Over the past few years, many advances have made the product development environment faster and more effective. Among them, global supply chains have benefited tremendously from advances in product lifecycle management. Even with these sophisticated applications, a gap has remained between the business processes of product designers/developers and the consumers who inspire - and buy from - them.
At the same time, mobile applications have sprouted up in virtually every part of the business landscape. The product development process is no exception. Today, mobile apps for PLM are already starting to make significant impact in some industries, bringing PLM "out of the cubicle" and into the world of inspiration and product innovation as never before. While the development of mobile apps for PLM is in its infancy, the future is bright with new functionality.
Defining the mobile app
While it's true that any PLM system that allows internet access will permit users to log in from an iPad, iPhone or other mobile platform device, that connectivity does not constitute a "mobile app." Some PLM systems, however, are moving beyond the basics of internet access to providing true mobile apps that solve serious, real-world business problems - and are easy to use. Such apps are in their own class, working differently - and serving different needs of the product development environment - than traditional web applications built for desktop use.
These true mobile apps are pushing the boundaries of the PLM landscape. The end result is that more people within the organization - including those in development, supply chain management, quality, line planning, merchandising and sales to the customer - become unified in a single environment of accurate information about the product.
Mobile PLM apps work best when designed for the particular industry at hand. The apparel and fashion industry, for instance, has made rapid advances with mobile PLM. Apparel companies are already using mobile PLM apps to present their collection books to buyers, allowing them to take and fulfill orders faster and more accurately than ever. Mobile apps even can capture last-minute style updates made in the PLM system - such as may happen before runway shows - and reflect those updates in the collection book that buyers and others receive. Results include accurate order fulfillment, happier customers and positive impact on the bottom line.
Increasing functionality, speed
Going forward, apps for mobile devices will continue to increase in functionality and speed. Future iterations will help pull together portfolio collections and assortments for individual sales and manufacturers' reps, vendors or customers. These apps can individualize the entire sales, buying and product development process as never before.
Input of compliance management to the PLM system using the camera on a mobile device will streamline a complex, time-consuming process. Mobile factory order apps will allow companies to input orders directly into PLM systems from shop floors anywhere in the world.
Visual apps will allow users to easily upload photos from the cameras on their mobile device directly to PLM systems, making those images immediately available for trend boards and line plans, or for review, mark-up, analysis and faster collaboration. Discussion between buyers, reps and product development professionals will become easier, resulting in faster and more accurate work on everything from sample development to product modifications.
For example, a company rep in China may be in the midst of a conversation with a supplier explaining why a particular material is unacceptable for the selected design. When the rep can snap a photo that immediately uploads to the PLM system, developers back home can quickly see and understand the situation. When the supplier provides alternatives that will resolve the situation, those pictures also can go into the PLM system. Problem resolution is faster and simpler.
With visual apps, collective decisions become stronger and faster, speeding the product to market. "Real time" becomes a real possibility as people in offices throughout the building, country or world become part of the supplier discussion and process. Latency associated with the traditional steps of photo management - snapping a picture, uploading it to a computer, logging into the PLM system, uploading and storing the picture, notifying team members, and waiting for comments - disappears.
Imaging, dialoging and commenting are integral parts of the product development process. Yet, today, researchers and developers sometimes work in a relative vacuum, stuck on a problem that perhaps someone else - in another office building, in another part of the world, in another part of the supply chain - has already addressed.
The ability to post data, photos, audio and video links directly to social media-like pages within the PLM system - whether via mobile devices or traditional login access to the system - could significantly impact the effectiveness of communications. Those involved in the product development process can work more directly and efficiently with each other. Companies could even quickly and easily obtain comments and suggestions from customers on upcoming products.
Mobile apps for PLM let innovation happen where and when it's going to happen, which often is not at a desk inside an office. The ability to capture trends - on the street, on a factory floor or at a trade show - with these new apps will directly help product development accelerate innovation, decrease costs and make sure the right products get to the market. And that will transform the way product designers and manufacturers perceive and use PLM.
Mobile devices are fun, convenient and up-to-the-minute. But in the business world, the ultimate value of these devices will depend less on their "cool" factor than on their ability to support truly useful functions. Mobile PLM apps are already beginning to improve efficiency and productivity. The use of photos, video and audio in true mobile PLM apps will make getting the best products to market faster, easier, and, ultimately in a less costly way. What the cell phone did for personal and business communications, mobile apps for PLM have the potential to do for product innovation.
Source: Concentric Software
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