All of the recent advancements in data analysis and computation-enabling technologies mean nothing if the datasets you need are hidden like buried treasure. Most businesses assume that the progress in high-performance computing and big data analytics has been matched in the data access realm. But the reality for data access is grim: the simple task of finding some of the most important unstructured datasets related to industrial product lines remains elusive.

PLM databases and other systems may contain formal information about a design, but they don’t account for the collective intellectual property about a product or system. Much of this information resides in unstructured form and is much harder to manage because it could live just about anywhere. During periodic tech refresh cycles, such file-based assets often “go dark,” leaving engineers with a very fragmented picture.

The challenge of preserving access to such assets is not going to get easier with time. It’s well known that, as predicted by IDC’s Ashish Nadkarni, the growth of unstructured assets has now outpaced the growth of structured data by a wide margin. Even formal information such as geometry files, simulations, test and telemetry data–critical to informing design, testing, maintenance and redesign–is often rendered inaccessible to engineers after a few years. The inability of current systems to make accessible unstructured information such as informal notes and calculations leads to more problems. Asking engineers to work with an incomplete picture doesn’t make sense. Engineers’ final products are only as good as their ability to understand the decisions and ”thinking behind the thinking” of a design.

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