I 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.
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.
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.
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.
For 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.
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.
In 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.
In 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