This time a post, imagining the future of a PLM infrastructure for companies embracing the concepts of a digital enterprise. When you read (marketing) posts on the internet a lot of well-known companies are proud about their digital customer platform in the cloud. These platforms are a typical example of how companies transform their business to be closer connected to their customers. And to be as close as possible to the client, the apps they provide on the platform provides the customer with “delightful” experiences, information and usability they never have seen before. Meanwhile, the hosting company benefits from collecting all the data from their customers to better understand the behavior and use cases of their clients. A win-win situation, don’t you think so?

Microservices and APIs

In order to enhance and enrich the customer experience and the internal efficiency, companies are digitizing their back office processes too. Connecting their suppliers and vendors in a digital manner, optimizing processes from paper-based, through file-based towards a digital, data-driven process. The advantages: “high-speed” and “high quality and rich context” delivered with a lower cost than currently.

As it is not easy to change existing enterprise business systems. A service oriented architecture (SOA) based on web-services is used to connect enterprise business systems in a structured manner. A SOA-architecture is used when the systems and processes are stable.

However, all companies are discovering the modern digital enterprise, and here nothing is permanent and most likely nothing with remain stable. You will see companies making data available from various systems through APIs (Application Program Interface). In the past the meaning of API was directly tied to one system, now it is a wider concept, read for example  APIs for Dummies)

The usage of Micro Services allows companies to provide consumers (internal and external) with an experience based on an API layer with data coming from various sources. The user does not care and benefits from almost real-time information in the right context of the microservice. For more detail read: The difference between microservices and web services

Where it is easy for companies to create new experiences for their customers and internal employees through Apps on a platform and the usage of Micro Services, it is natural to extend this thought process toward the world of product data, the PLM domain. When I visit companies with an excellent digital image towards their customers, I am most of the time surprised to see their PLM environment still based on previous century’s concepts. And there is a reason for that, read my recent post: Why PLM is the forgotten domain in digital transformation.

PLM services?

Five years ago there was an interesting debate on engineering.com following upon a discussion between Jim Brown and Chad Jackson with the theme: Granularity vs. Integration: Suites vs. Best-in-class PLM. The power of this episode comes from the discussion afterwards that it is clear two different viewpoints exist, which will not easily merge. Read the comments if you have time.

Now the discussion has become similar for future PLM. Should you use best-of-breed, powerful cloud PLM-services to build an end-to-end connected PLM journey for the customer and the company?  Or should you still need one platform with apps (ideally coming from the best-of-breed vendors)?

You can find examples of cloud-based services popping up since a few years. I wrote about them in the past: The Netherlands and PLM. 2 events – 2 extremes – 1 future. In this post from 2015 I was pessimistic about the progress in the construction industry and confident about the startups I met to build an end-to-end customer experience through cloud solutions (KE-works, TradeCloud integrated with traditional PDM (Autodesk based) through web-services. Others like Kimonex, BOM management for product design, did not get enough momentum. And of course at this moment, OnShape (full cloud CAD) and OpenBOM (cloud-based Bill of Material management), For sure there are more if you do your research a little further.

On the other side, PLM-platforms can be found from the classical PLM vendors, Dassault Systemes, Siemens PLM and PTC have their platforms coming from the classical PLM world, all with some different variations in focus. Aras and Autodesk do not rely necessary on the classical engineering environments and position themselves as a new, modern PLM.

And of course there are other platforms that provide PLM functionality, like traditionally SAP and Oracle, but also Propel on Salesforce. These platforms come from an ERP / CRM side of the business and can be interesting for companies too, depending on their primary business processes.

We will discover in the next 5-10 years how these various offerings will evolve and survive, knowing the PLM world is extremely slow. Read also; PLM and Cultural Change Management. Too Expensive ?

IP and Traceability questions

What I am curious to learn from the new PLM-services providers is how they will manage their customer’s data with IP protection and Traceability.  Companies are always worries about their IP and their IP can be in various domains, not only design or engineering. It can be manufacturing IP or even customer relation’s IP. How would a company maintain an overview of all its IP? Do they need to add a new “service”, called IP Services? (Perhaps an idea for a next startup ?)
Besides IP protection many manufacturing companies have the duty to keep their data available for 5 – 10 – 25 – 50 years, depending on their industry. Here I am also curious to learn what is the exit strategy for using a PLM service. Imagine the PLM service company is purchased by a company you cannot work with (new prices / new polices). How easy is it to step out and stop your subscription? And what is the alternative? Falling back on a classical PLM platform?

To my opinion you can divide these PLM Services in two groups:

  • PLM services that perform clever activities (algorithms / analysis) on your data and provides the company with feedback. This could be BOM compliance services, automated workflows, configurators or simulation services. This group of PLM services provide process support to be more efficient and scaleable, but they leave the data under control of the company.
  • PLM services that store data from the customer, CAD Models, Bill of Materials, Manufacturing Operations, Issues, Workflows. What happens when you stop using these services? Is there an “easy” exit strategy through standards? Are there standards?

Conclusion

The PLM domain is a different domain than other enterprise data as is deals also with data that needs to remain available for IP protection and traceability. Using an analogy of Micro Services or APIs is an unexplored already for PLM service provides, with serious risks for the customer. We are no longer worried about up-time of the cloud, but more worried about who owns the data and how can I maintain my ownership as company.

cloud.jpgLooking forward to your point of view !

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