One of the key advantages that fast moving companies get from Agile PLM is product record collaboration both with internal teams and external suppliers and contractors. Companies perform fast track product development while maintaining strategic partnerships with contractors to outsource rapid design and development of prototypes in order to get them in the customer’s hands as early as possible. Outside suppliers need to access and selectively update documents such as specifications, policies and procedures in the Agile PLM system.
The web Supplier Portal in Agile allows suppliers to log into Agile and access information assigned to them to take action. The Admin can choose the type of portal restriction for the supplier user by selecting the “Response Edit Mode” in the user preferences. The “Basic” selection will give a minimalist view with very restricted access to the information even if the user may have broad privileges. The two “Advanced” modes displays the more familiar Agile PLM user interface with restrictions based on the privilege allowances.
Before a supplier user can login, the supplier and user needs to be set up with the following broad steps:
Create a supplier as a subclass of the Supplier class with all required attributes updated.
Create a supplier user. Use the restricted roles and modify as per need to limit access.
Add the supplier user in the “Contact Users” tab of the supplier.
Once a user has been added to the supplier, removing the user and reverting it back to a general user can be a challenging. You must decide carefully which user is a supplier contact.
A typical scenario is releasing specifications for a supplier to build samples for you. For example, a schematic is released to a supplier tasked with creating a printed circuit board (PCB) design drawing. The Agile collaboration entails two primary issues, one is routing the schematic as requirements to the supplier and the other is collaboration interaction.
Although there are many approaches, one way is to issue a change order and make the supplier a reviewer on a workflow status to accept the schematic specifications. The workflow notifies the supplier via email. The supplier user would see the assignment in Workflow Routings on the supplier portal. The next status in the workflow is to upload a PCB drawing. When the supplier uploads the drawing (attaches it against an affected item document change order) the supplier can approve and be finished with it. The company’s engineer can also be a reviewer to accept the drawing. If there are issues with the drawing, the engineer can redline the drawing and push it back to the supplier status. Now, both can collaborate and leave a trace of timestamps on the back and forth that can be easily tracked by Analytics for supplier response performance.
An alternative to this approach is to use tasks in PPM and assign supplier users as resources on the tasks. The notification will go out and the supplier will see tasks waiting in My Assignments. The tracking will be through start to finish for the tasks. Requirements can be found in the Content tab of the task and response drawing will be uploaded against another document on the content of the task. Discussions can be used in PPM to exchange information and collaborate.
Supplier collaboration requires supplier user access to Agile from outside the corporate firewall. Although it used to be a sticking point with Corporate IT, now it’s a solved issue with most large and small Agile installations using proxies in the DMZ.
With an extensive background in computer science and engineering management, Arif Ansari serves as a Managing Consultant in the Agile PLM Practice at Xavor. Since 2007, Arif has specialized in the implementation process for semiconductor and medical device firms for medium to large enterprise companies.