Arena Adds Request Management to PLM Solution

New module aims to speed product improvements by offering centralized, online management of change requests

New module aims to speed product improvements by offering centralized, online management of change requests

Mountain View, CA  November 17, 2003  Product lifecycle management specialist Arena Solutions today rolled out expanded functionality in its flagship PLM offering, introducing a new module designed to help manufacturers better manage engineering change requests (ECRs) and other product feedback.

The new Request Management is designed to let original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) capture suggestions and identify and address product issues  from problems with existing products to opportunities for new product enhancements  by managing engineering change requests (ECRs) and other product feedback in the same centralized, online PLM environment as engineering change orders (ECOs) and other product data.

Arena said that this new functionality is intended to improve communications between engineering, manufacturing, marketing, sales and customers, and that it can help OEMs improve products faster, more easily and with fewer mistakes than was possible previously.

"Request Management in Arena PLM gives OEMs a powerful new tool to capture and assess ideas or issues throughout a product's lifecycle, then direct the engineering team to act on them," explained Michael Topolovac, CEO at Arena. "It helps companies identify and track product issues from the very moment they're recognized, during what I call the 'Houston, we have a problem' stage, when people realize there's an issue but don't know what to do about it. With Request Management, OEMs can take a vague, undefined problem that involves a large number of people and get to a specific solution involving a much smaller number of people."

The Request Management module expands the Arena PLM change management functionality to manage large numbers of product "change requests." These requests include feedback from customers, suppliers, salespeople, shop floor workers and others who first identify such issues as product quality, manufacturability or new features.

This data can be highly valuable to the OEM, but such information can be very hard to capture because it is unstructured and often communicated informally outside a manufacturer's PLM tool. Although some of this data may eventually become formal ECOs, more often it exists only as transient "tribal" knowledge that is inaccessible to the engineering team, the group ultimately responsible for product management.

To help OEMs take advantage of this unstructured data and speed the resolution of product issues, the Request Management module provides a central repository to capture and track change requests from different sources. Using the module's automated and configurable workflows and business processes, OEMs can filter requests, narrow the issues and people involved, and ultimately provide the engineering team with the information they need to address each issue.

"Product problems are often amorphous at the start, [and] anyone can find them  people on the shop floor, suppliers and partners, or customers," said John Jacobson, founder and president of Beyond-the-Box, an outsourced operations service provider to Topspin Communications and other Silicon Valley startups. "The question is: how do you collect all this information from disparate sources and assimilate it into a coherent closed loop corrective action process? The Arena Request Management module addresses this challenge."

Arena said that the Request Management module makes it easier for OEMs to capture, manage and communicate change requests to the engineering team by offering such features as:

  • Request evaluation and resolution workflow  A configurable workflow for Request Management allows users to create change requests and associate them with specific assemblies, components or documents. A predefined request evaluation group, which is notified when a request is submitted, may raise, discuss and close issues associated with the request and then make recommendations for how to resolve the request. Once evaluation is complete, request administrators can review and promote, close or defer submitted requests.

  • Controlled supplier participation  The Request Management module is integrated with the Arena PLM access control model, and companies may offer selected suppliers the ability to submit change requests for evaluation by the OEM. These suppliers may review summary and status information for the requests that they have submitted, but they are not exposed to the OEM's internal discussions about their requests.

  • Full traceability for ISO 9000 and FDA purposes  By providing a centralized database of all product-related requests with integration to the Arena Product Definition, Change Management and File Management modules, the Request Management module permits OEMs to demonstrate that every product request has been properly evaluated and resolved, a critical capability for companies that are subject to strict quality requirements, Arena said.
These features are accomplished through the introduction of a "Requests World" in Arena PLM, where change requests may be created, searched and managed. Employees, partners and suppliers may create and submit new change requests, which are reviewed by assigned evaluator groups (and any additional participants) and overseen by request administrators.

An "Evaluation View" provides a place for users to raise (and respond to) issues related to a request and to make recommendations for how it should be handled. A "Recent Activity View" shows user activity on a change request. And the integration with the Arena Change Management module allows "promoted" change requests to be associated with formal ECOs.

Reporting capabilities in the module provide access to metrics on requests, giving product managers and others real-time visibility into the resolution of problems or the enhancement of products to meet customer needs.

"We see the Request Management module as an incredibly valuable tool for savings us time and money in product development," said Jacobson.

Sherry Evans, product development support manager with Radio Systems Corp., suggested that the new capabilities could help her company save both time and money in product development. "The module not only lets us track all product and technical document change requests in a single environment," Evans said, "but lets us measure each step in the change management process, develop reports that provide executive management visibility into product lifecycles, and optimize our business processes to develop better products."

Request Management is currently available to Arena PLM users as an optional module. Arena PLM is a subscription-based, hosted system that does not require the installation of software on the users side beyond a browser.

Arena charges a per-user annual solution fee for its base application, and when the company introduces a new module or "world," user companies pay a one-time fee  $10,000 in this instance  to give all its users access to the new functionality.