Challenges to Secure Product Collaboration in PLM Applications

By Sandeep Chopra

Design and engineering organizations consistently describe controlling sensitive product data as a top IT priority. However, trends in product collaboration technologies are creating new risks to securing product data. As PLM applications evolve into more complex ecosystems, design engineering teams are empowered to collaborate in new ways. But as collaboration becomes more fluid, and process more agile, product data is exposed to more risk.

This blog series describes growing challenges caused by innovations in product data sharing technologies and trends, specifically in PLM applications, lists common areas of information risk, and describes solution components required to mitigate that risk. plmeco_3datas

(Un)Managed Data

PLM applications are evolving in ways that blur the distinctions between managed data (on the server, housed within a central application) and unmanaged data (on the client, outside a central application). For example, some PLM applications support tight integration with client design applications, with “import into session” capabilities in which designers can create new designs “on the fly” by leveraging legacy components. In this sense, PLM applications are already reflecting the same resource storage architecture as cloud and SaaS paradigms.

PLM and design integration allows engineers to easily repurpose existing components. However, the benefits of such agile product design cannot be exploited without equally agile controls in place to determine how newly produced designs should be stored, accessed, used, and distributed.

 New Challenge

Accelerated design process results in rapidly repurposed design data

 Data Vulnerabilities

  • Product designs in PLM applications lack of controls or have improper controls
  • Inadequately controlled components result in inadequately controlled assemblies
  • Due to lack of controls in PLM, product designs are downloaded by unauthorized users who leak or handle data inappropriately
  • Lack of visibility into new assemblies being created in design applications


Product data managed in PLM is increasingly exported outside the engineering function in the form of visualizations, typically, 2- or 3-D videos of large assemblies that contain many components. Visualizations are intended for cross-team sharing (manufacturing, support and services, field sales, and so on), and increasingly, for consumption on mobile devices.  Clearly, exporting design knowledge cross-function in this way can be a boon for business. However, controls will also need to be applied for a drastically larger set of users and devices.

 New Challenge

Product data distributed more broadly across teams in visualization format

 Data Vulnerabilities

  • Product visualizations applications lack controls or have improper controls for all the components included in the assembly
  • Product visualizations as larger assemblies leak sensitive product data due to lack of controls appropriate for all the components in the assembly


Managed data within PLM may already have adequate controls. However, with trends like these, controls within PLM must be complemented with controls outside. Product data can be downloaded by authorized users, product designs can be created, imported, and modified in design applications, and visualizations are intended for broader distribution.

Securing data-on-the-move can introduce new challenges, such as the overhead of managing multiple sets of controls. In the context of design organizations, data on the move is often also data in transformation. When data is exported in different formats for sharing, it might require different controls depending on the format and how the file will be distributed and consumed.

For example, perhaps a given visualization does not include enough detail that an organization is concerned about broad distribution. In this case, the same controls that apply to CAD files and PDFs on endpoints and structured and unstructured data in PLM do not need to apply to visualizations. Or the reverse may be true: for highly sensitive information, any data, in any format, may require the same controls. The point is that not only will organizations have to think through these scenarios—they will also need to design and enforce proper data- and format-centric controls.

 New Challenge

Product data, designs, and visualizations are increasingly on-the-move between systems, groups, users, organizations

 Data vulnerabilities:

  • Lack of integrated classification that tracks PLM data, design, and visualizations consistently as they move in and out of the PLM application
  • Lack of controls that can be both data-specific (meaning, appropriate for the components included in the assembly) and format-specific (meaning relevant to the degree of detail in the format, as product and design data is packaged for different audiences)

What’s Next

In my next post, I discuss these data vulnerabilities in the context of an information lifecycle and describe how some of these vulnerabilities are exacerbated by business trends such as globalization and rapid growth and product diversification.

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