Complexity Kills or Three Ways to Improve PLM Adoption

In my view, one of the things that is killing PLM the most is the level of technical details. I think PLM is overselling complexity and, as a result, moves people out of this space. PLM is perceived as complex and, as a result, a dangerous place. So, I think, in order to improve the PLM adoption rate, we need to rethink why PLM looks like a dangerous technological toy rather than a practical tool for an organization?

So, here are my top three things we need to work on to get out of the PLM complexity game.

1. User Experience. One of the things that is absolutely not accepted in most of the PLM implementations I have seen is the way users interact with systems. Most of the systems expose too many details, overload users with additional information and functions. I’d recommend that all developers implement a way to track usage of your user interface features and analyze the features that are not in use. As soon as you have this indication – remove the features. Nobody will care about menus/buttons/dialogs. As a result, you will have more display real-estate for your core functionality.

2. Mobile Applications. I love my iPhone J… Maybe not iPhone, but my mobile BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, etc. I think we need to come with mobile applications for daily PLM life. It should come in a way that will embed Product Lifecycle Management into my mobile life. People will appreciate it, I’m sure. And this needs to be completely role-based. To allow designers to see a list of documents they need to complete, to allow managers to see and approve lists of ECOs for today. At the end of the day, I want to be able to show the latest cool 3D model on my mobile device to my colleague during lunch time. All these small things will help us influence people’s minds.

3. Plug and Play. Last, but absolutely not least. Today PLM implementation is a 3-step activity: Install, Implement, Use. I want to exclude the “Implement” phase.  I think we need to provide a system that needs to be installed. After installation, we will be able to start using our system. But do we need to develop our processes? Do we need to organize our data? The answer is that we do need to connect to legacy systems and other systems. Think about the old way of connecting devices to Windows. IRQs, reboots, configurations. These days are in the past. The same should happen to PLM. Otherwise PLM will die.

I’m sure that each of you has specific pains related to PLM complexity. I’d be interesting in hearing your voices, and am looking forward to our dialog.


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  • Jovan

    On user experience:
    Yeah you are totally right. The only issue, is that to make every department happy, we just add more and more information to be seen when only 2 or 3 are key decision factors.

    On mobile application:
    I will nuance what you say… most of the people have laptops, or can get the information in another way. SO I don’t think the primary users of PLM would like to have that on a small phone. On the top of that the readability is not that good even on a iPhone. I think when the ePaper can be in color, then we will be ready to move one step further. But, there is an idea here: Managers want to have consolidate data. They don’t need to have access to each document or each information. Just a visual report that tells them where the projects are at. Other mobile application: Maintenance… Mobile application must not reproduce the same mistake as the sedentary applications.

    On plug and play:
    You want to kill my job do you??? 😀 I agree 100% with you. the PLM should be the federation of all data in the enterprise. The question is then now not “how to retrieve them” but “how to manage them”. This requires an approach that would be a revolution in the industry, because companies would be forced to have a global approach (AT LAST!!) and not just consider the PLM as a toolkit for designers and engineers…

    I really think this is a great way to describe key technological and cultural challenges for PLM in the future. And you realize that mobile applications can only be built on the top of a plug-n-Play architecture (who the hell will customize all mobile applications!?). Mobile application can only be built on the top of an increase user experience and limited but only pertinent access to data.

  • Jovan, Thanks! I think your conclusion matched my expectations. Slight disagreement on mobile. I understand most of the people have laptops, but mobile is 1/cool; 2/can help to socialize. – Regards,Oleg

  • Oleg,

    Excellent post, and I completely agree with your points.

    The user experience aspect in particular is probably the biggest industry wide problem. Over the last 15 years, I have led or been involved with a number of PLM implementations, large and small, covering many different vendors and industries, and there are some things that always come up as big issues. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and claim that somewhere in the list of the top five issues in every PLM implementation (every industry, every tool and every combination of scope), these three problems appear:

    1. Usability
    2. Performance
    3. Integrations

    Usability and performance are highly related, because they’re subjective and it’s all about the user experience, which is in most cases, horrible. I don’t think this is unavoidable. The business processes that PLM supports are, at their core, pretty simple, and the business benefits are clear.

    To be sure, this isn’t helped by the implementors, who in some cases seem to drive unnecessary complexity into the business process, developing workflows that have too many players, too many steps and attempt to cover every conceivable corner case.

    But, back to the tools – I sense there’s a breakthrough coming, now that most of the industry consolidation is complete. Maybe it’s Agile/Oracle, maybe it’s a hosted solution (Arena) or maybe one of the core PLM vendors will finally take a new approach. Ther is certainly a huge demand.

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  • Hello Pete, Thanks for you comment! I like your summary – usability, performance, integration. These are painful points. Why do you think vendors after concolidation will be interested to delivery a new approach? From historical record existing big companies rarely delivered something completely different. Look on IBM compared to MS. Google compared to MS. I think, 3DLive from DS is a very good try to get usable and simple across the board and this is very improved in V6. Current PTC effort with ProductPoint is also interesting, since it expected to deliver simplicity and usability on top of SharePoint. Time will show. Best, Oleg.

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  • Nilesh

    I totally agree on your views user experience comment. While at the same time I would be dis-agreeing on the additional hardware i.e. mobile applications. This will add complexity to the software installation which we should be reducing. Let’s look at large enterprise hardware – They have 1/CAD workstations on three different OS namely from microsoft, Linux, and a few Unix flavors (reducing day by day). 2/Then mainly two types of hardwares (desktops/laptops) etc. 3/Some companies have low end hardwares in desktop/laptop format.
    This adds complexity when you want to perform initial installtions and then manage updates. Good luck with adding mobiles to it 🙂
    Implementation: This point needs to be looked holistically for every implementation. As a consultant, one needs to understand enterprise workflows and weed out un-necessary processes/workflows from legacy system and configure the PLM software to make enterprise more efficient.

    Happy blogging

  • Nilesh, Thanks for comments! I think mobile apps can bring a shift in user experience. When vendors will think how to implement PLM related functions on mobile, they will discover how to make it easier… This will be a right path to improve usability too. If you think about such cool devices as iPhone, they can be used as a driver of apps in the enterprise. Many of the vendors are doing so with their apps. Coming iPad will only improve the situation, in my view. Thanks for discussion and ideas! Best, Oleg

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