I don’t know if it is the time of the year, but suddenly there is again in the PLM world a discussion which is related to the theme of flexibility (or the lack of flexibility). And I do not refer to some of the PLM supplier lock-in situations discussed recently. In a group discussion on LinkedIn we talked about the two worlds of PLM-ERP and that somehow here we have status quo do to the fact companies won’t change the way they manage their BOM if they are not forced to do or see the value.

Stephen Porter from Zero Wait-State in his blog wrote an interesting post about using PLM to model business processes and I liked his thoughts. Here the topic, flexibility was brought into the discussion by me.

ootb Then Mark Lind from Aras responded to this post and referred to his post on Out-Of-The-Box (OOTB) PLM which ended in a call for flexibility.

However, reading this post I wanted to bring some different viewpoints to Mark’s post and as my response became too long, I decided to post it in my blog. So please read Stephen’s post, read Mark’s post and keep the word flexibility in the back of your mind.


My European view

As I have been involved in several OOTB-attempts with various PDM / PLM suppliers, I tend to have somehow a different opinion about the purpose of OOTB.

It is all about what you mean with OOTB and what type and size of company you are talking about. My focus is not on the global enterprises – they are too big to even consider OOTB (too many opinions – too much politics).

But the mid-market companies, which in Europe practice a lot of PLM, without having a PLM system, are my major target. They improve their business with tools fitting in their environment, and when they decide to use a PLM system; it is often close related to their CAD or ERP system.

In this perspective, Mark’s statement:

Now stop and think… the fundamental premise of OOTB enterprise software is that there’s an exact match between your corporate processes and the software. If it’s not an exact match, then get ready to customize (and it won’t be OOTB anymore). This is why the concept of OOTB enterprise PLM is absurd.

I see it as a simplification – yes customers want to use OOTB systems, but as soon as you offer flexibility, customers want to adapt it. And the challenge of each product is to support as much as possible different scenarios (through configuration, through tuning (you can call it macros or customization) Microsoft Excel is still the best tool in this area

But let’s focus on PLM. Marc’s next statement:

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Industry Accelerators or so called ‘best practice’ templates

standard_process Again is simplifying the topic. Most of the companies I have been working with had no standard processes or PLM practices as much of the work was done outside a controlled system. And in situations that there was no Accelerator or Best Practice, you were trapped in a situation where people started to discuss their processes and to-be practices (losing time, concluding the process was not so easy as they thought, and at the end blame the PLM system as it takes so long to implement – and you need someone or something to blame). Also her Stephen promotes the functionality in PLM to assist modeling these processes.

 PLM is a learning process for companies and with learning I mean, understanding that the way of working can be different and change is difficult. That’s why a second, new PLM implementation in the same company is often more easy to do. At this stage a customer is able to realize which customizations were nice to have but did not contribute to the process and which customizations now could be replaced by standard capabilities (or configured capabilities). A happy target for PLM vendors where the customer changes from PLM vendor as they claim the success of the second implementation. However I have seen also re-implementations with the same software and the same vendor with the same results: faster implementation, less customization and more flexibility.

I fully agree with Marc’s statement that PLM implementations should be flexible and for me this means during implementations make sure you stay close to the PLM standards (yes there are no ‘official’ standards but every PLM implementation is around a similar data model.)

As the metadata and the created files represent the most value for the customer, this is where you should focus. Processes to change, review, collaborate or approve information should always be flexible as they will change. And when you implement these processes to speed up time-to-market or communication between departments/partners, do an ROI and risk analysis if you need to customize.

I still see the biggest problem for PLM is that people believe it is an IT-project, like their ERP project in the past. Looking at PLM in the same way does not reflect the real PLM challenge of being flexible to react. This is one of my aversions against SAP PLM – these two trigrams just don’t go together – SAP is not flexible – PLM should be flexible.

Therefore this time a short blog post or long response, looking forward to your thoughts