Coming back from holiday (a life without PLM), it is time to pick up blogging again. And like every start, the first step is to make a status where we are now (with PLM) and where PLM is heading. Of course, it remains a nopinion based on dialogues I had this year.
First and perhaps this is biased, there is a hype in LinkedIn groups or in the blogs that I follow, a kind of enthusiasm coming from OnShape and Oleg Shilovitsky´s new company OpenBOM: the hype of cloud services for CAD/Data Management and BOM management.
Two years ago I discussed at some PLM conferences, that PLM should not necessary be linked to a single PLM system. The functionality of PLM might be delivered by a collection of services, most likely cloud-based, and these services together providing support for the product lifecycle. In 2014 I worked with Kimonex, an Israeli startup that developed a first online BOM solution, targeting the early design collaboration. Their challenge was to find customers that wanted to start this unknown journey. Cloud-based meant real-time collaboration, and this is also what Oleg wrote about last week: Real-time collaborative edit is coming to CAD & PLM
Real-time collaboration is one of the characteristics of a digital enterprise, where thanks to the fact information is stored as data, information can flow rapidly through an organization. Data can be combined and used by anyone in the organization in a certain context. This approach removes the barriers between PLM and ERP. To my opinion, there is no barrier between PLM and ERP. The barrier that companies create exists because people believe PLM is a system, and ERP is a system. This is the way of (system) thinking is coming from the previous century.
So is the future about cloud-based, data-driven services for PLM?
To my opinion systems are still the biggest inhibitor for modern PLM. Without any statistical analysis based on my impressions and gut feelings, this is what I see:
- The majority of companies that say the DO PLM, actually do PDM. They believe it is PLM because their vendor is a PLM company and they have bought a PLM system. However, in reality, the PLM system is still used as an advanced PDM system by engineering to push (sometimes still manual) at the end information into the well-established ERP system. Check with your company which departments are working in the PLM system – anyone beyond engineering ?
- There is a group of companies that have implemented PLM beyond their engineering department, connecting to their suppliers in the sourcing and manufacturing phase. Most of the time the OEMs forces their suppliers to deliver data in an old-fashioned way or sometimes more advanced integrated in the OEM environment. In this case, the supplier has to work in two systems: their own PDM/PLM environment and the OEM environment. Not efficient, still the way traditional PLM vendors promote partner / supply chain integration .
This is an area where you might think that a services-based environment like OnShape or OpenBOM might help to connect the supply chain. I think to so too. Still, before that we reach this stage there are some hurdles to overcome:
Persistence of data
The current generation in management of companies older than 20 years grew up with the fact that “owning data” is the only way to stay relevant in business. Even open innovation is a sensitive topic. What happens with data your company does not own because it is in the cloud in an environment you do not own (but share ?) . As long as companies insist on owning the data, a service-based PLM environment will not work.
A nice compromise at this time is ShareAspace from EuroStep. I wrote about ShareAspace last year when I attended sessions from Volvo Car (The weekend after PI Munich 2016) ShareAspace was used as a middleware to map and connect between two PLM/PDM environments. In this way, persistence of data remains. The ShareAspace data model is based on PLCS, which is a standard in the core industries. And standards are to my opinion the second hurdle for a services-based approach
A standard is often considered as overhead, and the reason for that is that often a few vendors dominate the market in a certain domain and therefore become THE standard. Similar to persistence of data, what is the value of data that you own but that you only can get access to through a vendor´s particular format?
Good for the short-term, but what about the long-term. (Most of the time we do not think about the long-term and consider interoperability problems as a given). Also, a services based PLM environment requires support for standards to avoid expensive interfaces and lack of long-term availability. Check in your company how important standards are when selecting and implementing PLM.
There is a nice hype for real-time collaboration through cloud solutions. For many current companies not good enough as there is a lot of history and the mood to own data. Young companies that discover the need for a modern services-based solution might be tempted to build such an environment. For these companies, the long-term availability might be a topic to study