observationThe past three weeks I had time to observe some PLM Vendors marketing messages (Autodesk as the major newbie). Some of these message lead to discussions in blogs or (LinkedIn) forums. Always a good moment to smile and think about reality.

In addition the sessions from PLM Innovation 2012 became available for the attendees (thanks MarketKey – good quality).  I had the chance to see the sessions I missed. On my wish list was “The future of PLM Business Models” moderated by Oleg as here according to Oleg some interesting viewpoints came up. This related to my post where I mentioned the various definitions of PLM.

All the above inspired me to write this post, which made me realize we keep on pushing misconceptions around PLM in our customer’s mind, with the main goal to differentiate.

I will address the following four misconceptions. The last one is probably not a surprise, therefore on the last position. Still sometimes taken for granted.

  1. PLM = PLM
  2. On the cloud = Open and Upgradeable
  3. Data = Process Support
  4. Marketing = Reality

1. PLM = PLM

It is interesting to observe that the definition of PLM becomes more and more a marketing term instead of a common definition which applies to all.

plm_shareLet me try to formulate again a very generic definition which captures most of what PLM Vendors target to do.

PLM is about connecting and sharing the company’s intellectual property through the whole product lifecycle. This includes knowledge created at the concept phase going through the whole lifecycle till a product is serviced in the field or decommissioned.

Experiences from the field (services / customers / market input) serve again for the other lifecycle phases as input to deliver a better or innovative product.

Innovation is an iterative process. It is not only about storing data, PLM is also covering the processes of managing the data, especially the change processes. Sharing data is not easy. It requires a different mind set, data is not only created for personal or departmental usage, but also should be found and extended by other roles in the organization. This all makes it a serious implementation, as aligning people is a business change, not an IT driven approach.

Based on this (too long) high-level PLM definition, it does not imply you cannot do PLM without a PLM system. You might also have a collection of tools that are able to provide a complete coverage of the PLM needs.

DIYOleg talks about DIY (Do It Yourself) PLM, and  I have seen examples of Excel spreadsheets managing Excel spreadsheets and Email archives.  The challenge I see with this type of PLM implementations is that after several years it is extremely difficult for a company to change. Possible reasons: the initial gurus do not longer work for the company, new employees need years of experience to find and interpret the right data.

A quick and simple solution can become a burden in the long term if you analyze the possible risks.

Where in the early years of PLM, it was mainly a Dassault Systemes, Siemens and PTC driven approach with deep CAD integrations,  the later years other companies like Aras and now Autodesk, started to change the focus from classical PLM more to managing enterprise metadata. A similar approach SAP PLM is offering. Deep integrations with CAD are the most complex parts of PLM and by avoiding them, you can claim your system is easier to implement, etc., etc.

myplmA Single version of the truth is a fancy PLM expression. It would be nice if this was also valid for the definition of PLM. The PLM Innovation 2012  session at the future of PLM models demonstrated that the vendors in this panel discussion had a complete different opinion about PLM. So how can people inside their company explain to the management and others why the need PLM and which PLM they have in mind ?

2. On the cloud = Open and Upgradeable

cloudDuring the panel discussion Grant Rochelle from Autodesk mentioned the simplicity of their software and how easy it will be upgradeable in the future. Also he referred to Salesforce.com as a proof point.They provide online updates from the software, without the customer having to do anything.

The above statement is true as long as you keep your business coverage simple and do not anticipate changes in the future. Let me share you an analogy with SmarTeam, how it started in 1995

At that time SmarTeam was insanely configurable. The Data Model Wizard contained several PDM templates an within hours you could create a company specific data model. A non-IT skilled person could add attributes, data types, anything they wanted and build the application, almost the same as Autodesk 360. The only difference, SmarTeam was not on the cloud, but it was running on Windows, a revolution at that time as all serious PDM systems were Unix based.

The complexity came however when SmarTeam started to integrate deeply with CAD systems. These integrations created the need for a more standardized data model per CAD system. And as the SmarTeam R&D was not aware of each and every customer’s implementation, it became hard to define a common business logic in the data (and to remain easily upgradable).

warningI foresee similar issues with the new cloud based PLM systems. They seem to be very easy to implement (add what you want – it is easy). As long as you do not integrate to other systems it remains safe. Integrating with other and future systems requires either a common data definition (which most vendors do not like) or specific integrations with the cost of upgrading.

In the beginning everything is always possible with a well-defined system. But  be aware looking back in history, every 10 years a disruptive wave comes in, changing the scope and upgradability.

And to challenge the cloud-based PLM vendors: in the generic definition of PLM that I shared above, PLM integrates also design data.

3. Data = Process Support

Another misconception, which originates from the beginning of PLM is the idea that once you have support for specific data in your system, you support the process.

PDM_ERP_2000First example: Items defined in ERP. When engineers started to use a PDM system and started to define a a new item there were challenges.  I had many discussions with IT-departments, that they did not need or wanted items in PDM. ERP was the source for an item, and when a designer needed a new item, (s)he had to create it in ERP. So we have a single definition of the item.

Or the designer had to request a new item number from the ERP system. And please do not request numbers too often as we do not want to waste them was the message.

Ten years later this looks like a joke, as most companies have an integrated PDM/ERP process and understand that the initial definition of a new item comes from PDM and at a certain stage the matured item is shared (and completed) by the ERP system.  It is clear that the most efficient manner to create a new item is through PLM as the virtual definition (specs / CAD data) also reside there and information is handled in that context.

capaA second more actual example is the fact that compliancy is often handled in ERP. It is correct that in the case you manufacture a product for a specific target market, you need to be able to have the compliancy information available.

However would you do this in your ERP system, where you are late (almost at the end) of the design lifecycle or is it more logical that during your design stages at all time you verify and check compliancy ? The process will work much more efficient and with less cost of change when done in PLM but most companies still see ERP as their primary IT system and PLM is an engineering tool.

Finally on this topic a remark to the simplified PLM vendors. Having the ability to store for example requirements in your system does not mean you have support for a complete requirements management process. It is also about the change and validation of requirements, which should be integrated for a relevant role during product definition (often CAD) and validation. As long as the data is disconnected there is not such a big advantage compared to Excel.

4. Marketing = Reality

plm_modelsIn the future of PLM Business Models
Oleg showed a slide with the functional architectures of the major PLM Vendors. In the diagram all seems to be connected as a single system, but in reality this is usually not the case.

As certain components / technologies are acquired, they provide the process coverage and only in the future you can imagine it works integrated. You cannot blame marketing for doing so, as their role is to position their products in the most appealing way customers will buy it. Without marketing perhaps no-one would buy a PLM system, when understanding the details Smile

Autodesk as a newcomer in PLM has a strong background in marketing. This is understandable as similar to Microsoft, their main revenue comes from selling a large volume of products, where the classical PLM vendors often have a combination with services and business change. And therefore a different price point.

When in the eighties Autodesk introduced AutoCAD, it was a simple, open 2D CAD environment, able to run on a PC. Autodesk’s statement at that time: “We provide 80 percent of the functionality for 20 % of the price”.
Does this sound familiar nowadays ?

As AutoCAD was a basic platform allowing customers and resellers to build their solutions on top of it, this became the mid-market success for Autodesk with AutoCAD.

The challenge with Autodesk PLM 360 is that although the same logic seems to make sense, I believe the challenge is not in the flexible platform. The challenge is in the future, when people want to do more complex things with the system, like integrations with design, enterprise collaboration.

At that time you need people who can specify the change, guide the change and implement the change. And this is usually not a DIY job.

pinoAutodesk is still learning to find the right PLM messages I noticed recently. When attending the Autodesk PLM session during PLM Innovation 2012 (end of February), one of their launching customers ElectronVault presented their implementation – it took only two weeks !!! Incredible

However reading Rob Cohee’s blog post the end of March, he mentions ElectronVault again. Quote:

ElectronVault was searching for something like this for over two years and after 6 weeks they have implemented Project Management, EBOM, MBOM, and starting on their APQP project. Six Weeks!!!

As you see, four weeks later the incredible two weeks have become six weeks and again everything is implemented. Still incredible and I am looking forward to meet ElectronVault in the future as I believe they are a typical young company and they will go through all of the maturity phases a company will go through: people, processes and tools (in this order). A tool driven implementation is more likely to slow down in the long term.

Conclusion: Misconceptions are not new. History can teach us a lot about what we experience now. New technology, new concepts can be a break through. However implementing them at companies requires a change in organizations and this has been the biggest challenge the past 100 years.

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