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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Rules And Requirements Changing For PLM

March 17th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

Like many of the ingredients in a manufacturing organization’s computer technology alphabet soup, such as ERP, SCM, CRM, not to mention CAD, CAM, and CAE, product lifecycle management (PLM) for years has been touted as being the final frontier for integrating all manufacturing IT functions.  Honestly, though, can it truly provide all that the various vendors are promising? I have asked myself that question for several years now: Is PLM a great hope or just another great and continuing hype?

It seems that every vendor defines PLM in a manner that best suits their respective existing product lines and business practices, and not always necessarily the processes of the customers they are trying to serve. Therein lies a big part of the PLM problem. PLM should address processes and not just products, especially the vendors’. Too few vendors still stress the processes they are claiming to improve over the products (and perpetual services) they are selling.

It also seems like everybody (yes, now including just about every CAD vendor big and small) has at least tried to get into the PLM act, regardless of whether they should or should not based on their development and integration capabilities or the needs of their customers. Even database giant, Oracle, has said for years that it wants to be a major PLM player, although the company has eluded that it doesn’t want to dirty its hands with traditional CAD/CAM stuff. Oracle wants to look at the bigger picture, although it has never elaborated on what that picture is.

Although they are quite different in requirements, approach, implementation, and task load, I continue to see PLM and PDM (product data management) regarded practically as equals in vendors’ conference presentations and promotional advertising. Using these acronyms interchangeably only adds to the confusion that already exists in the PLM marketplace. However, it does give more vendors more opportunities to say that they “do PLM.” By definition, PDM handles only data and is a subset of PLM; whereas PLM, to many peoples’ thinking, should interface and interact with every other IT system within an organization, including ERP, CRM, etc. at a similar level as a peer system.

I think there is a better definition and model of what PLM actually should be. Unlike many vendors’ definitions, PLM is not a peer system to other systems, such as ERP, SCM, and CRM. Rather, PLM is the intellectual property backbone of an enterprise. While the other subsystems deliver indirect cost-reducing improvements, none of them have any measurable impact on delivering top-line, revenue enhancing results and only a minor impact on lowering direct costs. The only way to positively impact top-line revenues is to develop and build innovative, higher-quality products, and PLM is the only system of the four that addresses these issues.

In this context, PLM transforms ideas to profits, capturing customer experiences, and generating ideas for new products. Along the way, the intellectual property undergoes several transformations (such as ideas to concepts, concepts-to-prototypes, prototypes-to-products, and so on) and interacts with the other systems. Ideally, a well-implemented PLM system provides a comprehensive framework that lets all the other systems and disparate groups of users to easily interact with an enterprises’ intellectual property so anyone can add value to it.

I think the revised definition and vision finally get to the heart of what a PLM was always envisioned to be, but thus far, executed and implemented by only a few PLM vendors – an intellectual property asset manager that can be used universally within an organization.

Even though the PLM market continues to consolidate, it will never completely consolidate for two reasons:

  1. New independent PLM companies will continue to start up and evolve while developing new technologies.
  2. A lot of independent PLM software development companies (and their customers) are satisfied being independent and want to keep it that way.

There is plenty of room in the PLM space for all parties to co-exist. The big boys can continue to expand their PLM sets and the independent software vendors can continue to do and focus on what they do best. Overall, this co-existence diversifies, stabilizes, and moves the PLM market forward while benefiting both vendors and their customers.

Ultimately, the success of PLM is dependent on two things. First, it is imperative that vendors communicate comprehensively and truthfully what their PLM offerings can do and integrate with, as well as what their customers can reasonably expect in terms of gains and ROI. Second, customers must educate themselves to the true needs of their organizations and how they expect PLM to fit in with the rest of their existing and future IT infrastructures. Only then will customer expectations and vendor promises meet for improving processes and resulting products through intellectual property asset management.

Can vendors pull off what PLM was truly meant to fulfill, play nice with each other, and become less exclusively proprietary? I think so, and more and more vendors are doing just that as discussed in last week’s blog. Increasingly, with cloud-based services that are just beginning, but should decrease implementation costs and increase productivity through being available to anyone anywhere at any time.

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