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I don’t know if it is the time of the year, but suddenly there is again in the PLM world a discussion which is related to the theme of flexibility (or the lack of flexibility). And I do not refer to some of the PLM supplier lock-in situations discussed recently. In a group discussion on LinkedIn we talked about the two worlds of PLM-ERP and that somehow here we have status quo do to the fact companies won’t change the way they manage their BOM if they are not forced to do or see the value.

Stephen Porter from Zero Wait-State in his blog wrote an interesting post about using PLM to model business processes and I liked his thoughts. Here the topic, flexibility was brought into the discussion by me.

ootb Then Mark Lind from Aras responded to this post and referred to his post on Out-Of-The-Box (OOTB) PLM which ended in a call for flexibility.

However, reading this post I wanted to bring some different viewpoints to Mark’s post and as my response became too long, I decided to post it in my blog. So please read Stephen’s post, read Mark’s post and keep the word flexibility in the back of your mind.


My European view

As I have been involved in several OOTB-attempts with various PDM / PLM suppliers, I tend to have somehow a different opinion about the purpose of OOTB.

It is all about what you mean with OOTB and what type and size of company you are talking about. My focus is not on the global enterprises – they are too big to even consider OOTB (too many opinions – too much politics).

But the mid-market companies, which in Europe practice a lot of PLM, without having a PLM system, are my major target. They improve their business with tools fitting in their environment, and when they decide to use a PLM system; it is often close related to their CAD or ERP system.

In this perspective, Mark’s statement:

Now stop and think… the fundamental premise of OOTB enterprise software is that there’s an exact match between your corporate processes and the software. If it’s not an exact match, then get ready to customize (and it won’t be OOTB anymore). This is why the concept of OOTB enterprise PLM is absurd.

I see it as a simplification – yes customers want to use OOTB systems, but as soon as you offer flexibility, customers want to adapt it. And the challenge of each product is to support as much as possible different scenarios (through configuration, through tuning (you can call it macros or customization) Microsoft Excel is still the best tool in this area

But let’s focus on PLM. Marc’s next statement:

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Industry Accelerators or so called ‘best practice’ templates

standard_process Again is simplifying the topic. Most of the companies I have been working with had no standard processes or PLM practices as much of the work was done outside a controlled system. And in situations that there was no Accelerator or Best Practice, you were trapped in a situation where people started to discuss their processes and to-be practices (losing time, concluding the process was not so easy as they thought, and at the end blame the PLM system as it takes so long to implement – and you need someone or something to blame). Also her Stephen promotes the functionality in PLM to assist modeling these processes.

 PLM is a learning process for companies and with learning I mean, understanding that the way of working can be different and change is difficult. That’s why a second, new PLM implementation in the same company is often more easy to do. At this stage a customer is able to realize which customizations were nice to have but did not contribute to the process and which customizations now could be replaced by standard capabilities (or configured capabilities). A happy target for PLM vendors where the customer changes from PLM vendor as they claim the success of the second implementation. However I have seen also re-implementations with the same software and the same vendor with the same results: faster implementation, less customization and more flexibility.

I fully agree with Marc’s statement that PLM implementations should be flexible and for me this means during implementations make sure you stay close to the PLM standards (yes there are no ‘official’ standards but every PLM implementation is around a similar data model.)

As the metadata and the created files represent the most value for the customer, this is where you should focus. Processes to change, review, collaborate or approve information should always be flexible as they will change. And when you implement these processes to speed up time-to-market or communication between departments/partners, do an ROI and risk analysis if you need to customize.

I still see the biggest problem for PLM is that people believe it is an IT-project, like their ERP project in the past. Looking at PLM in the same way does not reflect the real PLM challenge of being flexible to react. This is one of my aversions against SAP PLM – these two trigrams just don’t go together – SAP is not flexible – PLM should be flexible.

Therefore this time a short blog post or long response, looking forward to your thoughts

observation As a follow-up of my holiday thoughts, I want to discuss this time the various interpretations of PLM that exist. Of course we have the ‘official’ definitions of the consultancy companies like CIMdata and 2PLM ( I took an American and European example).  They describe clearly that it is a business approach, not necessary a set of technologies and tools to implement.

plm_txt Then we have the PLM vendors, where Dassault Systems and Siemens claim their visionary leadership. Looking at their websites, it is hard to find an explicit message. They both claim PLM brings innovation (how ?) , where Dassault Systemes has a strong message around 3D and virtual product development and Siemens focuses more on efficiency and better collaboration benefits. I am not going in depth into PTC and Aras or other PLM vendors as I am only taking two examples per type of company, but look at their websites and find out how (and if) they describe PLM as a business approach.

erp_txt For a PLM definition at SAP you have to dig a little deeper and I got even more surprised when searching through the Oracle web site. Here it was difficult to find a generic PLM message. There was the list of acquisitions (which make me wonder if this means they are all integrated) and there was the list of industries and only when drilling down into the industries, you will find PLM related information.  Here I still have the feeling that these companies understand there is a need for PLM, but that it is not in their veins, they want to manage product data as a ‘single version of the truth’ – which is not a bad idea and I will come back on that later – but they want to manage different data.

Also upcoming are the generic PLM on-line solutions (Arena and PLM+), which for me still are somehow a contradiction to what consultancy companies describe as PLM. Instead of a bussiness approach it is an IT-solution.  In parallel there are more dedicated on-line solutions that support a specific business process  (where PLM practices are embedded) – like for Apparel, CPG.

For these type of solutions, I have a more positive opinion as they are lowering the threshold to implement PLM in a certain industry. However the biggest skepticism I have for these types of solutions is the degrees of flexibility it will offer the implementing company to be different from standard best practices. As all companies have their uniqueness in being competitive, will they be able to support this ?

And then there was the press release from Zero Wait-State which struck me:

point Zero Wait-State is launching a new website that will provide a central location for Product Lifecycle Management software and partner reviews. This site will be a valuable resource for companies trying to assess different PLM solutions and which partners to work with. The site will be driven by users and allow them to share their experiences with different software products and implementation partners.

See the full press release here: Zero Wait-State Announces New Website for PLM and Service Provider Reviews.
I believe in these times of product selection and reviews certainly a good initiative. Where do we find vendor independent reviews of various PLM products ? Bringing PLM to social communities.

But ……

Here I want to take a step back. What is the essence of PLM and how do you know as a company you want to implement PLM ?

The majority of mid-market companies are not looking for a PLM system. Most of the mid-market companies have the impression that PLM is complex and expensive and typical mid-market vendors like Autodesk or SolidWorks are not pushing PLM (try for fun to search for PLM on their websites).

So will a mid-market company be able to select a PLM product through communities in the same manner as you select a consumer product ?

I believe the main challenge for a PLM implementation is not the software, but the business change.

In a company where most people are thinking (and rewarded) departmental, it is difficult to implement a new system that affects all departments. Creating the single version of the truth for product data is one of the basics for PLM. Try to get an agreement with sales, engineering, production and service who will be responsible for which part of the BOM. SAP’s single version of the truth is much more a statement from an IT-infrastructure point of view not focusing and pushing a change of business processes.

I believe, and this is also based on discussions and comments from colleagues focusing on the mid-market, that many mid-market companies are implementing basics of PLM, not always using a ‘certified’ PLM system or PLM vendor, but a pragmatic solution (customization / piece of software) which connects parts of the product information. These solutions are usually extensions on top of the CAD data management environment or the ERP system.

And here PLM vendors have a mission. Provide building blocks (services) that allow mid-market companies to connect data between departments based on known standard authoring tools. For classical PLM industries (Automotive/Aero/Fabrication & Assembly) the major CAD systems and virtual product development plus analysis software are major disciplines to manage. Other industries also have their authoring tools. Connecting them through services and provide an easy to implement backbone for product information. This should be not a big-boom effect in the mid-market, but more an evolution – moving to PLM 2.0 or beyond ?

Will this come from PLM providers or IT-providers ?

For the mid-market it is not about which PLM, but more about who can provide a gradual business change from sequential and departmental business processes towards company-wide processes, where people share and collaborate around the single version of data. So which PLM should be called which provider …..

I am looking forward to your opinion.


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