The New Generation of Engineers are Cloud-native. Shouldn’t your PDM be?

Old methods of sharing data are foreign to new engineers.  They are cloud native.  While file sharing applications like Dropbox provide a great tool for sharing personal and even some business files, they lack the ability to handle the complex file interactions of CAD data and business processes. For that, users require the functionality built into a PDM system, a cloud-based PDM system.

I love the Youtube series by TheFineBros on “Kids React to…” More specifically, I like the videos where kids react to old technology like an old floppy drive computer. Quoting one child, she expects to find, “apps, games, websites” on a computer. 

Ask a young person today what the image to the right is and they won’t have an answer. Show them one of a 3 ½ inch floppy and they’ll answer that it’s the save icon, but they don’t know why it’s the save icon. My point is that the new generation of engineers is cloud-native. Hard drives, floppy drives, and other physical storage media are foreign to them. They live in the cloud.  Shouldn’t your PDM?

The BYOD Conundrum

Mobility is productivity – a mantra chimed throughout the IT industry. Engineers are no longer tethered to their desks or desktops to access information. From laptops, to tablets, to smart phones, engineers are taking their data with them wherever they go. CAD developers have supported this trend with tablet friendly applications and viewers. It’s great that we have an app to view CAD data, but how is the CAD data accessed? It certainly isn’t stored on the tablet or smart phone. And rarely is the device joined to the network domain. The only place left is the cloud.

Yet, businesses insist on keeping their data local. Rather than empower their employees to get the data when they need it, where they need it, they lock the data behind firewalls and prevent employees from being productive unless tethered to a desk. 

I’m not judging the value of that practice because there are extenuating business cases where that type of work environment is required.  But, I will criticize that type of thinking when the only reasons behind it are emotional attachment and resistance to change. This article by Forbes dated May 2014 highlights some of the common issues and misconceptions of storing sensitive data on the cloud based on a study by Thales eSecurity. Subsequent articles written by Joe McKendrick shows that cloud adoption rates have increased dramatically since the surveys started in 2011, and projections foretell an even greater adoption over the next two years.

If you are not in the cloud, why not?

If you are in the cloud, is it the right one?

Not All Clouds are Equal

Personal file sharing applications like Dropbox, Google Drive, and One Drive have been around for a while.  Many individuals, especially young engineers, are comfortable storing their personal information online.  But those same data cloud applications lack the flexibility and control required by businesses. 

Recently, each of the above named services have expanded their offerings by tailoring them to the business customer: Dropbox for Business, Google Drive for Business (tied nicely with Google Apps for Business), and Microsoft’s Office 365 which has always been business oriented. Using Dropbox for Business as an example, some of the business-level features include:

  • Version history and deletion recovery,
  • 256-bit AES encryption,
  • Remote wipe,
  • Centralized administration with easy on-boarding and off-boarding,
  • And single sign on (SSO) with Active Directory.

The business-level features listed are only a small sample of what’s available. Though necessary, these features are not sufficient for CAD file management. Additional functionality is required beyond the expectations of a typical file-sharing user and the focus of file-sharing applications. 

Additionally, the above list of providers is not exhaustive. Another example is Bitcasa. Bitcasa is very similar, but got its start more as an off-site (aka the cloud) backup tool.  They eventually added the ability to share with other Bitcasa users and non-users.  The functionality you get with a backup-turned-file-sharing-application like Bitcasa can be significantly different than what you get from a personal-turned-business file sharing application. And following the same logic, the functionality you get from a pure business-oriented application is different than a backup or personal application.

Are you forcing a backup utility to share files?

Are you forcing your business to run on personal-grade applications?

Cloud-based PDM for Business

Product Data Management (PDM) is a mouthful. PDM is a complex enterprise level software application with strict rules and a heavy overhead. Plus, PDM requires dedicated servers and hardware, client installations, and specialized backup utilities than can synchronize the back-end database with the front-end web service. Mention PDM to just about anyone familiar with the acronym and they can recollect any number of failed implementations and miserable user experiences. 

Yet, businesses continue to adopt PDM because they realize that it is a basic necessity in running an efficient enterprise. Only PDM offers the tools necessary to perform where-used reports, impact analysis, change tracking, content viewing, file control, and other document management functions.  What if there was a way to get the benefits of PDM without the hassle of internal implementation?  Cloud-based PDM offer the promise of CAD management without the heavy implementation.

Have you ever experienced a PDM implementation nightmare?

Have you ever suffered through a miserable user experience?

File Sharing vs PDM for CAD and Business Data

CAD users are well aware of the difficulties in managing file linkages using a file system. One cut-n-paste or file rename and the assembly file can no longer successfully resolve its constituent parts. Therefore, revisions must be managed through workarounds to fix assembly links while moving and renaming files to signify revision history. It’s a complex ballet with significant added cost, so much so that many users don’t bother and would rather fix the errors as they’re discovered at a later date.  In other words, their data has no integrity and therefore can’t be trusted.

In terms of CAD, using a file sharing application does little more than move your data from local storage to the cloud. The same issues and problems exist in a file sharing environment as on a local network.  So what business benefit is there to cloud-based file sharing applications? For many product development teams, a good solution is to use a low maintenance, easy-to-implement PDM system; a PDM system that is designed with CAD data and business objects in mind.

A cloud-based PDM system, especially one that is integrated with your main design software, handles file versioning and revisioning better than a file sharing application. File links and dependencies remain intact. Business objects, like reports, spreadsheets, forms, and records can be associated with design data providing a complete where-used and where-reference report.  A complete impact analysis can be performed during the change process by evaluating referenced files.  File contents can be viewed through a browser so no additional software needs to be installed or trained.  And, discussions can occur within the PDM system, so any comments on a file are attached to the item, capturing it for future reference and eliminating tribal knowledge.


While file sharing applications like Dropbox provide a great tool for sharing personal and even some business files, they lack the ability to handle the complex file interactions of CAD data and business processes. For that, users require the functionality built into a PDM system. But, implementing PDM is difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

Many product development teams are choosing to eliminate the hassle with PDM implementation by subscribing to a cloud-based PDM system like GrabCAD Workbench. 

Try it for free at

Additional information comparing Workbench to Dropbox.

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GrabCAD has paid a fee to to promote their cloud-based PDM solution. They have not had editorial input to this post.  – Scott Wertel