The past month I had several discussions related to the complexity of PLM. Why is PLM conceived as complex ? Why is it hard to sell PLM internal into an organization ? Or to phrase it differently: “What makes PLM so difficult for normal human beings. As conceptually it is not so complex”

So what makes it complex ? What´s behind PLM ?

ConcurrentEngineeringThe main concept behind PLM is that people share data. It can be around a project, a product, a plant through the whole lifecycle. In particular during the early lifecycle phases, there is a lot of information that is not yet 100 percent mature. You could decide to wait till everything is mature before sharing it with others (the classical sequential manner), however the chance of doing it right the first time is low. Several iterations between disciplines will be required before the data is approved. The more and more a company works sequential, the higher costs of changes are and the longer the time to market. Due to this rigidness of this sequential approach, it becomes difficult to respond rapidly to customer or market demands. Therefore in theory, (and it is not a PLM theory), concurrent engineering should reduce the amount of iterations and the total time to market by working in parallel in not approved data yet.

plmPLM goes further, it is also about sharing of data and as it started originally in the early phases of the lifecycle, the concept of PLM was often considered something related to engineering. And to be fair, most of the PLM (CAD-related) vendors have a high focus on the early stages of the lifecycle and strengthen this idea. However sharing can go much further, e.g. early involvement of suppliers (still engineering) or support for after-sales/services (the new acronym SLM). In my recent blog posts I discussed the concepts of SLM and the required data model for that.

Anticipated sharing

The complexity lies in the word “sharing”. What does sharing mean for an organization, where historically every person was awarded for the knowledge he/she has/owned, instead of being awarded for the knowledge this person made available and shared. Many so-called PLM implementations have failed to reach the sharing target as the implementation focus was on storing data per discipline and not necessary storing data to become shareable and used by others. This is a huge difference.

PLM binSome famous (ERP) vendors claim if you store everything in their system, you have a “single version of the truth”. Sounds attractive. My garbage bin at home is also a place where everything ends up in a single place, but a garbage bin has not been designed for sharing, as another person has no clue and time to analyze what´s inside. Even data in the same system can be hidden for others as the way to find data is not anticipated.

Data sharing instead of document deliverables

The complexity of PLM is that data should be created and shared in a matter not necessary the most efficient manner for a single purpose, however with some extra effort, to make it usable and searchable for others. A typical example is drawings and documents management, where the whole process for a person is focused on delivering a specific document. Ok for that purpose, but this document on its own becomes a legacy for the long-term as you need to know (or remember) what´s inside the document.

doc2dataA logical implication of data sharing is that, instead of managing documents, organizations start to collect and share data elements (a 3D model, functional properties, requirements, physical properties, logistical properties, etc). Data can be connected and restructured easily through reports and dashboards, therefore, proving specific views for different roles in the organization. Sharing becomes possible and it can be online. Nobody needed to consolidate and extract data from documents (Excels ?)

This does not fit older generations and departmental managed business units that are rewarded only on their individual efficiency. Have a look at this LinkedIn discussion where the two extremes are visible.

Joe stating:

“The sad thing about PLM is that only PLM experts can understand it! It seems to be a very tight knit club with very little influence from any outside sources.
I think PLM should be dumped. It seems to me that computerizing engineering documentation is relatively easy process. I really think it has been over complicated. Of course we need to get the CAD vendors out of the way. Yes it was an obvious solution, but if anyone took the time to look down the road they would see that they were destroying a well established standard that were so cost effective and simple. But it seems that there is no money in simple”

And a the other side Kais stating:

“If we want to be able to use state-of-the art technology to support the whole enterprise, and not just engineering, and through-life; then product information, in its totality, must be readily accessible and usable at all times and not locked in any perishable CAD, ERP or other systems. The Data Centric Approach that we introduced in the Datamation PLM Model is built on these concepts”

Readers from my blog will understand I am very much aligned with Kais and PLM guys have a hard time to convince Joe of the benefits of PLM (I did not try).

Making the change happen

blockerBeside this LinkedIn discussion, I had discussions with several companies where my audience understood the data-centric approach. It was nice to be in the room together, sharing the ideas what would be possible. However the outside world is hard to convince and here it is about change management.

I read an interesting article in IndustryWeek from John Dyer with the title: What Motivates Blockers to Resist Change?

John describes the various types of blockers and when reading the article combined with my PLM twisted brain, I understood again that this is one of the reasons PLM is perceived as complex – you need to change and there are blockers:

Blocker (noun)Someone who purposefully opposes any change (improvement) to a process for personal reasons

“Blockers” can occupy any position in a company. They can be any age, gender, education level or pay rate. We tend to think of blockers as older, more experienced workers who have been with the company for a long time, and they don’t want to consider any other way to do things. While that may be true in some cases, don’t be surprised to find blockers who are young, well-educated and fairly new to the company.

The problem with blockers

The combination of business change and the existence of blockers are one of the biggest risks for companies to go through a business transformation. By the way, this is not only related to PLM, it is related to any required change in business.

Some examples:

imageA company I have been working with was eager in studying their path to the future, which required more global collaboration, a competitive business model and a more customer centric approach. After a long evaluation phase they decided they need PLM, which was new for most of the people in the company. Although the project team was enthusiastic, they were not able to pass the blockers for a change. Ironically enough they lost a significant part of their business to companies that have implemented PLM. Defending the past is not a guarantee for the future.

A second example is Nokia. Nokia was famous for they ways they were able to transform their business in the past. How come they did not see the smartphone and touch screens upcoming ? Apparently based on several articles presented recently, it was Nokia´s internal culture and superior feeling that they were dominating the market, that made it impossible to switch. The technology was known, the concepts were there, however the (middle) management was full of blockers.

Two examples where blockers had a huge impact on the company.

Conclusion:

Staying in business and remaining competitive is crucial for companies. In particular the changes that currently happen require people to work different in order to stay completive. Documents will become reports generated from data. People handling and collecting documents to generate new documents will become obsolete as a modern data-centric approach makes them redundant. Keeping the old processes might destroy a company. This should convince the blockers to give up

future exit

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