The PLM Insider
Jyotirmoy Dutta works as a PLM Lead Consultant at Infosys with more than 13 years of expertise in PLM Strategy Consulting, Solution Architecting, Offshore Project Management and Technical Leadership. He has led several full life-cycle PLM implementations, in the Consumer Products, Electronics & … More »
Cloud Based PLM and Enterprise Application Integration
April 3rd, 2012 by Jyotirmoy Dutta
Putting PLM in the cloud is not enough – What matters most is enterprise application integration.
Cloud Based PLM
There have been a number of announcements lately of putting PLM in the cloud. It started Dassault making its V6 platform available from AWS last year; it gathered much more steam with Arena’s launch of PDXViewer and mostly Autodesk’s launch of PLM 360. I haven’t personally tested PLM 360 yet, but take it from reviews of Deelip and Oleg that end-user experience is pretty great.
The fact that an on-premise PLM implementation is expensive and a time-intensive process remains true (which requires software licenses and a considerable infrastructure and consulting investment) and since cloud PLM solutions are maintained by the software provider, which means set-up is easy and requires no internal resources for updates/upgrades will endow manufacturers to see faster returns on investments. Also as Michael Driscoll notes “The cloud is a more fault-tolerant and flexible operating system than its predecessors. These two advantages derive from the cloud’s two hallmark features: it is both virtualized and distributed. Because it’s virtualized, failing hardware can be upgraded or swapped out, and virtual processes can be migrated to new machines with little end-user impact. Because it’s distributed across thousands of commodity boxes, services’ compute and bandwidth needs can be scaled up or down, and disk storage limitations are almost an anachronism.”
The above being said, I have my concerns with cloud based PLM. I believe the argument that accessing data, processes, and business intelligence in a cloud based PLM platform is easier than a traditional on-premise PLM implementation is more of an IT issue (think getting VPN accounts, security etc). Also the contention that cloud PLM systems are superior at facilitating communication between manufacturers and suppliers by being able to deliver a more streamlined resolution for product data management and change control depends on whether the manufacturers and their suppliers are using the same cloud based platform. Otherwise it’s back to square one again. Another major item which I find lacking is any mention of enterprise application integration (EAI). I will talk more about EAI here.
Enterprise Application Integration
Global corporations need to blend data (in a robust, scalable and secure way) from many existing systems to manage products across their lifecycle. PLM being an upstream enterprise application (design usually preceding manufacturing/sales/procurement/service) needs to draw upon several collaborating systems – None of the enterprise PLM systems ever run in isolation. Typical application integration scenarios which are routinely met would include:
PLM vendors typically offer “adapters” for their PLM systems to talk to a few “standard” enterprise systems, or you can use an off the shelf middleware, but if you need to integrate with a “non-standard” enterprise application you have to usually write your own custom code. The functions involved with enterprise application integration include designing and developing (coding or configuring) the integration process, deploying the integration, executing the integration, and then ongoing monitoring and management/troubleshooting. In a multitenancy environment (Multitenancy refers to a principle in software architecture where a single instance of the software runs on a server, serving multiple client organizations called tenants), each customer will/might need their PLM system to talk to a whole bouquet of other corporate systems. If you add different versions of such standard/non-standard software to the mix the complexity can be mind-boggling for the software provider. The current crop of cloud based PLM systems seem to be lacking in addressing this aspect. Autodesk for example has PLM 360 Apps store for various product development needs but the model of enterprise application integration is not clear and undeniably would be a concern when considering an enterprise IT strategy.
Another corollary item to enterprise application integration is the prerequisite for system interfaces in cloud based PLM solutions (maybe REST-based APIs), thereby providing a standards-based framework for accessing and integrating with web services-based/enabled in-house systems (or even with other cloud services). This is another vital aspect of cloud based PLM services: that the software providers make available well-defined, programmatic access for users (read software developers) and partners who want to leverage the cloud service within a broader solution or business context.
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