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linkedinThis is a post I published on LinkedIn on July 28th related to a discussion around Excel and PLM usage and usability.
Reposted for my blog subscribers.


This post is written in the context of two posts that recently caught my attention. One post from Lionel Grealou – comparing PLM and Excel collaboration and reaction on this post and its comments by Oleg Shilovitsky – PLM Need for speed.

Both posts discuss the difference between Excel (easy to use / easy to deploy ) and a PLM system (complex to use / complicated deployment). And when you read both posts you would believe that it is mainly deployment and usability that are blocking PLM systems to be used instead of Excel.

Then I realized this cannot be the case. If usability and deployment were blocking issues for an enterprise system, how would it be possible that the most infamous system for usability, SAP, it one of the top-selling enterprise applications. Probably SAP is the best-selling enterprise application. In addition, I have never heard about any company mentioning SAP is easy to deploy. So what is the difference?

I assume if Excel had existed in its current state in the early days of MRP, people might be tempted to use Excel for some ERP functions. However they would soon realize that Excel is error prone and when you buy the wrong materials or when make errors in your resource scheduling, soon you would try to solve it in a more secure way. Using an ERP system.

ERP systems have never been sold to the users for their usability. It is more that the management is looking for guarantees that the execution process is under control. Minimize the potential for errors and try to automate all activities as much as possible. As the production process is directly linked to finance, it is crucial to have it under control. Goodbye usability, safety first.

Why is this approach not accepted for PLM?
Why do we talk about usability?

First of all, the roots for PLM come from the engineering department (PDM) and, therefore, their primary data management system was not considered an enterprise system. And when you implement a system for a department, discussions will be at the user level. So user acceptance became necessary for PDM and PLM.

But this is not the main reason. Innovation, Product Development, Sales Engineering, Engineering are all iterative activities. In contrary to ERP, there is no linear process defined how to develop the ultimate product the first time right. Although this believe existed in the nineties by an ERP country manager that I met that time. He told me

“Engineers are resources that do not want to be managed, but we will get them.”

An absurd statement I hope you agree. However, the thoughts behind this statement are correct. How do you make sure product development is done in the most efficient manner?

If you look at large enterprises in the aerospace or automotive industry, they implemented PLM, which for sure was not user-friendly. Why did they implement PLM? As they did not want to fix the errors, an Excel-like implementation would bring.

Using Excel has a lot of hidden costs. How to make sure you work with the right version as multiple copies exist? How do you know if the Excel does not contain any type indicating wrong parts? You will learn this only once it is too late. How do you understand the related information to the Excel (CAD files, specifications, etc., etc.)? All lead to a lot of extra manual work depending on the accuracy and discipline of every employee in the company. Large enterprises do not want to be dependent on individual skills.

Large enterprise have shown that it is not about usability in the first place if you wish to control the data. Like for ERP systems, they are aware of the need for PLM with reduced usability above being (fl)Exel with all its related inconvenience.

I believe when there is a discussion about PLM or Excel, we have not reached the needed conceptual level to implement PLM. PLM is about sharing data and breaking down silos. Sharing allows better and faster collaboration, maintaining quality, and this is what companies want to achieve. Therefore the title: How do you measure collaboration. This is the process you wish to optimize, and I suspect that when you would compare user-friendly collaboration with Excel with less user-friendly PLM, you might discover PLM is more efficient.

Therefore stop comparing Excel and PLM. It is all about enabling collaboration and changing people to work together (the biggest challenge – more than usability).

Conclusion: Once we have agreed on that concept, PLM value is about collaboration, there is always to hope to enhance usability. Even SAP is working on that – it is an enterprise software issue.

I was sitting outside in the garden during Ascension Day, which is (still) a national holiday in the Netherlands (Thanks God). It was again nice and warm, and it made me think about the parallels between Global warming and PLM.

whyworryClimate change has always been there if we look at the history of our planet. We started to talk about Global Warming when scientist indicated that this time the climate change is caused by human intervention. As a result of vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse effect started to become visible. When the first rumors came that global warming began to come up, environmentalists started preaching we have to act NOW before it is too late. Meanwhile at the other side, people began arguing that it was just a coincidence, an opinion.

There is no scientific proof, so why worry?

GlobalWarmingIn the past ten years, the signs and proofs of global warming have become evident and climate conferences filled with people who want to act and on the other side the blockers, try to create progress in the battle against global warming. In particular in Europe governments and companies are starting to become aware that they can contribute to a more sustainable society.

Not enough according to the environmentalists and scientists. As our brains still operate mostly in a prehistoric mode (day-to-day survival, food, home, social status), slow changes and sustainability for next generations are not part of most people concerns. And those people, who make us aware of this lack of priority for sustainability, are considered annoying as they disrupt our lives.

Companies that have invested (heavily) in sustainable business models often have a challenging path to survive against traditional businesses. As the majority of consumers wants cheap. Some examples:

  • Energy: most power plants are heated by burning coal as this is the cheapest option. Shale gas winning became attractive because we need cheap fuel. Alternatives like solar, wind and others cannot compete on price level as long as we do not pay for the damage to nature.
  • Food: produced in bio-farms, where animal wellness or health is not part of the plan. The goal is to deliver xx kilos of meat for the lowest price. Alternative like more natural ways of growing meat or even revolutionary ways (the grown hamburger) cannot compete on price currently unless we are willing to pay for it.
  • The Fashion industry where down in its supply chains human beings are treated like slaves. When you buy a cheap garment, you know somebody has been suffering.

Governments sometimes subsidize or push sustainable technologies as they realize that something has to happen (most of the time for the public opinion – their voters) but there is no consistent strategy as liberals believe every form of support is against open competition. And as long as we let our prehistoric brain run our choices, the earth gets warmer with the consequences being visible more and more.

We know we have to act, but we do not act seriously

Now let´s switch to PLM. The association started when I saw Chad Jackson’s retweet from Lifecycle insights related to top PLM challenges.


Clearly the message illustrates that costs, time, and technology have priority. Not about what PLM really can establish (even in the context of global warming).

PLM_profPLM started end of the previous century, initially invented by some of the major CAD vendors, Dassault Systemes, PTC, and Siemens. Five years later it was taken more seriously, as also enterprise software vendors, like SAP and Oracle, started to work on their PLM offering. And some years ago even the most skeptic company related to PLM, Autodesk, began to sell a PLM offering.

So like global warming we can conclude: PLM is recognized, and now we can act.

The early adopters of PLM are also in a challenging situation. Their first PLM implementations were very much focused on an IT-infrastructure, allowing data to flow through a global organization, without disrupting the day-to-day business model too much. These implementations are now a burden to many of them: costly and almost impossible to change. Look at the PLM stories from some of the major automotive companies, like Daimler, JLR, PSA, Renault, , Volvo Cars and more.

email_lockThey are all somehow kept hostage by their old implementations (as business continues) however due to changing ownership, business models and technology they cannot benefit from modern PLM concepts as it would be a disruption.

Meanwhile, PLM has evolved from an IT-infrastructure into a business-driven approach to support global, more flexible and customer-driven business processes. Younger companies that are now starting in Asia do not suffer from this legacy and are faster established based on the know-how from the early adopters.

And this is not only happing in the automotive industry. In the recent years, I have seen examples in the Oil & Gas industry, the High-Tech industry (which in theory is relative young) and the Manufacturing industry.

No_roiComing back to the 2015 PLM challenges tweeted by Chad Jackson, it looks like they are related to time and costs. Obviously it is not clear what values PLM can bring to a company outside efficiency gains (ERP/Lean thinking). Modern PLM allows companies to change their business model as I wrote recently: From a linear to fast and circular. No longer is the PLM mission to support companies with product information from cradle to grave but from cradle to cradle. Sustainability and becoming connected to customers are new demands: Operational services instead of selling products, linking it with the need for IoT to understand what is happening.

In the 2015 PLM, the discussion with executives is about purchasing technology instead of the need to change our business for long-term survival. Most investors do not like long-term visions as their prehistoric brains are tuned to be satisfied in the short-term.

changeTherefore, as long as the discussion about PLM is about IT and infrastructure and not about business change, there will be this stall, identical to what happens with addressing global warming. Short term results are expected by the stakeholders, trying to keep up the current model. Strategists and business experts are all talking about the new upcoming digital era, similar to global warming.

We know we have to act, but we do not act seriously

When I posted a short version of this post on LinkedIn on Ascension Day, I got some excellent feedback which I want to share here:

Dieter de Vroomen (independent advisor, interim manager & neighbor) wrote me an email. Dieter does not have a PLM-twisted brain. Therefore I like his opinion:

PLM and Global Warming are both assumptions, mental constructs that we can make plausible with technology and data. Both mindsets save us from disasters through the use of technology. And that’s what both sell. But is that what they produce, what we want? Apple and associates think vice versa, making what first we want and explain later the underlying technology. I miss that with global warming, but certainly PLM. That’s why it sells so bad CxO’s.

I think the point Dieter is making is interesting as he is a non-PLM guy -showing the way CxO might be  thinking. As long as we (PLMers) do not offer a packaged solution, an end-to-end experience, it is hard to convince the C-level. This is one of the significant differences between ERP (its purpose is clearly is tangible) and PLM (see my post PLM at risk! It does not have a clear target).

A more motivating comment came from Ben Muis, consultant and entrepreneur in the fashion industry. We met at the PI Apparel 2013 conference, and I like his passion for bringing innovation to the fashion industry. Read his full comments on my post on LinkedIn as he combined in his career sustainability and PLM. Two quotes from Ben:

As you may know I did quite a bit of work on how the fashion industry could and should be more sustainable in its approach. This was at a time where only a handful of people at best were willing to even think about this. Knowing that in reality the decisions around cost and commercialism were driving the agenda, I drew the conclusion that by improving processes within the industry I could actually cause a sustainability improvement that was driven by commercial desire.

Explaining how you can become involved in the bigger picture and for Ben it is the possibility to keep on working on his passion in a real-time world. And finally:

So there you have it… my reasons for initially thinking your title was very close to the reason I shifted my focus from pure sustainability advice to PLM implementations to begin with. I could drive a real result much quicker. This, as I am sure you will agree, in itself supports the reason for taking PLM seriously

My conclusion:

The topics PLM and Global Warming have a lot in common. The awareness exists. However when it comes to action, we are blocked by our prehistoric brain, thinking about short term benefits. This will not change in the next 1000 years. Therefore, we need organizations and individuals that against all odds take the steep path and have a vision of change, breaking the old models and silos. It will cost money, it will require a sacrifice and the reward will only be noticed by next generations. What a shame

A final quote before going back to standard PLM matter in upcoming posts:

“Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.”

Robert A. Heinlein

Mindmap image courtesy of www.mindmapart.comJane Genovese

imageThis is the fifth year that marketkey organized their vendor-independent conference in Europe around Product Innovation, where PLM is the major cornerstone. Approximate 100 companies attended this conference coming from various industries. As there were most of the time two till four parallel tracks (program here), it will still take time for me to digest all the content. However here a first impression and a comparison to what has changed since the PI Conference in 2014 – you can read my review from that conference here.

First of all the keynote speeches for this conference were excellent and were a good foundation for attendees to discuss and open their mind. Secondly I felt that this conference was actually dealing with the imminent shift from classic, centralized businesses towards the data-centric approach to connectivity of information coming from anyone / anything connected. Naturally the Internet of Everything (IoE) and the Internet of Things (IoT) were part of the discussion combined with changing business models: moving from delivering products toward offering services (CAPEX versus OPEX).

Some of the highlights here:

clip_image002The first keynote speaker was Carlo Rati Director, MIT Senseable Lab. He illustrated through various experiments and examples how being connected through devices we can change and improve our world: tagging waste, mobile phone activity in a city and the Copenhagen Wheel. His main conclusion (not a surprise): For innovation there is a need to change collaboration. Instead of staying within the company / discipline boundaries solving problems through collaboration between different disciplines will lead to different thinking. How is your company dealing with innovation?

clip_image004The second session I attended was John Housego from W.L. Gore and Associates who explained the company’s model for continuous growth and innovation. The company’s future is not based on management but based on leadership of people working in teams in a flat organization. Every employee is an associate, directly involved and challenged to define the company’s future. Have a read about the company’s background here on Wikipedia.

Although the company is 50 years old, I realized that their cultural model is a perfect match with the future of many businesses. More and more companies need to be lean and flexible and support direct contact between the field, customers, market and experts inside the company. Implementing a modern PLM platform should be “a piece of cake” if the technology exists, as W.L. Gore’s associates will not block the change if they understand the value. No silos to break down.

clip_image006My presentation “The Challenge of PLM Upgrades as We See the Rules of Business Change” was based around two themes (perpetual software ? / seamless upgrades ?) and from there look towards the future what to expect in business. When we look back, we see that every 10 years there is a major technology change, which makes the past incompatible to upgrade. Now we are dreaming that cloud-based solutions are the future to guarantee seamless upgrades (let’s wait 10 years). To my opinion companies should not consider a PLM upgrade at this moment.

The changes in business models, people behavior and skills plus technology change, will enable companies to move towards a data-centric approach. Companies need to break with the past (a linear, mechanical-design-based, product development approach) and redesign a platform for the future (a business-innovation platform based on the data). In my upcoming blog post(s) I will give more background on this statement.



Trond Zimmerman from the Volvo Group Truck explained the challenges and solution concept they experienced as they are currently implementing answering the challenge of working in a joint venture with Dongfeng Commercial Vehicles. As in a joined venture you want to optimize sharing of common parts, still you cannot expect a single PLM solution for the total joint venture. For that reason, Volvo Group Truck is implementing Share-A-Space from Eurostep to have a controlled collaboration layer between the two joint venture partners.

This is, to my opinion, one of the examples of future PLM practices, where data will not be stored in a single monolithic system, but data will be connected through information layers and services. The case is similar to what has been presented last year at Product Innovation 2014 where Eurostep and Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery implemented a similar layer on top of their PDM environment to enable controlled sharing with their suppliers.

clip_image012David Rowan from closed the day with his keynote: Understanding the New Rules of Product Innovation. He touched the same topic as John Housego from W.L. Gore somehow: it is all about democratization. Instead of hierarchy we are moving to network-based activities. And this approach has a huge impact on businesses. David’s message: Prepare for constant change. Where in the past we lived in a “linear” century, change according to Moore’s law, we are entering now an exponential century where change is going faster and faster. Besides examples of the Internet of Thing, David also gave some examples of the Internet of Stupid Things. He showed a quote from Steve Balmer stating that nobody would pay $ 500 for a phone (Apple). The risk he made is that by claiming some of these stupid inventions might lead to a quote in the future. I think the challenge is always to stay open-minded without judging as at the end the market will decide.


clip_image014I spent the evening networking with a lot of people, most of them excited about the future capabilities that have been presented. In parallel, the discussion was also about the conservative behavior of many companies. Topics that are already for ten years under discussion – how to deal and connect PLM and ERP, where is the MBOM, what are the roles of PLM and ERP for an organization, are still thankful topics for a discussion, showing where most companies now are with their business understanding.

In parallel to a product innovation conference apparently there is still a need to agree on basic PLM concepts from the previous century.

clip_image016The second day opened with an excellent keynote speech from Dirk Schlesinger from Cisco. He talked about the Internet of Everything and provided examples of the main components of IoE: Connectivity, Sensors, Platform, Analytics, and Mobility. In particular the example of Connectivity was demonstrating the future benefits modern PLM platforms can bring. Dirk talked about a project with Dundee Mining where everything in the mine was tagged with RFI devices (people, equipment, vehicles, and resources) and the whole mine was equipped with Wi-Fi.

Based on this approach the execution and planning of what happened was done in their HQ through a virtual environment, giving planners immediate visibility of what happens and allowing them to decide on real data. This is exactly the message I have posted in my recent blog posts.

The most fascinating part were the reported results. This project is ongoing now for 3 years and the first year they achieved a production increase of 30 %. Now they are aiming for this year for a 400 % production increase and a 250 % efficiency increase. These are the numbers to imagine when you implement a digital strategy. It is no longer any more about making our classical processes more efficient, it is about everyone connected and everyone collaborates.

clip_image018Marc Halpern from Gartner gave an good presentation connecting the hype of the Internet of Things with the world of PLM again, talking about Product Innovation Platforms. Marc also touched on the (needed) upcoming change in engineering processes. More and more we will develop complex products, which need system thinking. Systems of Systems to handle this complexity, As Marc stated: “Product, process, culture is based on electro-mechanical products where the future trend is all about software.” We should reconsider our Bill of Materials (mechanical) and think probably more about a Bill of Features (software). Much of Marc’s presentation contained the same elements as I discussed in my PDT2014 blog post from October last year.

clip_image019I was happy to see Jenni Ala-Mantila presenting the usage of PLM system for Skanska Oy. Skanska is one of the largest construction companies operating global. See one of their beautiful corporate videos here. I always have been an advocate to use PLM practices and PLM infrastructure to enhance, in particular, the data-continuity in a business where people work in silos with separate tools. There are so many benefits to gain by having an end-to-end visibility of the project and its related data. Jenni’s presentation was confirming this.

By implementing a PLM backbone with a focus on project management, supplier collaboration and risk management, she confirmed that PLM has contributed significant to their Five Zero – vision: Zero loss-making projects, Zero Environmental incidents, Zero Accidents, Zero Ethical breaches and Zero Defects. Skanska is really a visionary company although it was frustrating to learn that there was still a need to build a SharePoint connection with their PLM environment. The future of data-centric has not reached everyone in the organization yet.

The last two sessions of the conference, a panel discussion “Why is Process Innovation Challenging & What can be done about it” plus the final keynote “Sourcing Growth where Growth Takes Place” had some commonality which I expressed in some twitter quotes:





Where last year I had the impression that the PLM world was somehow in a static mode, not so much news in 2014. It became clear in this 2015 conference that the change towards new business paradigms is really happening and at a faster pace than expected. From mechanical development processes to software processes, from linear towards continuous changes. Moe to come this year

coopIn the past two years, I have been heavily involved in PLM Proof of Concepts sitting at both sides of the table. Supporting companies in their PLM selection, supporting a vendor explaining their value to the customer and supporting implementers assisting them with industry knowledge, all in the context of a PLM selection process.

The Proof of Concept is crucial in a PLM selection process as it is the moment where the first glimpse of reality comes to the table.

Different size of companies, different consultants all have a different view on the importance of the Proof of Concept. Let me share you my thoughts after a quick recap on the PLM selection process.

The PLM selection process

1. Build a vision

visionIt is important that a company understands what they want to achieve in the next five to ten years, before starting a PLM selection process. Implementing PLM means a business transformation, even if you are a small company. If the management does not understand a vision is required, there is a potential risk upcoming, as PLM without a change in the way people work, will not deliver the expected results.

2. Issue an RFI to potential candidates

rfi-plmOnce you have a PLM vision, it is time to get in touch with potential suppliers. The RFI (Request for Information) phase is the phase where you can educate yourself better by challenging the suppliers to work with you on the future solutions.

3. Discuss with selected candidates

discussFrom the RFI responses you understand which companies are attractive because they match your vision, your budget or industry. Have a first interaction with the selected companies and let them demo their standard environment targeted to your vision.

4. POC

test conceptIn this stage, you check with the preferred companies their ability to deliver and your ability to work together. The POC phase should give you the understanding of the scope for the upcoming PLM project and help you to understand who and how the project can be executed. More details about this step below.

5. RFP

No_roiAlthough some companies start with an RFP before the POC, for me it makes most sense to verify the details after you have a proper understanding of the To-Be solution. The RFP is often the base for the contractual scope and therefore should be as accurate as possible

In the past, I wrote in more detail about the PLM selection process. Two posts:  PLM selection: Don’t do this and PLM selection: Do this. Have a read if you want to understand this part in more depth. Now let´s focus on the POC .

POC targets

  • As described before, the target of the Proof of Concept should be to get a better understanding of the potential To-Be processes and obtain an impression of the capabilities of the implementer and the preferred PLM software.

The result should be that you have more realistic expectations of what can be achieved and the challenges your company will face.

  • From there, you can evaluate the risks, address them and build an achievable roadmap to implement. It is important that the focus is not just on the cost of the implementation.
  • To sell PLM inside your company, you need to realign with the vision and explain, to all people involved,the value of “Why PLM”.

Explaining the value is complex, as not everyone needs the same message. The management will focus on business benefits where users will focus how it impacts their daily life.  If you forget to explain the value, the PLM projects, it is considered again as just another software purchase.


businessMake sure the Proof of Concept is driven by validating future business scenarios, focusing on the To-Be solution. The high-level scenarios should be demonstrated and explained to the business people. In this stage, it is important people realize the benefits and the value of the new processes.

sales eventThe POC is also an internal sales event. The goal should be to get more enthusiastic and supportive business people in your company for the upcoming PLM project. Identify the champions you will need to lean on during the implementation.

balanceTest the implementer. To my opinion the critical success of a PLM implementation depends on the implementation team, not on the software. Therefore, the POC phase is the best moment to learn if you can work with the implementer. Do they know your business? Do they have experience with your business? The more you are aligned, the higher the chance you will be successful as a team

commitShow commitment to engage. Often I have seen POC engagements where the company demanded the implementer or vendor a Proof of Concept for free. This creates an unbalanced situation during the Proof of Concept as the vendor or implementer can not invest time and resources in the process as expected without any commitment from the company. By paying a certain fee for the POC, a company can demonstrate to the implementer /vendor that this POC is valuable for you and you can request the same response from them.


no detailsThe Proof of Concept is not a detailed function/feature check to identify each mouse-click or option in the system. During the implementation, these details might come up. It is important in a Proof of Concept to understand the big picture and not to get lost in the details. As human beings we tend to focus on what does not work, not realizing that probably over eighty-ninety percent works according the needs

ultimateDo not expect the ultimate To-Be scenario demonstrated during the Proof of Concept. The Proof of Concept is a learning stage for both the company and the implementer to imagine the best possible scenario. PLM systems are generic and likely they will not provide a similar configuration and functionality matching your environment. At this stage validate if the primary capabilities are there and if there are gaps.

plm vendorDo not run a POC with a vendor (only). This might be one of the most critical points for a POC. A PLM software vendor’s target is to sell their software and for that reason they often have dedicated presales teams that will show you everything in a smooth manner, overwhelming you with all the beauty of the software. However after the POC this team is gone and you will have to align yourself again with the implementation partner, trying to match again your business needs and their understanding.

imageRealize – you get what you are asking for. This is more a Do-and-Don’t message packed together. A Proof of Concept phase is a point where companies get to know each other. If you are not focused, do not expect the implementer / vendor to be committed. A PLM implementation is not product. It is a business transformation supported by products and services. Do not treat PLM implementers and vendors in the same way, as your customers treat you (in case you deliver products).


There are still many more thoughts about the Proof of Concept . Ideally you run two POCs in parallel, either with two implementers of the preferred software (if possible) or with two different implementers representing different software.

Ideally, as I know it is a challenge, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, where people are running to keep the business on-going.

Still remember, PLM is a business transformation, targeting to improve your business in the upcoming five to ten years, avoiding you are running out of business.

Your thoughts ?

As a bonus a short anecdote that I posted in 2010 still relevant:

plm heaven or hell

Some time ago a Christian PLM Sales professional died (let’s call him Jack) and according to his believe he faced Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven and Hell.
Saint Peter greeted Jack and said: “Jack, with the PLM Sales you have done good and bad things to the world. For that reason, I cannot decide if you should go to Heaven or to Hell. Therefore, I allow you to make the choice yourself”.

Jack replied: “But Saint Peter, how can I make such an important decision for the rest of my eternal life. It is too difficult!”

Saint Peter replied: “No problem Jack, take a look at Heaven and Hell, take your time and then tell me your decision.”

Jack entered Heaven and he was surprised about the quietness and green atmosphere there. Angels were singing, people were eating from golden plates with the best food ever, people were reading poetry and everything was as peaceful as you could imagine. In the distance, he could see God surrounded by some prophets talking about the long-term future. After some time, Jack had seen it and went to Hell to have a view there.

And when he opened the gates of Hell, he was astonished. Everywhere he looked there were people partying, having fun. It reminded him off these sales kick-offs, he had in the past, exotic places with lots of fun. In the distance, he could see the Devil as DJ playing the latest dance music – or was it DJ Tiësto?

Jack did not hesitate and ran back to Saint Peter, no time to lose. “Saint Peter,” he said “I want to go to Hell, no doubt. And pity I did not know it before”

“So be it, ” said Saint Peter “go for it.”

And then once Jack entered Hell, it was suddenly all fire around him, people were screaming of pain and suffering and also Jack felt the first flames.

“Devil!!”  He screamed “what happened to what I have seen before?”

With a sarcastic voice, the devil replied: “That? That was a proof of concept.”

changeBusiness is changing and becoming digital as you might have noticed. If you haven´t noticed it, you might be disconnected from the world or work in a stable silo. A little bit simplified and provocative otherwise you would not read further.

The change towards digital also has its effect on how PLM is evolving. Initially considered as an extension of PDM, managing engineering data, slowly evolving to an infrastructure to support the whole product lifecycle.

The benefits from a real PLM infrastructure are extremely high as it allows people to work smarter, identify issues earlier and change from being reactive towards proactive. In some industries, this change in working is they only way to stay in business. Others with still enough margin will not act.

Note: I am talking about a PLM infrastructure as I do not believe in a single PLM system anymore. For me PLM is supported through a collection of services across the whole product lifecycle, many potentially in one system or platform.

Changing from an engineering-centric system towards an infrastructure across the departmental silos is the biggest challenge for PLM. PLM vendors and ERP vendors with a PLM offering are trying provide this infrastructure and mainly fight against Excel. As an Excel file can easy pass the border from one department to the other. No vision needed for Excel.

A PLM infrastructure however requires a vision. A company has to look at its core business processes and decide on which information flows through the organization or even better their whole value chain.

Building this vision, understanding this vision and then being able to explain the vision is a challenge for all companies. Where sometime even management says

“Why do we need to have a vision, just fix the problem”

also people working in departments are not looking forward to change their daily routines because they need to share information. Here you here statements like

“Why people feel the need to look at the big picture. I want to have my work done.”

So if current businesses do not change, will there be a change?


Here I see the digital world combined with search-based applications coming up. Search based applications allow companies to index their silos and external sources and get an understanding of the amount of data there exists. And from these results learn that there is a lot of duplicated data or invalid information at different places.

This awareness might create the understanding that if instead of having hundred thousands of Excels in the organization, it would be better to have the data inside a database, uniquely stored and connected to other relevant information.

I have described this process in my past three posts and agreed the context remains complex if you are not involved or interested in it.

To grasp this concept first of all, you need to have the will to understand it. There is a lot of strategic information out there from companies like Accenture, Capgemini and more.

Next if you want to understand it in a more down-to-earth manner it is important to listen and talk with your peers from other companies, other industries. This is currently happening all around the world and I invite you to participate.

Here is a list of events that I am attending or planned to attend but too far away:

October 7th Stockholm – ENOVIA user conference

imageHere I will participate as a panel member in the discussion around the concept of zero files. Here we want to explain and discuss to the audience what a data-centric approach means for an organization. Also, customers will share their experiences. This conference is focusing on the ENOVIA community – you can still register here

October 14th-15th Paris – Product Data Technology 2014 conference

pdteuropeHere I will speak about the PLM future (based on data) and what PLM should deliver for the future generations. This conference is much broader and addresses all PLM related topics in a broader perspective

October 28 Product Innovation conference in San Diego

picongressI have always enjoyed participating to this conference as like the PDT2014 it brings people together for networking and discussions. Mostly on business topics not on IT-issues.

November 26 Infuseit seminar in Copenhagen

imageRelative new in the Nordics Infuseit, a PLM consultancy company, is able to attract an audience that wants to work on understanding the PLM future. Instead of listening to presenters, here you are challenged to to discuss and contribute to build a common opinion. I will be there too.


Conclusion: It is time to prepare yourself for the change – it is happening and be educated an investment that will be rewarding for your company

What do you think – Is data-centric a dream ?

dataIn my previous post, I talked about the unstoppable trend towards digital information and knowledge based on data becoming the new business paradigm.

Building knowledge based on information extracted from data, instead of working with documents and people, who need to manipulate these documents.

Moreover, the reasons to move towards a digital data-oriented approach are the immense business benefits it can bring to an organization. Having online visibility on information in context of other information from different stakeholders allows companies to be more proactive.

A proactive company will react faster to the market or customer. This will reduce waste and resources (materials / people) and therefore in the end be more competitive. This is all described in my first post, with relevant links to various global references.

In this post, I want to describe in an example what the differences are between a document-oriented and a data-oriented approach and how it affects people and business. This might give you an impression of the expected business benefits.

The ultimate goal behind a data-oriented approach is to have a single version of the truth for a product, project or plant. This can be realized by treating information as data elements in various connected database, where on demand reports or dashboards can be created based on actual information, instead of documents generated by duplicating data in new systems and locations. Digital data will provide paperless processes accessible almost anywhere around the world.

push or pull

As an example, I will explain the difference between document-centric and data-centric when dealing with specifications.

The specification

Everyone knows the challenge with specifications. Most of the time in printed documents describing how a product or service should work from the client point of view. There are two principles behind specifications:

  • Complexity. The more complex product or service is, the bigger chance that specifications are not complete or hundred percent understood, leading to an iterative change process. The challenge here is to manage the change and the consistency of the full specifications.
  • Industry and margins. In a repetitive business, for example, the automotive or other mass consumer products, products can be quiet complex and once sold hard to maintain and repair. In a competitive business, an error in the field can consume a lot of the expected profit. In the construction industry, where most of the time single projects are executed by a chain of disciplines, the industry (still) accepts the costs overrun and the high costs of fixing issues in the field, instead of being clearer upfront during the design and planning.

Let’s stay with the example in the middle of complexity and industry volume. In color the various stages of the process.

The document based specification – 1

pdfWhen the document based specification arrives, the company has to get an understanding of the content. The project manager has a first read through the document (100+ pages) and decides to send the document (it is a pdf) to sales, engineering, legal and planning. Engineering decides to distribute the document internally to mechanical, electrical and quality (for compliance).

The project manager stresses everyone on a weekly base to deliver the responses and tries to understand if the answers will come in time. There are some meetings needed with the stakeholders as the whole understanding needs to be consistent. Based on several iterations a response is compiled.

The data-oriented approach – 1

ReqStructureWhen the document based specification arrives, the project leader first stores the document as a reference in the PLM system and extracts all the customer requirements as data elements in the system. While extracting the requirements, the projects manager groups them into digital folders (functional / non-functional, contractual, regulations, etc.) and assigns them to the relevant stakeholders, who get notified by the system. Each of the persons assigned, again the engineering manager has distributed the discipline specific requirements internally.

The project manager watches the progress of the requirements analyses which are around a virtual model. There is still a need for meetings with the stakeholders to agree on the solution approach. Everything is stored and visible online in the system. This visibility has helped some of the stakeholders to be better-aligned upfront. In the end, the response is generated and converted to the customer’s format.

Not much benefit for step 1

imageIf you compare the two approaches, there is mainly one person happy: the project manager. Instead of spending time to collect the status of all information, direct visibility on the response helps him/her to prioritize of focus where attention is needed, instead of discovering it on a weekly base.

There is some small benefit from the virtual model as other stakeholders can have a better understanding of the actual progress.

However, for the rest, all stakeholders are complaining. It is difficult to work. (Fl)Excel was much easier. Moreover, thinking about a virtual model takes time as we are not used working in this way. Typically something for aerospace you might think.

And now the benefits come – step 2

The customer has placed the order, and the project has started. The design has started, and people start to discover discrepancies or ambiguous demands that need to be negotiated with the customer. Is it part of the project and if not, should it become part of the project and at which costs (for whom)

The document oriented approach – 2

searchSeveral engineers are now discussing with the counterparts at the customer the detailed interpretation of the requirements, either through face-to-face meetings or emails. Changes are collected and sent to the project manager, who tries to understand what has changed and how to merge it in an on-going specification document. To avoid many revisions, he/she tries to update the document on a bi-weekly base, send it to the internal stakeholders for review and with their feedback generates a specification document for the customer that supposed to cover the latest agreements.

Unfortunate not all changes have reached the document as some of the stakeholders were busy and forgot to include some of the changes agreed with the customer as they were in a lost email. Also, a previous change of a requirement was overwritten as an update from quality used the old data. Finally, some design solutions were changed, which raised the costs. And not sure if the product with all its changes will be compliant after delivery. However, luckily nobody noticed so far, not even the customer

The data-oriented approach – 2

whyworryThanks to the virtual model and the relations between all the requirements, any change in a requirement gets notified in the system. When a requirement is further clarified, it is updated in the system. When a requirement needs to be changed, it is clear what the impact of this change is. A change workflow assures that decisions are made visible and approved. Potentially changes that lead to more work were quoted to the customer for acceptance. Luckily the compliancy engineer noted that the change of materials used would lead to a compliancy issue. On a bi-weekly base, the project manager generates an agreed specification for the customer based on the data in the system.

Benefits are growing.

imageThe project manager remains the happiest person and is even happier as less discussion is needed about who changed what and why. Alternatively, discussions about changes that should exist and cannot be found. The time saved by the project manager could be used to collaborate even better with the teams (without annoying them) or perhaps a second project to manage in parallel.

Other stakeholders start to enjoy the data-oriented approach too. Less ambiguity on their side too, fewer iterations because changes were not apparent. As all information is related to the virtual model online, the actual status is clear when making a decision. Less fixing afterwards and luckily still project meeting between the stakeholders to synchronize. The PLM system does not eliminate communication; it provides a reliable baseline of the truth. No need (and option) to look in your archives.

At this stage, benefits start to become clear. Fewer iterations and better decisions will have an impact on the costs and project stress. Still a complaint from the engineers might be that they need to do too much upfront thinking although some years later they might discover that this will be their main job. Fixing issues from the past have diminished.

And then the ultimate benefits

Now the project has reached the physical state. It is manufactured or under commissioning.

The document oriented approach – 3

No_roiIn the document oriented approach, many issues might pop-up because they have not been considered in the early phase, or they got lost during document exchanges. Does the product work as specified? Is the building certified as specified?

The customer is king and for manufacturing companies this might lead to product recalls or launch delays. In the construction world, people in the field, will fix the issues by using skilled resources and creating a waste of materials and/or resources.

Data handover to the owner is a nightmare for a the project-centric delivery. Several people have been searching for documents, specifications and emails to build and compile the required documents for handover.

The data-oriented approach – 3

sel_aIn the data-centric approach, the behavior of the physical product works as expected as most of the issues have been solved in the virtual model. When testing the product it works as specified as the specifying requirements have always been linked to the product. Moreover, they have been agreed and approved by the relevant stakeholders. Where relevant, the customer has paid for the extra work specified.

The handover process was not so stressful as before with the document-oriented approach. As the required information was known and specified upfront related to the requirements, the maturity process of the virtual model assured this data exists in the system. Now the as-built information matches the as-specified information. What a relief.


imageIt is clear that the significant benefits can be found in step 3. I wrote the comparison in an extreme manner, knowing that reality lies in the middle. Excellent people can comprehend and fix more upfront because of their experience. Building the ultimate virtual model is not yet an easy achievement either.

The savings in materials and required resources are significant in a data-oriented approach. The time savings and the quality enhancements might change your company into a market-leader. The cost savings achieved through a pro-active approach will make your margin growing (unless competition does the same) and enable you to innovate.

One final remark on business change

ideaIf business change could be achieved by selecting the right tool or system without a business change, you will never get a competitive advantage. As your competitor can buy these too.

However, if you change to a data-centric approach, it will be a though change process and therefore once implemented you will leave competitors behind that keep on hanging on the past.


Two weeks ago I attended the Nobletek PLM forum in Belgium, where a group of experts, managers and users discussed topics related to my favorite theme: “Is PLM changing? “

Dick Terleth (ADSE) lead a discussion with title “PLM and Configuration Management as a proper profession” or "How can the little man grow?". The context of the discussion was related to the topic: “How is it possible that the benefits of PLM (and Configuration Management) are not understood at C-level?” or with other words: “Why is the value for Configuration Management and PLM not obvious?”.

In my previous post, PLM is doomed unless …., I quoted Ed Lopategui (, who commented that being a PLM champion (or a Configuration Management expert as Dick Terleth would add) is bad for your career. Dick Terleth asked the same question, showing pictures of the self-assured accountant and the Configuration Management or PLM professional. (Thanks Dick for the pictures). Which job would you prefer?


The PLM ROI discussion

No_roiA first attempt to understand the difference could be related to the ROI discussion, which seems to be only applicable for PLM. Apparently ERP and financial management systems are a must for companies. No ROI discussion here. Persons who can control/report the numbers seem to have the company under control. For the CEO and CFO the value of PLM is often unclear. And to make it worse, PLM vendors and implementers are fighting for their unique definition of PLM so we cannot blame companies to be confused. This makes it clear that if you haven´t invested significant time to understand PLM, it will be hard to see the big picture. And at C-level people do not invest significant time to understand the topic. It is the C-level´s education, background or work experience that make him/her decide.

So if the C-level is not educated on PLM, somebody has to sell the value to them. Oleg Shilovitsky wrote about it recently in his post Why is it hard to sell PLM ROI and another respected blogger, Joe Barkai, sees the sun come up behind the cloud, in his latest post PLM Service Providers Ready To Deliver Greater Value. If you follow the posts of independent PLM bloggers (although who is 100 % independent), you will see a common understanding that implementing PLM currently requires a business transformation as old processes were not designed for a modern infrastructure and digital capabilities.

PLM is about (changing) business processes

imageBack to the Nobletek PLM forum. Douglas Noordhoorn, the moderator of the forum challenged the audience stating that PLM has always been there (or not there – if you haven´t discovered it). It is all about managing the product development processes in a secure way. Not talking about “Best Practices” but “Good practices." Those who had a proper education in the aerospace industry learned that good processes are crucial to deliver planes that can fly and are reliable.

Of course, the aerospace industry is not the same as other industries. However, more and more other industries in my network, like Nuclear new build, the construction industry or other Engineering, Procurement and Construction companies want to learn from aerospace and automotive good practices. They realize they are losing market share due to the fact that the cost of failure combined with relative high labor costs makes them too expensive. But from where to they get their proper good practices education?

The PLM professional?

myplmAnd this was an interesting point coming up from the Nobletek forum. There is no proper, product agnostic education for PLM (anymore). If you study logistics, you will learn a lot about various processes and how they can be optimized for a certain scenario. When you study engineering, there is a lot of focus on engineering disciplines and methods. But there is no time to educate engineers in-depth to understand the whole product development process and how to control it. Sometimes I give a guest lecture to engineering classes. It is never an important part of the education.

To become a PLM professional

imageFor those who never had any education in standard engineering processes, there is Frank Watts Engineering control book, which probably would be a good base. But it is not the PLM professional only that should be aware, of the good practices. Moreover, all companies manufacturing products, plants or buildings should learn these basics. As a side step, it would make a discussion around BIM more clear. At this time, manufacturing companies are every time discovering their good practices in the hard way.

And when this education exists, companies will be aware that it is not only about the tools, but it is the way the information is flowing through the organization. Even there is a chance that somewhere at C-level someone has been educated and understands the value. For ERP everyone agrees. For PLM, it remains a labyrinth of processes designed by companies learning on the job currently. Vendors and implementers pushing what they have learned. Engineering is often considered as a hard-to-manage discipline. As a SAP country manager once said to me: “Engineers are actually resources that do not want be managed, but we will get them …..”

And then the future ……

PLM bookI support the demand for a better education in engineering processes especially for industries outside aerospace or automotive. I doubt if it will have a significant impact although it might create the visibility and understanding for PLM at C-level. No need anymore for the lone ranger who fights for PLM. Companies will have better educated people that understand the need for good practices that exist. These good practices will be the base for companies when discussing with PLM vendors and implementers. Instead of vendors and implementers pushing their vision, you can articulate, and follow your vision.

However, we need a new standard book too. We are currently in the middle of a big change. Thanks to modern technology and connectivity the world is changing. I wrote and spoke about it in: Did you notice PLM is changing?

doc2dataThis is a change of generations and concepts which have not been foreseen by Frank Watts and others. What will be the new standard for data-centric companies instead of document based control?

The digital revolution is here (Industry 4.0), and here (digital revolution), and here (the third industrial revolution).


This awareness needs to become visible at C-level.
Who will educate them ??



Now back to soccer – 4 years ago Spain-The Netherlands was the last match – the final. Now it is the first match for them – will the Dutch change the game ?

NoChangeHuman beings are a strange kind of creatures. We think we make a decision based on logic, and we think we act based on logic. In reality, however, we do not like to change, if it does not feel good, and we are lazy in changing our habits.

Disclaimer: It is a generalization which is valid for 99 % of the population. So if you feel offended by the previous statement, be happy as you are one of the happy few.

Our inability to change can be seen in the economy (only the happy few share). We see it in relation to global climate change. We see it in territorial fights all around the world.

Owning instead of sharing.  ?

The cartoon below gives an interesting insight how personal interests are perceived more important than general interest.


It is our brain !

More and more I realize that the success of PLM is also related to his human behavior; we like to own and find it difficult to share. PLM primarily is about sharing data through all stages of the lifecycle. A valid point why sharing is rare , is that current PLM systems and their infrastructures are still too complex to deliver shared information with ease. However, the potential benefits are clear when a company is able to transform its business into a sharing model and therefore react and anticipate much faster on the outside world.

But sharing is not in our genes, as:

  • In current business knowledge is power. Companies fight for their IP; individuals fight for their job security by keeping some specific IP to themselves.
  • As a biological organism, composed of a collection of cells, we are focused on survival of our genes. Own body/family first is our biological message.

Breaking these habits is difficult, and I will give some examples that I noticed the past few weeks. Of course, it is not completely a surprise for readers of my blog, as a large number of my recent posts are related to the complexity of change. Some are related to human behavior:

August 2012: Our brain blocks PLM acceptance
April 2014: PLM and Blockers

Ed Lopategui, an interesting PLM blogger, see, wrote a long comment to my PLM and Blockers post. The (long) quote below is exactly describing what makes PLM difficult to implement within a company full of blockers :

“I also know that I was focused on doing the right thing – even if cost me my position; and there were many blockers who plotted exactly that. I wore that determination as a sort of self-imposed diplomatic immunity and would use it to protect my team and concentrate any wrath on just myself. My partner in that venture, the chief IT architect admitted on several occasions that we wouldn’t have been successful if I had actually cared what happened to my position – since I had to throw myself and the project in front of so many trains. I owe him for believing in me.

But there was a balance. I could not allow myself to reach a point of arrogance; I would reserve enough empathy for the blockers to listen at just the right moments, and win them over. I spent more time in the trenches than most would reasonably allow. It was a ridiculously hard thing and was not without an intellectual and emotional cost.

In that crucible, I realized that finding people with such perspective (putting the ideal above their own position) within each corporation is *exceptionally* rare. People naturally don’t like to jump in front of trains. It can be career-limiting. That’s kind of a problem, don’t you think? It’s a limiting factor without a doubt, and not one that can be fulfilled with consultants alone. You often need someone with internal street cred and long-earned reputation to push through the tough parts”

Ed concludes that it is exceptionally rare to find people putting the ideal above their own position. Again referring to the opening statement that only a (happy) few are advocates for change

Now let´s look at some facts why it is exceptionally rare, so we feel less guilty.

On Intelligence

clip_image003Last month I read the book On Intelligence from Jeff Hawkins well written by Sandra Blakeslee. (Thanks Joost Schut from KE-Works for pointing me to this book).

Although it was not the easiest book to read during a holiday, it was well written considering the complexity of the topic discussed. Jeff describes how the information architecture of the brain could work based on the neocortex layering.

In his model, he describes how the brain processes information from our senses, first in a specific manner but then more and more in an invariant approach. You have to read the book to get the full meaning of this model. The eye opener for me was that Jeff described the brain as a prediction engine. All the time the brain anticipates what is going to happen, based on years of learning. That’s why we need to learn and practice building and enrich this information model.

And the more and more specialized you are on a particular topic, it can be knowledge but it can also be motoric skill, the deeper in the neocortex this pattern is anchored. This makes is hard to change (bad) practices.

The book goes much further, and I was reading it more in the context of how artificial intelligence or brain-like intelligence could support the boring PLM activities. I got nice insights from it, However the main side observation was; it is hard to change our patterns. So if you are not aware of it, your subconscious will always find reasons to reject a change. Follow the predictions !

Thinking Fast and Slow

clip_image005And this is exactly the connection with another book I have read before: Thinking Fast and Slow from Daniel Kahneman. Daniel explains that our brain is running its activities on two systems:

System 1: makes fast and automatic decisions based on stereotypes and emotions. System 1 is what we are using most of the time, running often in subconscious mode. It does not cost us much energy to run in this mode.

System 2: takes more energy and time; therefore, it is slow and pushes us to be conscious and alert. Still system 2 can be influenced by various external, subconscious factors.

Thinking Fast and Slow nicely complements On Intelligence, where system 1 described by Daniel Kahneman is similar to the system Jeff Hawkins describes as the prediction engine. It runs in an subconscious mode, with optimal energy consumption allowing us to survive most of the time.

Fast thinking leads to boiling frogs

clip_image007And this links again to the boiling frog syndrome. If you are not familiar with the term follow the link. In general it means that people (and businesses) are not reacting on (life threating) outside change when it goes slowly, but would react immediately if they are confronted with the end result. (no more business / no more competitive situation)

Conclusion: our brain by default wants to keep business in predictive mode, so implementing a business change is challenging, as all changes are painful and against our subconscious system.

So PLM is doomed, unless we change our brain behavior ?

The fact that we are not living in caves anymore illustrates that there have been always those happy few that took a risk and a next step into the future by questioning and changing comfortable habits. Daniel Kahneman´s system 2 and also Jeff Hawkins talk about the energy it takes to change habits, to learn new predictive mechanisms. But it can be done.

I see two major trends that will force the classical PLM to change:

  • The amount of connected data becomes so huge, it does not make sense anymore to store it and structure the information in a single system. The time required to structure data does not deliver enough ROI in a fast moving society. The old “single system that stores all”-concept is dying.
  • The newer generations (generation Y and beyond) grew up with the notion that it is impossible to learn, capture and own specific information. They developed different skills to interpret data available from various sources, not necessary own and manage it all.

These two trends lead to the point where it becomes clear that the future in system thinking becomes obsolete. It will be about connectivity and interpretation of connected data, used by apps, running on a platform. The openness of the platform towards other platform is crucial and will be the weakest link.


The PLM vision is not doomed and with a new generations of knowledge workers the “brain change” has started. The challenge is to implement the vision across systems and silos in an organization. For that we need to be aware that it can be done and allocate the “happy few” in your company to enable it.



What do you think  ???????????????????????????

imageI will be attending the annual Product Innovation conference again in Berlin next week. Looking forward to this event, as it is one of the places where you have the chance to network and listen to presentations from people that are PLM minded. A kind of relaxation, as strangely enough, most of the companies I am visiting, considerer PLM still considered as something difficult, something related to engineering, not so much connected to the future of their business.

I believe one of the reasons is that people have founded their opinion on the past. An expensive implementation horror story, an engineering focuses implementation or other stories that have framed PLM in a certain manner.

However PLM has changed and it significance has grown ! 

During the Product Innovation conference, I will present in more depth this topic related to the change of PLM.,with more examples and a surprising projection to the future. Later, when time permits, I will share the more in-depth observations in my blog, hopefully extended based on discussions during the conference. And if you attend the conference, don’t miss my session.


clip_image001Fifteen years ago,

the term PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) was introduced as a logical extension to cPDM (collaborative Product Data Management). Where the initial focus was of global file sharing of mechanical CAD data, PLM extended the scope with multidisciplinary support, connecting manufacturing preparation and providing an infrastructure for change management.

In the nineties product data management was in transition.

In the early 90s, UNIX dominated, and installing a PDM system was the work of IT-experts. Large enterprises, already operating globally, were pushing for standardization, and control of data to connect their engineers in a more efficient manner. Connectivity was achieved through expensive lease lines; people like me, had to connect to the internet through dial-up modems and its usage was limited, providing static web pages with minimal graphics.

It was obvious that cPDM and the first PLM projects were extremely expensive. There was no experience; it was learning on the job. The costs were high and visible at the management level. Giving the management the impression that PLM is potentially the same challenge as ERP, but with a less clear scope. And the projects were executed by IT-experts, end-users were not really in the game.

At the end of the 90s, a small revolution started to take place. The power of the PC combined with Microsoft technology provided a much cheaper and flexible alternative for a complex UNIX based implementation. SNAGHTMLc988d04

Affordable 3D CAD emerged in the mid-market, leading to the need for Windows-based PDM systems and with Windows came Excel, the PDM/PLM killer application.

A person with some rudimentary Visual Basic skills could do magic with Excel and although not an IT-expert would become the champion of the engineering department.

At that time, PLM conferences provided a platform on which industry could discuss and share their tips and tricks on how to implement in the best manner a system. The focus was mainly on the IT-side and large enterprises. The scope was engineering centric, connecting the various disciplines including mechanical, electrical and simulation, in a database and connecting files and versions.


clip_image002Ten years ago,

most large enterprises had already started to implement a PLM system. The term PLM became an accepted acronym associated with something that is needed for big companies and is complex and expensive, a logical statement based on the experiences of early adopters.

PLM was the infrastructure that could connect product information between disciplines and departments working from different locations. The NPI (New Product Introduction) process became a topic pushed by all enterprise PLM vendors and was a practice that demonstrated the value of providing visibility on information across a large, dispersed company, to better decision-making.

As this process was more data-centric instead of CAD-centric, these capabilities promoted the recognition and introduction of PLM in non-traditional manufacturing industries like Consumer Packaged Goods, Pharmaceuticals and Apparel where planning and coordination of information leads, instead of a Bill of Material.

In large enterprises, PLM still lay with the IT-architects as they were the ones deciding the standards and software to be used. PLM and ERP connectivity was an expensive topic.

PLM_profFor the mid-market, many PLM vendors were working on offers to standardize a PLM implementation; this usually involved a stripped-down or limited version from the full PLM system, a preconfigured system with templates or something connected to SharePoint. Connectivity was much easier then 15 years ago, thanks to a better internet infrastructure and the deployment of VPN.

For me at that time selling PLM to the mid-market was challenging; how do you explain the value and minimize the risk while current business was still running well? What was so wrong with the existing practices based on Excel? In summary, with good margins and growing business, wasn’t everything under control without the need for PLM? This was the time I started to share my experiences in my blog: A Virtual Dutchman´s introduction

Mid-market PLM projects focused on departmental needs, with IT providing implementation support and guidance. As the number of IT-staff is usually limited in these companies and often organized around ERP and what they learned from its implementation, it was hard to find business experts for PLM in the implementation teams.


clip_image003Five years ago,

the financial crisis had started, and globalization had started to become real through world-wide connectivity – better infrastructure and WEB 2.0. The world became an open space for consumers and competitors; the traditional offshore countries became consumers and began to invest in developing products and services for their domestic market but also targeted the rest of the world. Large enterprises were still expanding their huge PLM implementations though some were challenged because of a change of ownership. Capital investors did not come from the US or Europe anymore but from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries, forcing some established companies to restructure and refocus.

jugleIn response to the crisis, mid-market companies started to reduce costs and focus on efficiency. Lots of discussions related to PLM began as it appeared to be THE strategy needed to survive, though a significant proportion of the investment in PLM was cancelled or postponed by management due to uncertainty and impact on the organization.

PLM conferences showed that almost all of the big enterprises and the mid-market companies still using PLM for connecting departments without fundamentally integrating them in one complete PLM concept. It is easier to streamline the sequential process (thinking lean) instead of making it a concurrent process with a focus on the market needs. PLM conferences were being attended by a greater mix of IT and Business representatives from different businesses learning from each other.



everyone in the world is connected and consequently, the amount of data is piling up. And now it is more about data than about managing document. The introduction of smart devices has had an impact on how people want to work; instead of sharing files and documents, we start sharing and producing huge amounts of data. In addition the upcoming “Internet of Things” demonstrates we are moving to a world where connectivity through data becomes crucial.

Sharing data is the ideal strategy for modern PLM. PLM vendors and other leading companies in enterprise software are discovering that the classical method of storing all information into one database does not work anymore and will not work in the future.

SNAGHTMLca3d692In the future, a new generation of PLM systems, either as an evolution of existing systems or as a disruption from the current market, will come. No longer will the target be to store all information in one system; the goal will be to connect and interpret data and make the right decisions based on that. This is similar to what the new generation of workers are used to, and they will replace the (my) older generation in the upcoming decade

Combined with more and more cloud-based solutions and platforms, the role of IT will diminish, and the importance of business people driving PLM will become ever more crucial.

PLM has become a business-driven strategy and requires people that are strong enough to develop, justify and implement this approach in their companies. New champions are needed !

The value of communities, blogs and conferences

is bringing together the global brainpower in social environments. Complemented with presentations, opinions and discussions from all different industries and domains the ideal environment to grow new ideas.  Here you can associate the information, question its relevancy for your business and network with others – the perfect base for innovating and securing your future business.

Therefore, do not use communities or conferences to stick to your opinion but be open and learn.

One of my favorite quotes

PLM is required to become customer focused is one of the marketing statements, in the same way as PLM and Innovation are connected. Before moving into PLM topics, I want to share some personal experiences related to customer focus. These experiences happened to me almost within a one-day timeframe.

imageTwo weeks ago I landed late in the evening at Schiphol airport. A bus took us from the plane to an arrival gate to go through security. With the other passengers, I arrived in a passage which was planned to be closed during the night as maintenance should take place. Two servicemen were frustrated by the crowd passing by.

One of them said: “How was it possible that passengers still arrive and disturb our work?” ** . The other serviceman said: “The bus driver has gone crazy to drop these passengers here where we are supposed to work?”**

** Free translated from a native Dutch local accent.

dontmissAs a customer, I realized this is a common problem of large enterprises. Most employees are not connected to their customers anymore. They focus only on their work, and every disruption (even by customers) is an element of irritation. They do not realize it is the customer at the end that pays their salary.

Next I went to the railway station to catch my train to Utrecht. Waiting on the platform, the announcement for my train to arrive did not pop up as expected on the billboard and disappeared from the list. A few minutes after the train should have departed from the station, a speaker announces the train to Utrecht has been cancelled.

imageWhy this happened nobody knows. There were no railway employees around to provide more information. (Perhaps too late – their shift was over?) Half an hour later the next train was supposed to come in. At the scheduled time, a train arrived at the platform, and everyone got into the train.

The train speaker announced that this is NOT THE TRAIN to Utrecht, and he advised all travelers for Utrecht to get out. Many passengers including me went outside looking for a railway employee who could explain what was happening. But there was no one around. At a certain moment, the right train arrived and finally after 1½ hour delay I came home and decided to file a complaint. Mainly because there was no interaction possible with any railway employee to understand why it happened, get rid of my annoyance, and what the alternatives to travel were.

Next surprise: It was not possible to file a complaint directly; you had to go through a virtual assistant named Eva. Probably they use a female name as men are usually more respectful in their conversation towards a woman than to man. Imagine it would have been Joe. Still lack of intelligence can be annoying for everyone as you can see below:


Only when you provide Eva with your personal details and email address, you get a mail back from customer service to which you can respond with your complaint. This is somehow the same principle as a firewall with a reverse proxy. How to shield yourself from customers / virus attacks.

So I sent my mail and got a confirmation mail that I would get a response within 2 working days. And indeed within two days the answer came. They were really sorry, and they have taken so many measures already in the past to avoid this kind of situations it was almost impossible this had happened. Sorry. It was a classical answer, and what was missing any link to the actual event – nobody probably inside the railway company would take an initiative to understand what has happened. Disappointing.

dontmissAs a customer, I realized this is a common problem of large enterprises. They are not connected to their customers anymore. They are afraid of direct contact and build a solid defense wall around their organization. They do not realize it is the customer at the end that pays their salary.

The next day ….

imageI had an issue with my telephone system (Murphy´s law). The telephone company, like the railway company, was in the past a state-owned company, meaning they had a monopoly for 50 years and more. They are still struggling to become customer centric as the older staff is still in control.
If you try to interact with them through the regular means, by phone (long waiting times – many times diverted to other departments), or by email (thank you for your email – we will try to respond within two working days), you will have a similar response.

dontmissAs a customer, I realized this is a common problem of large enterprises. They are not connected to their customers anymore. People try to do their best in their domain, and if it does not fit anymore you are diverted or set aside as there is enough to keep you busy. They do not realize it is the customer at the end that pays their salary.

Enough fun now, I am sure this happens in many other places.

Back to become customer centric

imageWhen you look at a small startup company, they are focused on the outside world. To gain market share and market attention they need to focus on their potential customers and learn to engage with them as soon as possible. They have a distinctive or new proposition and the faster they understand the dynamics of their potential market, the better they have the likelihood customers will choose their offering and become successful.

And as the company is small, everyone knows who is doing what. People are multitasking and flexible. Somehow the same characteristics you find in a small mid-market company. Every customer order is celebrated there and known.

When companies become large, people start to become specialized, and they create departments. There is a need for globalization and more people will join the company around the world, combined with a layer of middle management. And more and more the management approach becomes MBR (management by results) as this has become the standard. I wrote about MBR and about MBM (management by means) in a previous post – profit beyond measure.

The disadvantage of the MBR approach is that instead of having a company looking outside to their customers, the organization turns inwards. Instead of “I need to satisfy my customers as at the end they pay my salary” the mind switches towards “I need to satisfy my boss as he/she pays my salary”

imageDepartments optimize themselves to attain efficiency and get the numbers they need to provide. For many departments, here the decision is made that customers are too disruptive or evil as they disrupt the ideal process – customer interaction becomes a threat. It is safer to do nothing and keep responding to what your boss / management wants, instead of acting in a customer centric manner as it disrupts the daily work.

Still all companies want to be customer centric as this is THE WAY to stay in business. If you know what your customers want or even better, if you can give them their unique experiences, you are ahead of the competition. And keep in mind to think glocal (global but act local – customer centric)

Glocaliszation ?

How can we bring the customer centric approach to large companies, where most departments work totally isolated from customers for various reasons? In my younger days, when I was connected with software development, I noticed most R&D organizations want to spend all day and their energy on developing new (cool) things, instead of optimizing existing (boring) stuff. Where optimizing existing stuff is what customers want, and new stuff is perhaps what marketing and sales think is needed. I think there is a lot of coolness possible in optimizing boring stuff (look at Apple).

christensenClayton Christensen wrote in his book “The Innovators Dilemma -When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” about why leading companies lose their connection with the market. They focus on their large customers and want to satisfy these large ones. The strange situation is here that they are customer centric but only for a few, where the benefit often lies in volumes of customers. Big companies focusing on key customers do not see disruption and innovations coming up, and at a certain moment they can become obsolete. Read his book if you work for a great firm. I wrote about his thoughts in the context of PLM –: The Innovators Dilemma and PLM

Finally, the extreme you find in governmental organizations. With their lack of competition and most of the time tax money coming in, there is no need to be customer centric. Even if an individual wants to be customer centric, the system will not allow this person much room to act different.

However, there is hope, and my hope is based on the Millenials or the so called “generation Y”. I described them in a recent post after reading the book Fast Future: Mixing past and future generations with a PLM sauce

If we go back to my problem with the telephone system and the large phone company, there a change is happening. A year ago I discovered they have a “social” helpdesk. If you send them a direct message through Facebook or Twitter; you receive a response within a few hours. And next they pick up the issue and take the initiative to solve it.

The same is valid for my favorite airline, KLM. As part of the big joint venture with Air France, all official contact through mail became hopeless, but their responses through Facebook are fast and to the point.

imageWhat happens behind the scenes in these two companies, and I am sure it happens in more companies, is that new employees (generation Y) become the focal point to the customer and they take away the burden of dealing with a large, rigid organization. Because they understand the company better and are considered as one-of-us inside the company, they have access to the information. They can push and pull information, initiate actions and at the end come back with a customer focused response.

This approach of personal customer interaction brings you in a better mood, although I must say in the case of the activities with the telephone company, issues were not resolved much faster. The old processes internally were still not in sync with each other. Probably because there is not “a single version of the truth”-concept like in most companies. Different systems for different purposes, not integrated cause mistakes, especially when the customer wants an immediate response and resolution.

Maybe an example to explain this approach. When working in a classical PLM system, it is all about the data inside the system with the right status and version. In modern PLM, it could be the most credible information the system could provide based on (search) algorithms. It is the similar to the way Google translate works – this was a translation a year ago:


In Dutch, the text is only about men, but as the combination women and kitchen was more commonly found, Google translated the sentence as above. Sexistic, based on historic associations. If you try the same sentence now, you get:


An accurate translation based on error fixing once. Google does not keep the one-to-one translation of words but presents the sentence with the highest probability. And when corrected it reminds the fix. This is somehow in the same manner as our brain associates information. Ultimately in a few years these engines can become as powerful as an experienced worker.

But what intrigued me more was the fact that these “social employees” somehow became the glue in the organization, connecting people and departments internally. Bringing to the customer a positive experience. Instead of specialists there was a need for generalists who can communicate.

Could this also work in the context of PLM? Instead of trying to tear down the silos, use a team of “social workers” who will interact with customers or the people in the field?

imageI am not sure. The type of customer interaction I described was mainly related to standard products and services. Not sure if this approach of generalists (data miners) would work in manufacturing companies.

When asking myself this question in the PLM domain, it realized it is somehow describing the work I am doing most of the time. Working with companies implementing PLM, working with PLM vendors and implementers on building plans to solve or resolve issues, without being part of a single project (silo) all the time – a “social worker” – a generalist is becoming an expert in generalizations.

So I am interested to learn, is anyone of the readers of this post aware of the “social approach” in their environment? Do you see companies hire generalists (generation Y) to connect the old world back to their customers?

The downside of the “social worker” is that the internal organization is even more shielded from annoying customers who disturb their plans and daily rhythm. It does not solve the silo problem.

However look at it from the modern data centric (PLM) approach, where storing information is no longer the goal. It is about identifying the right data in the context of an activity where data might come from different sources. Exactly what generation Y is used to do, the data scientist. With their mindset of connecting data instead of owning data, this generation might produce the next evolution of PLM.

Will the future be working towards access to information as likely the single truth, or will we keep on working towards a single version of the truth? If it is going to be disruptive? (Probably yes) If it is in the near future? (Why not) this is still unclear to me.

No conclusion this time.
Many questions ……
Your thoughts / comments?


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