Two weeks ago I got this message from WordPress, reminding me that I started blogging about PLM on May 22nd in 2008. During some of my spare time during weekends, I began to read my old posts again and started to fix links that have been disappearing.
Initially when I started blogging, I wanted to educate mid-market companies about PLM. A sentence with a lot of ambiguities. How do you define the mid-market and how do you define PLM are already a good start for a boring discussion. And as I do not want to go into a discussion, here are my “definitions”
Warning: This is a long post, full of generalizations and a conclusion.
PLM and Mid-market
The mid-market companies can be characterized as having a low-level of staff for IT and strategic thinking. Mid-market companies are do-ers and most of the time they are good in their domain based on their IP and flexibility to deliver this to their customer base. I did not meet mid-market companies with a 5-year and beyond business vision. Mid-market companies buy systems. They bought an ERP system 25-30 years ago (the biggest trauma at that time). They renewed their ERP system for the Y2K problem/fear and they switched from drawing board towards a 2D CAD system. Later they bought a 3D CAD system, introducing the need for a PDM system to manage all data.
PLM is for me a vision, a business approach supported by an IT-infrastructure that allows companies to share and discover and connect product related information through the whole lifecycle. PLM enables companies to react earlier and better in the go-to-market process. Better by involving customer inputs and experience from the start in the concept and design phases. Earlier thanks to sharing and involving other disciplines/suppliers before crucial decisions are made, reducing the amount of iterations and the higher costs of late changes.
Seven years ago I believed that a packaged solution, combined with a pre-configured environment and standard processes would be the answer for mid-market companies. The same thought currently PLM vendors have with a cloud-based solution. Take it, us it as it is and enjoy.
Here I have changed my opinion in the past seven years. Mid-market companies consider PLM as a more complex extension of PDM and still consider ERP (and what comes with that system) as the primary system in the enterprise. PLM in mid-market companies is often seen as an engineering tool.
LESSON 1 for me:
The benefits of PLM are not well-understood by the mid-market
To read more:
Globalization and Education
In the past seven years, globalization became an important factor for all type of companies. Companies started offshoring labor intensive work to low-labor-cost countries introducing the need for sharing product data outside their local and controlled premises. Also, acquisitions by larger enterprises and by some of the dominant mid-market companies, these acquisitions introduced a new area of rethinking. Acquisitions introduced discussions about: what are real best practices for our organization? How can we remain flexible, meanwhile adapt and converge our business processes to be future ready?
Here I saw two major trends in the mid-market:
Lack of (PLM) Education
To understand and implement the value of PLM, you need to have skills and understanding of more than just a vendor-specific PLM system. You need to understand the basics of change processes (Engineering Change Request, Engineering Change Order, Manufacturing Change Order and more). And you need to understand the characteristics of a CAD document structure, a (multidisciplinary) EBOM, the MBOM (generic and/or plant specific) and the related Bill of Processes. This education does not exist in many countries and people are (mis-)guided by their PLM/ERP vendor, explaining why their system is the only system that can do the job.
Interesting enough the most read posts on my blog are about the MBOM, the ETO, BTO and CTO processes. This illustrates there is a need for a proper, vendor-independent and global accepted terminology for PLM
Some educational posts:
Bill of Materials for Dummies – ETO ranked #1
ECR/ECO for Dummies ranked #2
BOM for Dummies – CTO ranked #4
BOM for Dummies: BOM and CAD ranked #7
The dominance of ERP
As ERP systems were introduced long before PLM (and PDM), these systems are often considered by the management of a mid-market company as the core. All the other tools should be (preferably) seen as an extension of ERP and if possible, let´s implement ERP vendor´s functionality to support PLM – the Swiss knife approach – one tool for everything. This approach is understandable as at the board level there are no PLM discussions. Companies want to keep their “Let´s do it”-spirit and not reshuffle or reorganize their company, according to modern insights of sharing. Strangely enough, you see in many businesses the initiative to standardize on a single ERP system first, instead of standardizing on a single PLM approach first. PLM can bring the global benefits of product portfolio management and IP-sharing, where ERP is much more about local execution.
PLM is not understood at the board level, still considered as a tool
Some post related to PLM and ERP
Where is the MBOM ? ranked #3
The human factor
A lot of the reasons why PLM has the challenge to become successful have to do with its broad scope. PLM has an unclear definition and most important, PLM forces people to share data and work outside their comfort zones. Nobody likes to share by default. Sharing makes day-to-day life more complicated, sharing might create visibility on what you actually contribute or fix. In many of my posts, I described these issues from various viewpoints: the human brain, the innovators dilemma, the way the older generation (my generation) is raised and used to work. Combined with the fact that many initial PLM/PDM implementations have created so many legacies, the need to change has become a risk. In the discussion and selection of PLM I have seen many times that in the end a company decides to keep the old status quo (with new tools) instead of really having the guts to move toward the future. Often this was a result of investors not understanding (and willing to see) the long term benefits of PLM.
PLM requires a long-term vision and understanding, which most of the time does not fit current executive understanding (lack of education/time to educate) and priority (shareholders)
Many recent posts are about the human factor:
The digital transformation
The final and most significant upcoming change is the fact that we are entering a complete new era: From linear and predictable towards fast and iterative, meaning that classical ways we push products to the market will become obsolete. The traditional approach was based on lessons learned from mechanical products after the second world-war. Now through globalization and the importance of embedded software in our products, companies need to deliver and adapt products faster than the classical delivery process as their customers have higher expectations and a much larger range to choose from. The result from this global competitiveness is that companies will change from delivering products towards a more-and-more customer related business model (continuous upgrades/services). This requires companies to revisit their business and organization, which will be extremely difficult. Business wise and human change require new IT concepts – platform? / cloud services? / Big data?
Older enterprises, mid-market and large enterprises will be extremely challenged to make this change in the upcoming 10 years. It will be a matter of survival and I believe the Innovator´s Dilemma applies here the most.
The digital transformation is apparent as a trend for young companies and strategic consultants. This message is not yet understood at the board level of many businesses.
Some recent post related to this fast upcoming trend:
ROI (Return On Investment)
I also wrote about ROI – a difficult topic to address as in most discussions related to ROI, companies are talking about the costs of the implementation, not about the tremendous larger impact a new business approach or model can have, once enabled through PLM. Most PLM ROI discussions are related to efficiency and quality gains, which are significant and relevant. However these benefits are relative small and not comparable with the ability to change your business (model) to become more customer centric and stay in business.
Some of the ROI posts:
A (too) long post this time however perhaps a good post to mark 7 years of blogging and use it as a reference for the topics I briefly touched here. PLM has many aspects. You can do the further reading through the links.
From the statistics it is clear that the education part scores the best – see rankings. For future post, let me know by creating a comment what you are looking for in this blog: PLM Mid-Market, Education, PLM and ERP, Business Change, ROI, Digitalization, or …??
Also I have to remain customer centric – thanks for reading and providing your feedback