmit that information to Advanced Solutions PLM in the afternoon. We would have a call the next morning where they would answer my questions and set me back on the right path. We did that daily back and forth for probably the first month or two. Then, it slowly got to be less frequent. We’re at the point now where I maybe reach out once or twice a month if there’s some stumbling block I have a question about.” 

Because of this assistance, Clifton learned to reverse engineer some other JavaScript code he has encountered and incorporate it into the workstations designed for Boa. It is the wielding of JavaScript within Fusion Lifecycle thattrulygives the software its power, according to Clifton. 

“Fusion Lifecycle was designed to beas flexible as we need so that we could be reallyinnovative with it,” he explained. “Boa has been very successful with that. We have taken the software and done things with it that go far beyond your typical PLM functionality.” 

Boa has moved beyond the controlling of BOM, parts and change orders that comes standard with the package, as well as many other PLM platforms. The firm now uses the software to manage the molds that make its parts and even track the lifecycle of those molds, predicting when a mold is going to require maintenance or replacement. 

“Our parts have to match our brand partners’ shoe colors, for example. So, we use Fusion Lifecycle to we manage the color of our injected plastic and ensure that the colors match across the different types of plastics,” he said. “These are things that have really just been [game-changing] from an aspect of what can you do with PLM.”

Built-in Advantages

Outside of the high level of customizability that the tool offers, Clifton believes that the cloud-based nature of the software has helped Boa to solve some of the bugs associated with its previous system. 

A sample approval workflow within Fusion Lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
A sample approval workflow within Fusion Lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

For instance, Fusion Lifecycle offers a variety of license tiers. While Boa has its enterprise license—providing full read-and-write access with administrator control—there is also a lower-cost read-only Participation license and a free Third Party license. This last license has made it possible for Boa to collaborate with contract manufacturers in China and other locations, displaying only what Clifton makes accessible to them. 

“The data is going 4,000 miles halfway around the globe and it’s working really well,” Clifton said. “We were able to eliminate all of the other stand-alone data and incorporate it into Fusion Lifecycle. The collaboration is working. All of the daily production and shop counts on the molds are working just fine. All of this comes through the cloud and into Fusion Lifecycle.”

Building Out

Clifton said that, though the company has established its PLM system, he does continue to rely on Advanced Systems PLM—not just to use up the company’s vouchers before they expire, but to continueBoa’s expanding definition of the capabilitiesof PLM 

“As we developed our system and grew our knowledge, Advanced Solutions PLM was there to help steer us, to say, ‘That works, but here’s a better way to do it.’ There were days when I said, ‘We need the software to do [X, Y, andZ].’ And they would do it for us. It’s been a collaboration with Advanced Solutions PLM still ongoing to this day.” 

Now that JavaScripting is not a problem, thanks to Advanced Solutions PLM’s hands-on training, Boa has deployed the PLM platform across the business. Clifton said that Boa started with five or six workspaces, learning what the software could do before adding new capabilities.

“We would create that workspace, bring it online, test it, have a pilot, have user acceptance testing, and then go live with it. By then, we would have thought of another use for the spaceand have another workspace,” Clifton said. “In two years, we went from five workspaces in the beginning to 15 to 20 workspaces. Now we’re up to about 30 unique workspaces in this system. It’s a sprint. You start small, andyou grow the system with your knowledge as your knowledge grows.” 

New workstation capabilities Clifton is working on will include managing some of the company’s support documents so that Boa customers can receive the latest instructions on how to put Boa systems on their products. This documentation ensurescustomers will always have access to the latest revision of any instructionon how to install Boa systems. 

Clifton said the Boa is about to go live with five more new workspaces that, according to him, “break the mold of what PLM software system is set up to do.”

Advanced Solutions PLM has sponsored this post. They have had no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Michael Molitch-Hou

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