The PLM siloed approach: Sometime around 2003 the technology area known as product lifecycle management (PLM) started to crystallize out of a series of point solutions, most notably computer-aided design (CAD), which is the original and historically most successful piece of PLM still today! CAD tools are fantastic in isolation, but they weren’t designed to support processes either as fast or as collaborative as those required now.
Overcoming the isolation of CAD tools is a key purpose of collaborative product data management (PDM) as the central repository for product information across the enterprise. In most large organizations, PDM generally takes the form of long-established legacy systems that effectively handle detailed information about bills of materials and design specifications. Nevertheless, many companies remain frustrated with PDM systems that lack the flexibility they need to keep up with the pace of change in innovation today. Where these systems fail, the problem often is unwieldy procedures that users are forced to follow to maintain an accurate product system of record, which can hinder creativity.
The core of today’s PLM footprint stack is project portfolio management (PPM) which represents the decision making environment around the entire product innovation domain, including the decision support tools that should allow organizations to sensibly keep or kill individual development initiatives that fail to pass a stage gate. Although most of the largest vendors offer PPM capabilities, the most heavily used tools in this area are Microsoft Project and Excel, which arguably fail to create a decent decision-making environment.
It is our opinion that leading PLM vendors still have a lot to do to create a truly integrated platform. The fragmented nature of today’s PLM applications organized around the CAD-PDM-PPM construct mirrors the traditional siloed approach of new product development and launch processes in the manufacturing industry, where product development, supply chain and manufacturing are separate organizations with independent processes. With leading manufacturers heading to an integrated approach to new product development and launch – which will see a much higher level of collaboration and integration of product development and the supply chain than today – technology vendors will have to make sure they align with customer needs.
Looking ahead to an idealized next-stage PLM foundation, better, deeper, cloud-based applications may offer more effective collaboration processes both internally and externally to the enterprise, across a number of global R&D centres and along the supply chain. New sources of data, may justify heavier investment in big data analytics, search engines and social capabilities to support product develop processes that do not constrict creativity too heavily into a rigid “engineered” process.
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