Every time the message pops-up that there is a problem with PLM because it is not simple. Most of these messages come from new software vendors challenging the incumbents, other from frustrated people who tried to implement PLM directly and failed. The first group of people believe that technology will kill, the second group usually blames the vendors or implementers for complexity, never themselves. Let’s zoom in on both types:

The Vendor pitch

Two weeks ago Oleg Shilovitsky published: Why complexity is killing PLM and what are future trajectories and opportunities?. His post contained some quotes from my earlier posts (thanks for that Oleg J ). Read the article, and you will understand Oleg believes in technology, ending with the following conclusion/thoughts:

What is my conclusion? It is a time for new PLM leadership that can be built of transparency, trust and new technologies helping to build new intelligent and affordable systems for future manufacturing business. The old mantra about complex PLM should go away. Otherwise, PLM will shrink, retire and die. Just my thoughts…

It is a heartbreaking statement. I would claim every business uses these words to the outside world. Transparency as far as possible, as you do not want to throw your strategy on the table unless you are a philanthropist (or too wealthy to care).

Without trust, no long-term relationship can exist, and yes new technology can make some difference, but is current technology making PLM complex?

Vendors like Aras, Arena, FusePLM, Propel PLM all claim the new PLM space with modern technology – without strong support for 3D CAD/Model-Based approaches, as this creates complications. Other companies like OpenBOM, OnShape, and more are providing a piece of the contemporary PLM-puzzle.

Companies using their capabilities have to solve their PLM strategy /architecture themselves. Having worked for SmarTeam, the market leader in easy client-server PLM, I learned that an excellent first impression helps to sell PLM, but only to departments, it does not scale to the larger enterprise. Why?

PLM is about sharing (and connecting)

Let’s start with the most simplistic view of PLM.  PLM is about sharing information along all the lifecycle phases. Current practices are based on a coordinated approach using documents/files. The future is about sharing information through connected data. My recent post: The Challenges of a connected ecosystem for PLM zooms in on these details.

Can sharing be solved by technology? Let’s look at the most common way of information sharing we currently use: email. Initially, everyone was excited, fast and easy! Long live technology!

Email and communities

Now companies start to realize that email did not solve the problems of sharing. Messages with half of the company in CC, long, unstructured stories, hidden, local archives with crucial information all have led to unproductive situations. Every person shares based on guidelines, personal (best) practices or instinct. And this is only office communication.

Product lifecycle management data and practices are xxxx times more complicated. In particular, if we talk about a modern connected product based on hardware and software, managed through the whole lifecycle – here customers expect quality.

I will change my opinion about PLM simplicity as soon as a reasonable, scalable solution for the email problem exists that solves the chaos.

Some companies thought that moving email to (social) communities would be the logical next step see Why Atos Origin Is Striving To Be A Zero-Email Company.  This was in 2011, and digital communities have reduced the number of emails.

Communities on LinkedIn flourished in the beginning, however, now they are also filled with a large amount of ambiguous content and irrelevant puzzles. Also, these platforms became polluted. The main reason: the concept of communities again is implemented as technology, easy to publish anything (read my blog 🙂 ) but not necessarily combined with an attitude change.

Learning to share – business transformation

Traditional PLM and modern data-driven PLM both have the challenge to offer an infrastructure that will be accepted by the end-users, supporting sharing and collaboration guaranteeing at the end that products have the right quality and the company remains profitable.

Versions, revisions, configuration management, and change management are a must to control cost and quality. All kinds of practices the end-user hates, who “just wants to do his/her job.”
(2010 post: PLM, CM and ALM – not sexy 😦 )

And this is precisely the challenge of PLM. The job to do is not an isolated activity. If you want your data to be reused or make your data discoverable after five or ten years from now, there is extra work to do and thinking needed. Engineers are often under pressure to deliver their designs with enough quality for the next step. Investing time in enriching the information for downstream or future use is considered a waste of time, as the engineering department is not rewarded for that. Actually, the feeling is that productivity is dropping due to “extra” work.

The critical mindset needed for PLM is to redefine the job of individuals. Instead of optimizing the work for individuals, a company needs to focus on the optimized value streams. What is the best moment to spend time on data quality and enrichment? Once the data is created or further downstream when it is required?

Changing this behavior is called business transformation, as it requires a redesign of processes and responsibilities. PLM implementations always have a transformational aspect if done right.

The tool will perform the business transformation

At the PLM Innovation Munich 2012 conference, Autodesk announced their cloud-based PLM 360 solution. One of their lead customers explained to the audience that within two weeks they were up and running. The audience as in shock – see the image to the left. You can find the full presentation here on SlideShare: The PLM Identity Crisis

Easy configuration, even sitting at the airport, is a typical PLM Vendor-marketing sentence.

Too many PLM implementations have created frustration as the management believed the PLM-tools would transform the business. However, without a proper top-down redesign of the business, this is asking for failure.

The good news is that many past PLM implementations haven’t entirely failed because they have been implemented close to the existing processes, not really creating the value PLM could offer. They maintained the silos in a coordinated way. Similar to email – the PLM-system may give a technology boost, but five to ten years later the conclusion comes that fundamentally data quality is poor for downstream usage as it was not part of the easy scope.

Who does Change Management?

It is clear PLM-vendors make a living from selling software. They will not talk about the required Change Management as it complicates the deal.  Change Management is a complex topic as it requires a combination of a vision and a restructuring (a part of) the organization. It is impossible to outsource change management –  as a company you need to own your strategy and change. You can hire strategy consultants and coaches but is a costly exercise if you do not own your transformation.

Therefore, it remains a “soft” topic depending on your company’s management and culture.  The longer your company exists, the more challenging change management will be, as we can see from big American / European enterprises, where the individual opinion is strongest, compared to upcoming Asian companies (with less legacy)

Change Management in the context of digital transformation becomes even more critical as, for sure, existing processes and ways of working no longer apply for a digital and connected enterprise.

There is so much learning and rethinking to do for businesses before we can reap all the benefits PLM Vendors are showing. Go to the upcoming Hannover Messe in Germany, you will be impressed by what is (technically) possible – Artificial Intelligence / Virtual Twins and VR/AR. Next, ask around and look for companies that have been able to implement these capabilities and have transformed their business. I will be happy to visit them all.


PLM will never be pure as it requires individuals to work in a sharing mode which is not natural by nature. Digital transformation, where the sharing of information becomes connecting information requires even more orchestration and less individualism. Culture and being able to create a vision and strategy related to sharing will be crucial – the technology is there.


“Technology for its own sake is a common trap. Don’t build your roadmap as a series of technology projects. Technology is only part of the story in digital transformation and often the least challenging one.”

(from “Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation (English Edition)” by George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, Andrew McAfee)