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Poka-Yoke Your PLM Application

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

A couple of months back I was in a meeting with a group of client business process leaders when the topic of idiot proofing their new PLM system came up. Pretty interesting discussion ensued for some time which led me to think, read and eventually write about the topic. Idiot proofing and more formally fool-proofing essentially means to build products which can be used or operated with very little risk of breakage or failure, by predicting all possible ways that an end-user could misuse it, and designing the product to make such misuse unworkable, or to at least diminish the negative consequences. Euphemisms like Hardening, Defensive Programming, Bullet Proofing, Fault Tolerant, Gold-Plating, Human Proofing, Worst Case Scenario Proofing, Robustification also exists which essentially show the equivalent.

A related Japanese term used in the manufacturing industry is “Poka-Yoke” (poka joke) from the words “poka” (which means inadvertent mistake) and from “yoke” (which means to prevent) means “fail-safing” or “mistake-proofing”. “A poka-yoke is any mechanism in a lean manufacturing process that helps an equipment operator avoid (yokeru) mistakes (poka). Its purpose is to eliminate product defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur. The concept was formalised, and the term adopted, by Shigeo Shingo as part of the Toyota Production System or Lean Manufacturing.” []. Mistakes are inevitable; people cannot be expected to concentrate on all the time, or always to understand fully the directives they are given. On the other hand, defects result from allowing a mistake to reach the end-user, and are entirely avoidable. The goal of Poka yoke is re-designing/engineering the process so that mistakes can be prevented or immediately detected and corrected.

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Why would you want to poka-yoke your PLM application?

So you have bought a commercial PLM application which has been reasonably well-developed and well-tested and you have it implemented in your company. Why would you then want to poka-yoke (mistake-proof) your PLM application (apart from regular testing that happens before it goes live)? Two reasons:

  1. Reduce support calls after system goes live: PLM administration is costly because it needs a highly trained/experienced person to administer the installation and troubleshoot issues – You do not want to burden the administrator with frivolous snags because the end users are breaking stuff all the time and need help.
  2. Garbage In – Garbage Out The quality of the data in the PLM systems is as dependent on what goes in. As the book Universal Principles of Design says: “The garbage-in metaphor refers to one of two kinds of input problems: problems of type and problems of quality. Problems of type occur when the input provided is different from the input expected. Problems of quality occur when the input received incorrect information in the correct type.

Poka-Yoke in Software Development vs. Poka-Yoke in Enterprise Software Implementation

Software developers like Harry Robinson in “Using Poka-Yoke Techniques for Early Defect Detection” and Gojko Adzic in “The Poka-Yoke principle and how to write better software” and Aaron Swartz in The Pokayoke Guide to Developing Software have advocated the use of poka-yoke in software development. However enterprise software deployment/implementation is different – there are now and then way too many users and a plethora of permutations/combinations which they can (or would) use/misuse the software – such use cases are sometimes hard to predict upfront (while developing the software) and hence the need to implement poka-yoke devices during the real life implementation. I cannot comment about users of other enterprise applications, but PLM users often work in situations necessitating substantial technical skills, where training/adoption or employee turnover cost is high and where interruptions and distractions are all too common. Such settings result in human error (whether due to Distraction, Tiredness, Confusion, De-motivation, Lack of Practice/Training, Uncertainty, Lack of standardization, Willful (ignoring rules or procedure), Inadvertent or sloppiness etc. is a different issue altogether) which might as an end result lead to GIGO and more support calls.

Poka Yoke Before or After Implementation?

Mistake proofing can be done upfront only till the point where it is known what mistakes might be made (which can happen only after a thorough system testing). However to add a good poka-yoke solution for a problem, the problem needs to be defined first (along with things like when where and (more…)

Industrial Espionage and PLM Security

Saturday, September 15th, 2012


A few days back there was this article in Reuters “Samsung’s advanced TVs go missing en route to Berlin” – big deal? Well presumably so – because it’s being suspected as a case of industrial espionage – “… it may have been a theft aimed at stealing the advanced TV technology, whose loss could cost the firm billions of dollars.” Just to set the background these sets have gone missing while on their way to the IFA consumer electronics trade show which opened to the public on Aug. 31 (and ran till Sept. 5) in Berlin. Samsung’s advanced OLED TV’s that were being debuted in this show were touted as the successor to LCD TV’s with a rumored price tag of $10,000 for the 55-inch model.

Investopedia explains “Industrial Espionage” as “…describes covert activities, such as the theft of trade secrets, bribery, blackmail and technological surveillance. Industrial espionage is most commonly associated with technology-heavy industries, particularly the computer and auto sectors, in which a significant amount of money is spent on research and development (R&D).”  The Independent in its recent article “The art of industrial espionage” puts this succinctly as “…in a world where the biggest corporations easily outstrip the GDPs of small nations, corporate intelligence is almost as grand a game as its government-run counterpart”. In the US the situation is so bad that the FBI has stepped in with a new campaign that targets corporate espionage. The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive in its October 2011 report to the US Congress on Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage, 2009-2011 reveals some startling figures:

  • Estimates on the losses (to the US economy) from economic espionage range so widely as to be meaningless—from $2 billion to $400 billion or more a year—reflecting the scarcity of data and the variety of methods used to calculate losses.
  • Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) estimates that German companies lose $28 billion-$71 billion and 30,000-70,000 jobs per year from foreign economic espionage.
  • South Korea says that the costs from foreign economic espionage in 2008 were $82 billion, up from $26 billion in 2004.

And one of the most worrisome trends is the Chinese Boom in Corporate Espionage. Apparently as per this ZDNet article which cites Richard Clarke, a former cybersecurity and cyberterrorism advisor for the White House, China has hacked every major US Company!

Some more data

The 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report by the Verizon RISK Team (with cooperation from the Australian Federal Police, Dutch National High Tech Crime Unit, Irish Reporting and Information Security Service, Police Central e-Crime Unit, and United States Secret Service) highlight some interesting details on this topic:



So what’s the point?

The reason I choose to highlight security issue in this article was because many PLM champions espouse of just “good enough” security for the PLM infrastructure or the application for that matter and may IT managers don’t seem to be too much bothered by that fact, which I think is not right. A PLM system has the information of the entire lifecycle of a product from its conception, through design and manufacture (and to probably service and disposal) – you don’t want that data stolen away like it happened for American Superconductor Corp. or Renault. And if you think it cannot happen anywhere near home read about the ACAD/Medre.A worm that steals AutoCAD Designs and sends to China.

PLM Security?

When it involves PLM security, there are a number of things to consider. You might want to consider securing the data (by implementing role based access), securing the application as a whole, securing the database and even securing the data center. Last year I had published a detailed post on various ways to affect this outcome – you can read it here. Essentially several security standards exists (like PCI SSC Data Security Standards and ISO/IEC 27001:2005) and companies should work towards security their “bread and butter”.


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