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This post is based on a mix of interactions I had the last two weeks in my network, mainly on LinkedIn.  First, I enjoyed the discussion that started around Yoann Maingon post: Thoughts about PLM Business models. Yoann is quite seasoned in PLM, as you can see from his LinkedIn profile, and we have had interesting discussions in the past, and recently about a new PLM-system, he is developing Ganister PLM, based on a flexible Graph database.

Perhaps in that context, Yoann was exploring the various business models. Do you pay for the software (and maintenance), do you pay through subscription, what about a modular approach or a full license for all the functionality? All these questions made me think about the various business models that I encountered and how hard it is for a customer to choose the optimal solution.  And is the space for a new type of PLM? Is there space for free PLM? Some of my thoughts here:

PLM vendors need to be profitable

One of the most essential points to consider is that whatever PLM solution you are aiming to buy, make sure that your PLM vendor has a profitable business model. As once you started with a PLM solution, it is your company’s IP that will be stored in this environment, and you do not want to change every few years your PLM system. Switching PLM systems would be affordable if the PLM system would store their data in a standard format – I will share a more in-depth link under PLM and standards.

For the moment, you cannot state PLM vendors endorse standards. None of the real PLM vendors have a standardized data model, perhaps closest to standards are Eurostep, who have based that ShareAspace solution on top of the PLCS (ISO 10303) standard. However, ShareAspace is more positioned as a type of middleware, connecting between OEMs/Owner/Operators and their suppliers to benefit for standardized connectivity.

Coming back to the statement, PLM Vendors need to be profitable to provide a guarantee for the future of your company’s data is the first step. The major PLM Vendors are now profitable as during a consolidation phase starting 15 years ago, a lot of non-profitable PLM Vendors disappeared. Matrix One, Agile, Eigner & Partner PLM are the best-known companies that were bought for either their technology or market share. In that context, you might also look at OnShape.

Would they be profitable as a separate company, or would investors give up? To survive, you need to be profitable, so giving software away for free is not a good sign (see the software for free paragraph) as a company needs continuity.

PLM startups

In the past 10 years, I have seen and evaluated several new PLM companies. All of them did not really change the PLM paradigm, most of them were still focusing on being an engineering collaboration tools. Several of these companies have in their visionary statement that they are going to be the “Excel killer.” We all know Excel has the best user interface and capabilities to manipulate a collection of metadata.

Very popular is the BOM in Excel, extracted from the CAD-system (no need for an “expensive” PDM or PLM) or BOM used to share with suppliers and stakeholders (ERP is too rigid, purchasing does not work with PDM).

The challenge I see here is that these startups do not bring real new value. The cost of manipulating Excels is a hidden cost, and companies relying on Excel communication are the type of companies that do not have a strategic point of view. This is typical for Small and Medium businesses where execution (“let’s do it”) gets all the attention.

PLM startups often collect investor’s money because they promise to kill Excel, but is Excel the real problem? Modern PLM is about data sharing, which is an attitude change, not necessarily a technology change from Excel tables to (cloud) shared tables. However, will one of these “new Excel killers” PLMs be disruptive? I don’t think so.

PLM disruption?

A week ago, I read an interview with Clayton Christensen (thanks Hakan Karden), which I shared on LinkedIn a week ago. Clayton Christensen is the father of the Disruptive Innovation theory, and I have cited him several times in my blogs. His theory is, in my opinion, fundamental to understand how traditional businesses can be disrupted. The interview took place shortly before he died at the age of 67. He died due to complications caused by leukemia.

A favorite part of this interview is, where he restates what is really Disruptive Innovation as we often talk about disruption without understanding the context, just echoing other people:

Christensen: Disruptive innovation describes a process by which a product or service powered by a technology enabler initially takes root in simple applications at the low end of a market — typically by being less expensive and more accessible — and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors. Disruptive innovations are not breakthrough innovations or “ambitious upstarts” that dramatically alter how business is done but, rather, consist of products and services that are simple, accessible, and affordable. These products and services often appear modest at their outset but over time have the potential to transform an industry.

Many of the PLM startups dream and position themselves as the new disruptor.  Will they succeed? I do not believe so if they only focus on replacing Excel, there is a different paradigm needed. Voice control and analysis perhaps (“Hey PLM if I change Part XYZ what will be affected”)?

This would be disruptive and open new options. I think PLM startups should focus here if they want my investment money.

PLM for free?

There are some voices that PLM should be free in an analogy to software management and collaboration tools. There are so many open-source software management tools, why not using them for PLM? I think there are two issues here:

  • PLM data is not like software data. A lot of PLM data is based on design models (3D CAD / Simulation), which is different from software. Designs are often not that modular as software for various reasons. Companies want to be modular in their products, but do they have the time and resources to reinvent their existing product. For software, these costs are so much lower as it is only a brain exercise. For hardware, the impact is significant. Bringing me to the second point.
  • The cost of change for hardware is entirely different compared to software. Changing software does not have an impact on existing stock or suppliers and, therefore, can be implemented once tested for its purpose. A hardware change impacts the existing production process. First, use the old parts before introducing the change, or do we accept the (costs) of scrap. Is our supply chain, or are our production tools ready to deliver continuity for the new version? Hardware changes are costly, and you want to avoid them. Software changes are cheap, therefore design your products to be configurable based on software (For example Tesla’s software controlling the features to be allowed)

Now imagine, with enough funding, you could provide a PLM for free.  Because of ease of deployment, this would be very likely a cloud offering, easy and scalable. However, all your IP is in that cloud too, and let’s imagine that the cloud is safer than on-premise, so it does not matter in which country your data is hosted (does it ?).

Next, the “free” PLM provider starts asking a small service fee after five years, as the promised ROI on the model hasn’t delivered enough value for the shareholders, they become anxious. Of course, you do not like to pay the fee. However, where is your data, and what happens when you do not pay?

If the PLM provider switches you off, you are without your IP. If you ask the PLM provider to provide your data, what will you get? A blob of XML-files, anything you can use?

In general, this is a challenge for all cloud solutions.

  • What if you want to stop your subscription?
  • What is the allowed Exit-strategy?

Here I believe customers should ask for clarity, and perhaps these questions will lead to a renewed understanding that we need standards.

PLM and standards

We had a vivid discussion in the blogging community in September last year. You can read more related to this topic in my post: PLM and the need for standards which describes the aspects of lock-in and needs for openness.

Finally, a remark related to the PLM-acronym. Another interesting discussion started around Joe Barkai’s post: Why I do not do PLM . Read the comments and the various viewpoint on PLM here. It is clear that the word PLM unites us all; however, the interpretation is different.

If someone in the street asks me what is your profession, I never mention I do PLM. I say: “I assist mainly manufacturing companies in redesigning their business processes using best practices and modern digital technologies”. The focus is on the business value, not on the ultimate definition of PLM

Conclusion

There are many business aspects related to PLM to consider. Yoann Maingon’s post started the thinking process, and we ended up with the PLM-definition. It all illustrates that being involved in PLM is never a boring journey. I am curious to learn about your journey and where we meet.

linkedinThis is a post I published on LinkedIn on July 28th related to a discussion around Excel and PLM usage and usability.
Reposted for my blog subscribers.

collaboration

This post is written in the context of two posts that recently caught my attention. One post from Lionel Grealou – comparing PLM and Excel collaboration and reaction on this post and its comments by Oleg Shilovitsky – PLM Need for speed.

Both posts discuss the difference between Excel (easy to use / easy to deploy ) and a PLM system (complex to use / complicated deployment). And when you read both posts you would believe that it is mainly deployment and usability that are blocking PLM systems to be used instead of Excel.

Then I realized this cannot be the case. If usability and deployment were blocking issues for an enterprise system, how would it be possible that the most infamous system for usability, SAP, it one of the top-selling enterprise applications. Probably SAP is the best-selling enterprise application. In addition, I have never heard about any company mentioning SAP is easy to deploy. So what is the difference?

I assume if Excel had existed in its current state in the early days of MRP, people might be tempted to use Excel for some ERP functions. However they would soon realize that Excel is error prone and when you buy the wrong materials or when make errors in your resource scheduling, soon you would try to solve it in a more secure way. Using an ERP system.

ERP systems have never been sold to the users for their usability. It is more that the management is looking for guarantees that the execution process is under control. Minimize the potential for errors and try to automate all activities as much as possible. As the production process is directly linked to finance, it is crucial to have it under control. Goodbye usability, safety first.

Why is this approach not accepted for PLM?
Why do we talk about usability?

First of all, the roots for PLM come from the engineering department (PDM) and, therefore, their primary data management system was not considered an enterprise system. And when you implement a system for a department, discussions will be at the user level. So user acceptance became necessary for PDM and PLM.

But this is not the main reason. Innovation, Product Development, Sales Engineering, Engineering are all iterative activities. In contrary to ERP, there is no linear process defined how to develop the ultimate product the first time right. Although this believe existed in the nineties by an ERP country manager that I met that time. He told me

“Engineers are resources that do not want to be managed, but we will get them.”

An absurd statement I hope you agree. However, the thoughts behind this statement are correct. How do you make sure product development is done in the most efficient manner?

If you look at large enterprises in the aerospace or automotive industry, they implemented PLM, which for sure was not user-friendly. Why did they implement PLM? As they did not want to fix the errors, an Excel-like implementation would bring.

Using Excel has a lot of hidden costs. How to make sure you work with the right version as multiple copies exist? How do you know if the Excel does not contain any type indicating wrong parts? You will learn this only once it is too late. How do you understand the related information to the Excel (CAD files, specifications, etc., etc.)? All lead to a lot of extra manual work depending on the accuracy and discipline of every employee in the company. Large enterprises do not want to be dependent on individual skills.

Large enterprise have shown that it is not about usability in the first place if you wish to control the data. Like for ERP systems, they are aware of the need for PLM with reduced usability above being (fl)Exel with all its related inconvenience.

I believe when there is a discussion about PLM or Excel, we have not reached the needed conceptual level to implement PLM. PLM is about sharing data and breaking down silos. Sharing allows better and faster collaboration, maintaining quality, and this is what companies want to achieve. Therefore the title: How do you measure collaboration. This is the process you wish to optimize, and I suspect that when you would compare user-friendly collaboration with Excel with less user-friendly PLM, you might discover PLM is more efficient.

Therefore stop comparing Excel and PLM. It is all about enabling collaboration and changing people to work together (the biggest challenge – more than usability).

Conclusion: Once we have agreed on that concept, PLM value is about collaboration, there is always to hope to enhance usability. Even SAP is working on that – it is an enterprise software issue.

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