Context, Traceability, and Security: The Value of Visual Collaboration for PLM Processes

Context, Traceability, and Security: The Value of Visual Collaboration for PLM Processes

As we all adapt to working together from a distance, technologies for remote collaboration seem to have proliferated. Each one has a unique purpose, appropriate to the context in which you’re using it: online education, family group chats, networking within your industry, coordinating with your colleagues, or formally presenting on a topic – just to name a few.

But when it comes to the work of product development, the question of finding the right collaboration technology relies on so much more than context. Questions to consider: Can you find a record of that collaboration again later, when you need it? This points to the need for traceability. And, who is able to find it: only those who should be able to access that information, or other parties who shouldn’t be privy to your team’s sensitive product data? This, of course, points to the need for security.

Aras Innovator provides all three—context, security, and traceability—with Visual Collaboration: a discussion tool in context with PLM data and processes that provides secure access and traceability for every conversation in the digital thread of product information. See it in action here:  



Balancing Context with Choice

Where do you prefer to find updates from your digital collaboration activities? Everyone’s answer is a little different. Do in-app notifications distract you from other work, or do they keep you up-to-date with urgent matters you need to prioritize? Would you prefer to visit one source – emails, say – to find out about updates when you’re ready for them, or does every application have its context where you’d prefer to think about the work being done there?

Understanding your urgent tasks without being distracted from the ones in-progress is a tough balance to strike with so many digital collaboration tools. In Aras Innovator, find the latest comments, replies, and “@mentions” in context with the product information they relate to–not living outside PLM in yet another online collaboration tool you need to check constantly throughout the day lest you miss critical information.

Alternately, visit your “My Discussions” forum in Aras Innovator when you want a single view across all of the notifications and responses related to your work—and, in the same user experience, “follow” items you’d like to track for the changes and discussions taking place against them. You can even set up forums for discussions with colleagues against any topic without needing relate it to an item. Finally, set up notifications that you can choose to receive in the system, via email, or via regular email digests.


Offering Traceability for All Users

While CAD models offer incredibly rich visual data for users with licenses and training, not every collaborator can access them—nor should they. But to ensure that team members with different roles and skill sets can still benefit from a visual experience of the product’s information, Aras Innovator offers rich 3D visualization and mark-up using just your browser: no need for additional CAD licenses or extensive training.

Every part, along with its related documents and other item types, can independently store discussion thread-style comments and replies against them. In Aras Innovator, parent items inherit discussions from their related children, ensuring collaborators don’t miss any relevant information. And, future generations of designs preserve comments and visual markups from past generations in their threads, as well. All this traceability, in context with the digital thread of your product’s information, creates a complete digital record of not only the final designs but also of all the decisions along the way that led to them, including the informal interactions, tribal knowledge, conversations and negotiations that help a product evolve to its final state.

After all, product development is more than just formal change processes: it includes a host of interactions among experts, business leaders, and even external collaborators. Capturing these exchanges, including reasoning and decision-making processes, in a full digital record of the product’s evolution can add significant value, in traceability and in the preservation and communication of lessons learned, over keeping these records in external collaboration tools with no connection to related decisions and data managed in PLM.


Ensuring Security Comes First

When it comes to collaboration during product development, context, traceability, and security really go hand-in-hand. The tool you choose for collaboration should honor security protocols from the highest levels of your organization on down to the individual permissions required to access and contribute to critical product information. Its security protocols should reflect the valuable IP being discussed during online conversations, and it should especially safeguard customer data and other sensitive information vital to the way your business operates.

In Visual Collaboration in Aras Innovator, only users with permissions to view and edit items can access and contribute to the discussion threads and conversations related to them. And while comments are inherited among related parts, child to parent, and from past to future generations, users without permissions to access these related parts won’t be able to see their inherited comments. What’s more, Visual Collaboration can be made accessible to third-party collaborators, opening up valuable communication channels with partners and suppliers without compromising security. For example, comments can be set to default only to internal users (with permissions, of course), with another step required by the commenter to consciously choose to include external collaborators with permissions.

And while our examples here and in the video above have all focused on user-generated comments, automated messages can be generated by the system itself, to record each individual change and update made to an item. What changed, who made the change, and when (date, time) can become part of the recorded history stored in the discussion panel and My Discussions area, helping companies track every change in a more granular way—often required for security and audit purposes—if they need to.


To Learn More: To see a complete demonstration of Visual Collaboration in Aras Innovator, check out the full-length Demo Series video, Collaboration with Context and Traceability: Beyond the Four Walls of Industry. And for administrators seeking to learn more about setting up and leveraging Visual Collaboration across their teams, check out our blog, The Basics of Visual Collaboration.