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The last month I haven’t been able to publish much of my experiences as I have been in the middle of several PLM selection processes for various industries. Now in a quiet moment looking back, I understand it is difficult for a company to choose a PLM solution for the future.
I hope this post will generate some clarity and may lead to some further discussion with other experts in the audience. I wrote about the do’s and don’ts of PLM selection in 2010, and most of it is still actual; however, there is more. Some of the topics explained:
Do you really need PLM ?
This is where it starts. PLM is not Haarlemerolie, an old Dutch medicine that was a cure for everything since the 17th century. The first step is that you need to know what you want to achieve and how you are aiming to achieve it. Just because a competitor has a PLM system installed, does not mean they use it properly or that your company should do it too. If you do not know why your company needs PLM, stop reading and start investigating.
If you are still reading this, you are part of the happy few, as justifying the need for PLM is not easy. Numerous of companies have purchased a PLM system just because they think they needed PLM. Or there was someone convinced that this software would bring PLM.
Most of these cases there was the confusion with PDM. Simply stating: PDM is more a departmental tool (engineering – multidisciplinary) where PLM is a mix of software, infrastructure to connect all departments in a company and support the product through its entire lifecycle.
Implementing “real” PLM is a business change, as people have to start sharing data instead of pushing documents from department to department. And this business transformation is a journey. It is not a fun journey, nicely characterized in Ed Lopategui’s blog post, the PLM Trail.
Although I believe it is not always that dramatic, Ed set the expectations right. Be well prepared before you start.
Why do companies still want PLM, while it is so difficult to implement?
The main reason is to remain competitive. If margins are under pressure, you can try to be more efficient, get better and faster tools. But by working in the old way, you can only be a little better.
Moving from a sequential, information pushing approach towards an on-line, global information sharing manner is a change in business processes. It is interaction between all stakeholders. Doing things different requires courage, understanding and trust you made the right choice. When it goes wrong, there are enough people around you to point fingers at why it went wrong – hindsight is so easy.
Doing nothing and becoming less and less competitive is easier (the boiling frog again) as in that case the outside world will be blamed, and there is nobody to point fingers at (although if you understand the issue you should make the organization aware the future is at stake)
Why is PLM so expensive?
Assuming you are still reading, and you and your management are aligned there is a need for PLM, a first investigation into possible solutions will reveal that PLM is not cheap.
When you calculate the overall investment required in PLM, the management often gets discouraged by the estimated costs. Yes, the benefits are much higher, but to realize these benefits, you need to have a clear understanding of your own business and a realistic idea how the future would look like. The benefits are not in efficiency. The main benefits come from capabilities that allow you to respond better and faster than by just optimizing your departments. I read a clarifying post recently, which is addressing this issue: Why PLM should be on every Executive’s agenda !
From my experience with PLM projects, it is surprising to learn that companies do not object to spend 5 to 20 times more money for an ERP implementation. It is related to the topic: management by results or management by means.
PLM is not expensive compared to other enterprise systems. It can become expensive (like ERP implementations) if you lose control. Software vendors have a business in selling software modules, like car resellers have a business in selling you all the comfort beyond the basics.
The same for implementation partners, they have a business in selling services to your company, and they need to find the balance between making money and delivering explainable value. Squeezing your implementation partner will cause a poor delivery. But giving them an open check means that, at a certain moment, someone will stand up and shutdown the money drain as the results are no longer justifiable. Often I meet companies in this stage, the spirit has gone. It is all about the balance between costs and benefits.
This happens in all enterprise software projects, and the only cure is investing in your own people. Give your employees time and priority to work in a PLM project. People with knowledge of the business are essential, and you need IT resources to implement. Do not make the mistake to leave business uncommitted to the PLM implementation. Management and middle management does not take the time to understand PLM as they are too busy or not educated / interested.
Make business owners accountable for the PLM implementation – you will see stress (it is not their daily job – they are busy), but in the longer time you will see understanding and readiness of the organization to achieve the expected results.
We are the largest – why select the largest ?
When your assignment is to select a new enterprise system, life could be easy for you. Select a product or service from the largest business and your career is saved. Nobody gets blamed for selecting the largest vendor, although if you work for a small mid-sized company, you might think twice.
Many vendors and implementers start their message with:
“…. Market leader in ABC, though leader in XYZ, recognized by 123”
The only thing you should learn from this message is that this company probably has delivered a trustworthy solution in the past. Looking at the past you get an impression of its readiness and robustness for the future. Many promising companies have been absorbed by the larger ones and disappeared. As Clayton Christensen wrote in The Innovators Dilemma:
“What goes up does not go down”.
Meaning these large companies focus on their largest clients and will focus less on the base of the business pyramid (where the majority is), making them vulnerable for disruptive innovation.
Related to this issue there is an interesting post (and its comments), written by Oleg Shilovitsky recently: How many PLM vendors disappear in disruption predicted by Gartner.
Still when selecting a PLM vendor it is essential to know if they have the scale to support you in the future and if they have the vision to guide you into the future.
The future of PLM is towards managing data in a connected manner, not necessary coming from a single database, not necessary using only structured data. If your PLM vendor or implementer is pushing you to realize document and file management, they are years late and not the best for your future.
PLM is a big elephant
PLM is considered as a big elephant, and I agree if you address everything in one shot that PLM can do. PLM has multiple directions to start from – I wrote about it: PLM at risk – it does not have a single job
PLM has a huge advantage compared to a transactional system like ERP and probably CRM. You can implement a PLM infrastructure and its functionality step by step in the organization, start with areas that are essential and produce clear benefits for the organization. That is the main reason that PLM implementations can take 2 – 3 years. You give the organization time to learn, to adapt and to extend.
We lose our flexibility ?
Nobody in an organization likes to be pushed in a cooperate way of working, which by definition is not as enjoyable and as flexible as they way you currently work. It is still an area where PLM implementations can improve: provide the user with an environment that is not too rigid and does not feel like a rigid system. You seen this problem with old traditional large PLM implementations for example with automotive OEMs. For them, it is almost impossible to switch to a new PLM implementation as everything has been built and connected in such a proprietary way, almost impossible to move to more standard systems and technologies. Late PLM implementations should learn from these lessons learned.
PLM vendor A says PLM vendor B will be out of business
One of the things I personally dislike is FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). It has become a common practice in politics and I have seen PLM vendors and implementers using the same tactics. The problem with FUD is that it works. Even if the message is not verifiable, the company looking for a PLM system might think there must be some truth in this statement.
My recommendation to a company that gets involved in FUD during a PLM selection process, they should be worried about the company spreading the FUD. Apparently they have no stronger arguments to explain to you why they are the perfect solution; instead they tell you indirectly we are the less worst.
Is the future in the cloud ?
I think there are two different worlds. There is the world of smaller businesses that do not want to invest in an IT-infrastructure and will try anything that looks promising – often tools oriented. This is one of my generalizations of how US businesses work – sorry for that. They will start working with cloud based systems and not be scared by performance, scalability and security. As long all is easy and does not disturb the business too much.
Larger organizations, especially with a domicile in Europe, are not embracing cloud solutions at this moment. They think more in private or on-premise environments. Less in cloud solutions as security of information is still an issue. The NSA revelations prove that there is no moral limit for information in the sake of security – combined with the fear of IP theft from Asia, I think European companies have a natural resistance for storing data outside of their control.
For sure you will see cloud advocates, primarily coming from the US, claiming this is the future (and they are right), but there is still work to do and confidence to be built.
PLM selection often has a focus on checking hundreds of requirements coming from different departments. They want a dream system. I hope this post will convince you that there are so many other thoughts relevant to a PLM selection you should take into account. And yes you still need requirements (and a vision).
Your thoughts ?
- CIMdata Publishes PLM Geography Report (detroit.cbslocal.com)
Who does not remember this tagline from the first official Soap series starting in 1977 and released in the Netherlands in 1979?
Every week the Campbells and the Tates entertained us with all the ingredients of a real soap: murder, infidelity, aliens’ abduction, criminality, homosexuality and more.
The episode always ended with a set of questions, leaving you for a week in suspense , hoping the next episode would give you the answers.
For those who do not remember the series or those who never saw it because they were too young, this was the mother of all Soaps.
What has it to do with PLM?
Soap has to do with strange people that do weird things (I do not want to be more specific). Recently I noticed that this is happening even in the PLM blogger’s world. Two of my favorite blogs demonstrated something of this weird behavior.
First Steve Ammann in his Zero Wait-State blog post: A PLM junkie at sea point-solutions versus comprehensive mentioned sailing from Ventura CA to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on a 35 foot sailboat and started thinking about PLM during his night shift. My favorite quote:
Besides dealing with a couple of visits from Mexican coast guard patrol boats hunting for suspected drug runners, I had time alone to think about my work in the PLM industry and specifically how people make decisions about what type of software system or systems they choose for managing product development information. Yes only a PLM “junkie” would think about PLM on a sailing trip and maybe this is why the Mexican coast guard was suspicious.
Second Oleg in his doomsday blog post: The End of PLM Communism, was thinking about PLM all the weekend. My favorite quote:
I’ve been thinking about PLM implementations over the weekend and some perspective on PLM concepts. In addition to that, I had some healthy debates over the weekend with my friends online about ideas of centralization and decentralization. All together made me think about potential roots and future paths in PLM projects.
It demonstrates the best thinking is done during out-of-office time and on casual locations. Knowing this from my long cycling tours in the weekend, I know it is true.
I must confess that I have PLM thoughts during cycling.
Perhaps the best thinking happens outside an office?
I leave the follow up on this observation to my favorite Dutch psychologist Diederik Stapel, who apparently is out of office too.
Both posts touch the topic of a single comprehensive solution versus best-of-breed solutions. Steve is very clear in his post. He believes that in the long term a single comprehensive solution serves companies better, although user performance (usability) is still an issue to consider. He provides guidance in making the decision for either a point solution or an integrated solution.
And I am aligned with what Steve is proposing.
Oleg is coming from a different background and in his current position he believes more in a distributed or network approach. He looks at PLM vendors/implementations and their centralized approach through the eyes of someone who knows the former Soviet Union way of thinking: “Centralize and control”.
The association with communism which was probably not the best choice when you read the comments. This association makes you think as the former Soviet Union does not exist anymore, what about former PLM implementations and the future? According to Oleg PLM implementations should be more focused on distributed systems (on the cloud ?), working and interacting together connecting data and processes.
And I am aligned with what Oleg is proposing.
Confused? You want be after reading my recent experience.
I have been involved in the discussion around the best possible solution for an EPC contractor (Engineering Procurement Construction) in the Oil & Gas industry. The characteristic of their business is different from standard manufacturing companies. EPC contractors provide services for an owner/operator of a plant and they are selected because of their knowledge, their price, their price, their price, quality and time to deliver.
This means an EPC contractor is focusing on execution, making sure they have the best tools for each discipline and this is the way they are organized and used to work. The downside of this approach is everyone is working on its own island and there is no knowledge capitalization or sharing of information. The result each solution is unique, which brings a higher risk for errors and fixes required during construction. And the knowledge is in the head of experience people ….. and they retire at a certain moment.
So this EPC contractor wanted to build an integrated system, where all disciplines are connected and sharing information where relevant. In the Oil & Gas industry, ISO15926 is the standard. This standard is relative mature to serve as the neutral exchange standard of information between disciplines. The ideal world for best in class tools communicating with each other, or not ?
Imagine there are 6 discipline tools, an engineering environment optimized for plant engineering, a project management environment, an execution environment connecting suppliers and materials, a delivery environment assuring the content of a project is delivered in the right stages and finally a knowledge environment, capitalizing lessons learned, standards and best practices.
This results in 6 tools and 12 interfaces to a common service bus connecting these tools. 12 interfaces as information needs to be send and received from the service bus per application. Each tools will have redundant data for its own execution.
What happens if a PLM provider could offer three of these tools on a common platform? This would result into 4 tools to install and only 8 interfaces. The functionality in the common PLM system does not require data redundancy but shares common information and therefore will provide better performance in a cross-discipline scenario.
In the ultimate world all tools will be on one platform, providing the best performance and support for this EPC contractor. However this is utopia. It is almost impossible to have a 100 % optimized system for a group of independent companies working together. Suppliers will not give up their environment and own IP to embed it in a customer´s ideal environment. So there is always a compromise to find between a best integrated platform (optimal performance – reduced cost of interfaces and cost of ownership) and the best connected environment (tools connection through open standards).
And this is why both Steve and Oleg have a viewpoint that makes sense. Depending on the performance of the tools and the interaction with the supplier network the PLM platform can provide the majority of functionality. If you are a market dominating OEM you might even reach 100 % coverage for your own purpose, although the modern society is more about connecting information where possible.
MY CONCLUSION after reading both posts:
- Oleg tries to provoke, and like a soap, you might end up confused after each episode.
- Steve in his post gives a common sense guidance, useful if you spend time on digesting it, not a soap.
Now I hope you are not longer confused and wish you all a successful and meaningful 2013. The PLM soap will continue in alphabetical order:
- Will Aras survive 21-12-2012 and support the Next generation ?
- Will Autodesk get of the cloud or have a coming out ?
- Will Dassault get more Experienced ?
- Will Oracle PLM customers understand it is not a database ?
- Will PTC get out of the CAD jail and receive $ 200 ?
- Will SAP PLM be really 3D and user friendly ?
- Will Siemens PLM become a DIN or ISO standard ?
See the next episodes of my PLM blog in 2013
It is interesting to read management books and articles and reflect the content in the context of PLM. In my previous post How the brain blocks PLM acceptance and in Stephen Porter´s (not yet finished) serial The PLM state: the 7 habits of highly effective PLM adoption, you can discover obvious points that we tend to forget in the scope of PLM as we are so focused on our discipline.
This summer holiday I was reading the Innovator´s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton Christensen. Christensen is an associated professor at the Harvard Business School and he published this book already in 1997. Apparently not everyone has read the book and I recommend that if you are involved in the management of a PLM company to read it.
Christensen states there are two types of technologies. Leading companies are supporting their customers and try to serve them better and better by investing a lot in improving their current products. Christensen calls this sustaining technology as the aim is to improve existing products. Sustaining technologies lead to every time more and more effort to improve the current product performance and capabilities due to the chosen technology and solution concepts. These leading companies are all geared up around this delivery process and resources are optimized to sustain leadership, till ….
The other technology Christensen describes is disruptive technology, which initially is not considered as competition for existing technologies as it under performs in the same scope, so no way to serve the customer in the same way. The technology underperforms if you would apply to the same market, but it has unique capabilities that make it fit for another market. Next if the improvement path of disruptive technology can be faster than the improvement path for the sustaining technology, it is possible that their paths meet at a certain point. And although coming from a different set of capabilities, due to the faster improvement process the disruptive technology becomes the leading one and companies that introduced the disruptive technology became the new market leaders.
Why leading companies failed..
Christensen used the disk drive industry as an example as there the change in technology was so fast that it was a perfect industry to follow it´s dynamics. Later he illustrates the concepts with examples from other industries where the leading firms failed and stopped to exist because disruptive technologies overtook them and they were not able to follow that path too.
Although the leading companies have enough resources and skills, he illustrates that it is a kind of logical path – big companies will always fail as it is in their nature to focus on sustaining technology. Disruptive technologies do not get any attention as they are targeting a different unclear market in the beginning and in addition it is not clear where the value from this disruptive technology comes from, so which manager wants to risk his or her career to focus on something uncertain in an existing company.
Christensen therefore advises these leading companies, if they expect certain technologies to become disruptive for their business, to start a separate company and take a major share position there. Leave this company focus on its disruptive technology and in case they are successful and cross the path of the sustaining technology embed them again in your organization. Any other approach is almost sure to fail, quote:
Expecting achievement-driven employees in a large organization to devote critical mass of resources, attention and energy to disruptive projects targeted at a small market is equivalent to flapping one´s arms in an effort to fly
As the book was written in 1997, it was not in the context of PLM. Now let´s start with some questions.
Is ERP in the stage of sustaining technology?
Here I would say Yes. ERP vendors are extending their functional reach to cover more than the core functionality for two reasons: they need continuous growth in revenue and their customers ask for more functionality around the core. For sustaining technologies Christensen identifies four stages. Customers select a product for functionality, when other vendors have the same functionality reliability becomes the main differentiation. And after reliability the next phase is convenience and finally price.
From my personal observations, not through research, I would assume ERP for the major vendors is in the phase between convenience and price. If we follow Christensen´s analysis for SAP and Oracle it means they should not try to develop disruptive technologies inside their organization, neither should they try to downscale their product for the mid-market or add a different business model. Quote:
What goes up – does not go down. Moving to a high-end market is possible (and usually the target) – they will not go to small, poor defined low-end markets
How long SAP and Oracle will remain market leaders will depend on disruptive technologies that will meet the path of ERP vendors and generate a new wave. I am not aware of any trends in that area as I am not following the world of ERP closely
Is PLM in the stage of sustaining technology?
Here I would say No because I am not sure what to consider as a clear definition of PLM. Different vendors have a different opinion of what a PLM system should provide as core technologies. This makes it hard to measure it along the lifecycle of sustaining technology with the phases: functionality, reliability, convenience and price.
Where the three dominant PLM providers (DS/PTC/Siemens) battle in the areas of functionality, reliability and convenience others are focusing on convenience and price.
Some generalized thoughts passed my mind:
- DS and PTC somehow provoke their customers by launching new directions where they believe the customer will benefit from. This somehow makes it hard to call it sustaining technology.
- · Siemens claiming they develop their products based on what customers are asking for. According to Christensen they are at risk in the long term as customers keep you captive and do not lead you to disruptive technologies.
- · All three focus on the high-end and should not aim for smaller markets with the same technology. This justifies within DS the existence of CATIA and SolidWorks and in Siemens the existence of NX and SolidEdge. Unifying them would mean the end of their mid-market revenue and open it for others.
Disruptive technologies for PLM
Although PLM is not a sustained technology to my opinion, there are some disruptive technologies that might come into the picture of mainstream PLM.
First of all there is the Open Source software model, introduced by Aras, which initially is not considered as a serious threat for the classical PLM players – “big customers will never rely on open source”. However the Open Source model allows product improvements to move faster than main stream, reaching at a certain point the same level of functionality, reliability and convenience. The risk for Open Source PLM is that it is customer driven, which according Christensen is the major inhibitor for disruptive steps in the future
Next there is the cloud. Autodesk PLM and Kenesto are the two most visible companies in this domain related to PLM. Autodesk is operating from a comfort zone – it labels its product PLM, it does not try to match what the major PLM vendors try to do and they come from the small and medium mid-size market. Not too many barriers to come into the PLM mid-market in a disruptive manner. But does the mid-market need PLM? Is PLM a bad annotation for its cloud based product? Time will tell.
The management from Kenesto obviously has read the book. Although the initially concept came from PLM++ (bad marketing name), they do not to compete with mainstream PLM and aim their product at a different audience – business process automation. Then if their product picks up in the engineering / product domain, it might enter the PLM domain in a disruptive manner (all according to the book – they will become market leaders)
Finally Search Based Applications which are also a disruptive technology for the PLM domain. Many companies struggle with the structured data approach a classical PLM system requires and especially for mid-market companies this overhead is a burden. They are used to work in a cognitive manner, the validation and formalization is often done in the brain of experienced employees. Why cannot search based technology not be used to create structured data and replace or support the experienced brain?
If I open my Facebook page, I see new content related to where I am, what I have been saying or surfing for. Imagine an employee´s desktop that works similar, where your data is immediately visible and related information is shown. Some of the data might come from the structured system in the background, other might be displayed based on logical search criteria; the way our brain works. Some startups are working in this direction and Inforbix (congratulations Oleg & team) has already been acquired by Autodesk or Exalead by DS.
For both companies if they believe in the above concept, they should remain as long as possible independent from the big parent company as according to Christensen they will not get the right focus and priorities if they are part of the sustainable mainstream technology
This blog post was written during a relaxing holiday in Greece. The country here is in a crisis, they need disruptive politicians. They did it 3500 years ago and I noticed the environment is perfect for thinking as you can see below.
Meanwhile I am looking forward to your thoughts on PLM, in which state we are what the disruptive technologies are.
Sorry for the provoking title in a PLM blog, but otherwise you would not read my post till the end.
In the past months I have been working closely with several large companies (not having a mid-market profile). And although they were all in different industries and have different business strategies, they still had these common questions and remarks:
- How to handle more and more digital data and use it as valuable information inside the company or for their customers / consumers ?
- What to do with legacy data (approved in the previous century) and legacy people (matured and graduated in the previous century) preventing them to change ?
- We are dreaming of a new future, where information is always up-to-date and easy to access – will this ever happen ?
- They are in the automotive industry, manufacturing industry, infrastructure development and maintenance, plant engineering, construction and plant maintenance
- They all want data to be managed with (almost) zero effort
- And please, no revolution or change for the company
Although I have been focusing on the mid-market, it is these bigger enterprises that introduce new trends and as you can see from the observations above, there is a need for a change. But also it looks like the demands are in a contradiction to each other.
I believe it is just about changing the game.
If you look at the picture to the left, you see one of the contradictions that lead to PLM.
Increasing product quality, reducing time to market and meanwhile reducing costs seemed to be a contradiction at that time too.
Although PLM has not been implemented (yet) in every company that could benefit from it, it looks like the bigger enterprises are looking for more.
the L from PLM remains – they still want to connect all information that is related to the lifecycle of their products or plants.
the M from Management has a bad association – companies believe that moving from their current state towards a managed environment of data is a burden. Too much overhead is the excuse to not manage dat. And their existing environments to manage data do not excel in user-friendliness. And therefore people jump towards using Excel.
So if the P is not longer relevant, the M is a burden, what remains of PLM ?
Early June I presented at the Dassault Systems 3DExperience forum the topic of digital Asset Lifecycle Management for owners / operators. One of the areas where I believe PLM systems can contribute a lot to increase business value and profitability (quality and revenue – see using a PLM system for Asset Lifecycle Management )
Attending the key note speech it was clear that Dassault Systems does not talk about PLM anymore as a vision. Their future dream is a (3D) lifelike experience of the virtual world. And based on that virtual model, implement the best solution based on various parameters: revenue, sustainability, safety and more. By trying to manage the virtual world you have the option to avoid real costly prototypes or damaging mistakes.
I believe it is an ambitious dream but it fits in the above observations. There is more beyond PLM.
In addition I learned from talking with my peers (the corridor meetings) that also Siemens and PTC are moving towards a more industry or process oriented approach, trying to avoid the association with the generic PLM label.
Just at the time that Autodesk and the mid-market started to endorse PLM, the big three are moving away from this acronym.
This reminds me of what happened in the eighties when 3D CAD was introduced. At the time the mid-market was able to move to mainstream 3D (price / performance ratio changed dramatically) the major enterprises started to focus on PDM and PLM. So it is logical that the mid-market is 10 – 15 years behind new developments – they cannot afford experiments with new trends.
- the management of structured and unstructured data as a single platform. We see the rise of Search Bases Application and business intelligence based on search and semantic algorithms. Using these capabilities integrated with a structured (PLM ? ) environment is the next big thing.
- Apps instead of generic applications that support many roles. The generic applications introduce such a complexity to the interface that they become hard to use by a casual user. Most enterprise systems, but also advanced CAD or simulation tools with thousands of options suffer from this complexity. Would not it be nice if you only had to work with a few dedicated apps as we do in our private life ?
- Dashboards (BI) that can be created on the
flyrepresenting actual data and trends based
on structured and unstructured data.
It reminded me of a PLM / ERP discussion I had with a company, where the general manager all the time stated the types of dashboards he wanted to see. He did not talk about PLM, ERP or other systems – he wanted the on-line visibility
- Cloud services are coming. Not necessary centralizing all data on the cloud to reduce it cost. But look at SIRE and other cloud services that support a user with data and remote processing power at the moment required.
- Visual navigation through a light 3D Model providing information when required. This trend is not so recent but so far not integrated with other disciplines, the Google maps approach for 3D.
So how likely are these trends to change enterprise systems like PLM, ERP or CRM. In the table below I indicated where it could apply:
As you can see the PLM row has all the reasons to introduce new technologies and change the paradigm. For that reason combined with the observations I mentioned in the beginning, I am sure there is a new TLA (Three Letter Acronym) upcoming.
The good news is that PLM is dynamic and on the move. The bad news for potential PLM users is that the confusion remains – too many different PLM definitions and approaches currently – so what will be the next thing after PLM ?
Conclusion: The acronym PLM is not dead and becomes mainstream. On the high-end there is for sure a trend to a wider and different perspective of what was initially called PLM. After EDM, TDM, PDM and PLM we are waiting for the next TLA
The trigger for this post is based was a discussion I had around the Autodesk 360 cloud based PLM solution. To position this solution and to simplify the message for my conversation partner Joe the plumber, I told him”: “You can compare the solution with Excel on-line. As many small mid-market companies are running around with metadata (no CAD files) in Excel, the simplified game changer with this cloud based PLM offering is that the metadata is now in the cloud, much easier to access and only a single version exists.”
(sorry for Autodesk, if I simplified it too much, but sometimes your conversation partner does not have an IT background as they are plumbers)
He was right and I had to go more in-depth to explain difference. This part of the conversation was similar to discussions I had in some meetings with owner / operators in the civil and energy sector, discussing the benefits of PLM practices for their industry.
I wrote about this in previous posts:
The trouble with dumb documents
Here it was even more a key point of the discussion that most of the legacy data is stored in dumb documents. And the main reason dumb documents are used is because the data needs to be available during the long lifecycle of the the plant, application independent if possible. So in the previous century this was paper, later scanned documents (TIFF – PDF) and currently mainly PDF. Most of the data now is digital but where is the intelligence ?
The challenges these companies have is that despite the fact information is now stored in a digital file, the next step is how to deal with the information in an intelligent manner. A document or an Excel file is a collection of information, you might call it knowledge, but to get access to the knowledge you need to find it.
Did you try to find a specific document in Google docs or SharePoint ? The conclusion will be the file name becomes very important, and perhaps some keywords ?
Is search the solution ?
To overcome this problem, full text search and search based applications were developed, that allow us to index and search inside the documents. A piece of cake for Google and a niche for others to index not only standard documents but also more technical data (drawings, scans from P&ID, etc, etc).
Does this solve the problem ?
Partly, as suddenly the user finds a lot more data. Search on Google for the words “Right data” and you have 3.760.000.000 hits (or more). But what is the right data ? The user can only decide what is the right data by understanding the context.
- Is it the latest version ?
- Is it reflecting the change we made at that functional position ?
- What has changed ?
And here comes the need for more intelligent data. And this is typically where a PLM system provides the answer.
A PLM systems is able to manage different types of information, not only documents. In the context of a plant or a building, the PLM system would also contain:
- a functional definition / structure (linked to its requirements)
- a logical definition / structure (how is it supposed to be ?)
- a physical definition / structure (what is physically there ?)
- a location definition / structure (where in the plant / building ?)
and this is all version managed and related to the supported documents and other types of information. This brings context to the documents and therefore it exposes knowledge.
As there is no automatic switch from dumb documents towards intelligent data, it will be a gradual process to move towards this vision. I see a major role for search based applications to support data discovery. Find a lot of information, but than have the capability to capture the result (or generate a digest of the result) and store it connected to your PLM system, where is it managed in the future and provides the context.
Conclusion: We understand that paper documents are out of time. Moving these documents to digital files stored in a central location, either in SharePoint or a cloud-based storage location is a step we will regret in ten years from now, as intelligent data is not only inside the digital files but also depending on its context.
The 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.
- PLM = PLM
- On the cloud = Open and Upgradeable
- Data = Process Support
- 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 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.
Oleg 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.
A 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
During 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).
I 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.
First 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.
A 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
In 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
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.
Autodesk 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.
- The Question of PLM or Not to PLM (arnoldit.com)
- Innovation @ PLM Innovation 2012 ? (virtualdutchman.com)
Two years ago I wrote a post called PLM in 2050 as the concluding post for 2008. Now two years later it is time to see what has changed my landscape during this period. Are we going to a predictable future or are new trends arising ?
These were the points I raised at that time:
1. “Data is not replicated any more – every piece of information that exists will have a Universal Unique ID, some people might call it the UUID. In 2020 this initiative became mature, thanks to the merger of some big PLM and ERP vendors, who brought this initiative to reality. This initiative reduced the exchange costs in supply chains dramatically and lead to bankruptcy for many companies providing translators and exchange software.”
I believe this trend is still happening only the big risk here is that it requires an open standard definition of this UUID. I am sure that before my retirement (see later below), there will be no global standard. There will be platform-vendor specific UUIDs and the challenge will be to operate in a heterogeneous platform-heterogeneous vendor environment. I feel less discussion on this topic in my environment, therefore the downward arrow.
2.”Companies store their data in ‘the cloud’ based on the previous concept. Only some old-fashioned companies still have their own data storage and exchange issues, as they are afraid someone will touch their data. Analysts compare this behavior with the situation in the year 1950, when people kept their money under a mattress, not trusting banks (and they were not always wrong)”
For sure this is the most important trend and I would rank it now as the number one trend for 2010. I just read an interesting article about Cloud Computing Predictions which addresses all dimensions of a cloud strategy and execution – very much worth reading.
What you see in that article and also around you, is that there is going to be a battle between legacy vendors, who will try to transform the cloud definition to a private cloud into a way it suits their platform, and the new cloud solution vendors which also require a platform and from there build and extend their services. It relates to one of the other trends I also mentioned in the 2008 post:
3. “Then with a shock, I noticed PLM did not longer exist. Companies were focusing on their core business processes. Systems/terms like PLM, ERP and CRM did not longer exist. Some older people still remembered the battle between those systems to own the data and the political discomfort this gave inside companies”
Combined with the new battle around the services platform it will be clear that in this approach dominant business systems, like CRM, ERP and PLM will no longer exist, as the focus will be to build business processes based on services and apps on a platform. Here I see PLM as the last hurdle to take. CRM already is understood by the market that it can be replaced by a cloud based solution, the first ERP attempts are already there too, but as PLM is a more, diverse and wide set of non-standardized functions, you will see that in this area the challenge to offer the required PLM capabilities will be the biggest. Another rising trend PLM vendors will move more towards the manufacturing execution, where ERP vendors will provide more PLM services.
The battle will be around, who owns the intellectual property of the company and where it is stored and managed.
4. “After 3D, a complete virtual world, based on holography, became the next step for product development and understanding of products. Thanks to the revolutionary quantum-3D technology, this concept could be even applied to life sciences. Before ordering a product, customers could first experience and describe their needs in a virtual environment”
This trend will also continue I believe and combined with different types of user-interfaces, mainly from the gaming world; the virtual reality will be the space where we do the most of our engineering work, shopping experience and entertainment. Big question will be, especially for the Matrix fans, will the real world stop to exist? So also here a growing trend – 3D television, 3D communication narrow the gap between the real and virtual world and understanding.
A trend I did not pick up at that time was the issue of social media and their influence on the existing business processes. At that time I wrote:
5. “As people were working so efficient, there was no need to work all week. There were community time slots, when everyone was active, but 50 per cent of the time, people had the time to recreate (to re-create or recreate was the question). Some older French and German designers remembered the days when they had only 10 weeks holiday per year, unimaginable nowadays.”
And I have to say I was completely wrong there. Thanks to social communities, I am spending now more time per day to jump from community to community, from blog post to blog post (I admire my colleagues who have time to produce blog posts). Meanwhile I try to follow all my Twitter and Facebook friends and meanwhile processing the messages coming from everywhere, without having time to really dig into a problem I want to solve.
So quickly I post a question in various forums to see if someone has the answer, as I have not time to solve it anymore – hopefully somewhere in the world there will be a person who has the answer or time. Where to position this new trend into the relation of PLM is still a question for me. Yes, collaboration becomes easier, less boundaries, but also less structure to store data. Intelligent search engines which also understand the context of the information become more and more important, as we cannot structure upfront all information as we did in the classical past.
Due to the economical crisis another trend came clear. There is no retirement money left for the older workforce that should retire in the next 20 years. So companies will have a new generation of people asking the questions and if the older workforce adapts the new social media capabillities, they can be the ones that provide the answers.
In 2050 I will just be retired at the age of 90, and according to statistics, I have still another 20 years to enjoy my bionic life.
I wish you all a happy and successful new year and that the good dreams may come true.
Keep innovation and sustainability on your agenda