When PLM – Product Lifecycle Management – was introduced, one of the main drivers was to provide an infrastructure for collaboration and for sharing product information across the whole lifecycle. The top picture shows my impression of what PLM could mean for an organization at that time. The PLM circle was showing a sequential process from concept, through planning, development, manufacturing towards after sales and/or services when relevant. PLM would provide centralization and continuity of data. Through this continuity we could break down the information silos in a company.

Why do we want to break down the silos?

You might ask yourself what is wrong with silos if they perform in a consistent matter? Oleg Shilovitsky recently wrote about it: How PLM can separate data and organization silos.  Read the post for the full details, I will stay at Oleg’s conclusion:

Keep process and organizational silos, but break data silos. This is should be a new mantra by new PLM organization in 21st century. How to help designers, manufacturing planners and support engineers to stay on the same BOM? By resolving this problem, organization will preserve current functional structure, but will make their decisions extremely data drive and efficient. The new role of PLM is to keep organizational and process silos, but connect data silos. This is a place where new cloud based multi-tenant technologies will play key role in the future organization transformation from the vision of no silo extended enterprise to organized functional silos connected by common understanding of data.

When I read this post I had so much to comment, which lead to this post. Let me share my thoughts related to this conclusion and hopefully it helps in future discussions. Feel free to join the discussion:

Keep process and organizational silos, but break data silos. This is should be a new mantra by new PLM organization in 21st century

For me “Keep process and organizational silos ….. “ is exactly the current state of classical PLM, where PLM concepts are implemented to provide data continuity within a siloed organization. When you can stay close to the existing processes the implementation becomes easier. Less business change needed and mainly a focus on efficiency gains by creating access to information.

Most companies do not want to build their data continuity themselves and therefore select and implement a PLM system that provides the data continuity, currently mainly around the various BOM-views. By selecting a PLM system, you have a lot of data integration done for you by the vendor. Perhaps not as user-friendly as every user would expect, however no company has been able to build a 100% user-friendly PLM system yet, which is the big challenge for all enterprise systems. Therefore PLM vendors provide a lot of data continuity for you without the need for your company to take responsibility for this.

And if you know SAP, they go even further. Their mantra is that when using SAP PLM, you even do not need to integrate with ERP.  You can still have long discussions with companies when it comes to PLM and ERP integrations.  The main complexity is not the technical interface but the agreement who is responsible for which data sets during the product lifecycle. This should be clarified even before you start talking about a technical implementation. SAP claims that this effort is not needed in their environment, however they just shift the problem more towards the CAD-side. Engineers do not feel comfortable with SAP PLM when engineering is driving the success of the company. It is like the Swiss knife; every tool is there but do you want to use it for your daily work?

In theory a company does not need to buy a PLM system. You could build your own PLM-system, based on existing infrastructure capabilities. CAD integrations might be trickier, however this you could solve by connecting to their native environments.  For example, Microsoft presented at several PDT conferences an end-to-end PLM story based on Microsoft technology.  Microsoft “talks PLM” during these conferences, but does not deliver a PLM-system – they deliver the technologies.

The real 21st-century paradigm

What is really needed for the 21st century is to break down the organizational silos as current ways of working are becoming less and less applicable to a modern enterprise. The usage of software has the major impact on how we can work in the future. Software does not follow the linear product process. Software comes with incremental deliveries all the time and yes the software requires still hardware to perform. Modern enterprises try to become agile, being able to react quickly to trends and innovation options to bring higher and different value to their customers.  Related to product innovation this means that the linear, sequential go-to-market process is too slow, requires too much data manipulation by non-value added activities.

All leading companies in the industry are learning to work in a more agile mode with multidisciplinary teams that work like startups. Find an incremental benefit, rapidly develop test and interact with the market and deliver it. These teams require real-time data coming from all stakeholders, therefore the need for data continuity. But also the need for data quality as there is no time to validate data all the time – too expensive – too slow.

Probably these teams will not collaborate along the various BOM-views, but more along digital models, both describing product specifications and system behavior. The BOM is not the best interface to share system information. The model-based enterprise with its various representations is more likely to be the backbone for the new future in the 21st century. I wrote about this several times, e.g. item-centric or model-centric.

And New cloud-based multi-tenant technologies …

As Oleg writes in his conclusion:

This is a place where new cloud-based multi-tenant technologies will play key role in the future organization transformation from the vision of no silo extended enterprise to organized functional silos connected by common understanding of data.

From the academic point of view, I see the beauty of new cloud-based multi-tenant technologies. Quickly build an environment that provides information for specific roles within the organization – however will this view be complete enough?  What about data dictionaries or is every integration a customization?

When talking with companies in the real world, they are not driven by technology – they are driven by processes. They do not like to break down the silos as it creates discomfort and the need for business transformation. And there is no clear answer at this moment. What is clear that leading companies invest in business change first before looking into the technology.

Conclusion

Sometimes too much academic and wishful thinking from technology providers is creating excitement.  Technology is not the biggest game changer for the 21st century. It will be the new ways of working and business models related to a digital enterprise that require breaking organizational silos. And these new processes will create the demand for new technologies, not the other way around.

Break down the walls !

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