How to stop comparing PLM and SharePoint?

How to stop comparing PLM and SharePoint?


SharePoint is a long debated topic in PLM ecosystem. Starting from the early success of SharePoint back in 2006-2007, many companies are asking question about SharePoint and PLM system comparison. SharePoint took a significant market share using a successful licensing policy to embed the introductory version of SharePoint into Windows Server license. Another strong point of SharePoint was a very good integration with Microsoft Office. At the same time, despite a significant mainstream success, SharePoint still raised many questions about how manufacturing companies can leverage SharePoint to manage CAD drawing, collaborate and share engineering data.

I addressed SharePoint point on my blog many times. If you never had a chance to read my SharePoint related articles, maybe you can start by Why PLM should care of SharePoint? Another post that will help you to learn more about SharePoint and PLM could be this one – PLM and SharePoint Technical Definition.

Microsoft and PLM vendors had long debates about how to partner about SharePoint. The results of debates and partnership was mixed. Some of vendors (eg. Siemens PLM) made a long commitment by integrating between TeamCenter and SharePoint. The examples are TeamCenter Community, SolidEdge Insight (SolidEdge XT, SolidEdge SP). Other vendors like PTC, tried to establish multiple products that re-using SharePoint infrastructure (Windchill SocialLink, Windchill ProductPoint, etc.). Some of them succeed and some of them failed. You can read more here. Other vendors tried to investigate more into service contracts to integrate SharePoint with PLM products and infrastructure.

Microsoft SharePoint business is big these days. At the same time, it started to show some indication of weakness that might be typical for enterprise type of solution. In a nutshell it became complex, hard to deploy and costly (especially in the situations when organization required to scale up SharePoint to a fully blown enterprise solution). Read my article SharePoint got infected with PLM disease. Microsoft is trying to react on the new SharePoint status. From what I see, Microsoft is transforming SharePoint from product into infrastructure. You can find more information about this activity in my post – Will PLM Benefit From “SharePoint Death”?

Recently, another interesting information about SharePoint deployment came to my attention. Navigate your browser to ArnoldIT blog – SharePoint Not on the Radar. The writeup quoting some research surveys made by AIIM. I found the following passage important.

AIIM conducted a survey and found that only 6% of its respondents found their deployments successful, while 43% are struggling with implementing SharePoint, and another 28% say that progress has stalled in their SharePoint projects. That only touches the shallow end of the SharePoint pool. Many companies are also running multiple versions of the software, which can only lead to compatibility issues.

Another interesting publication research made by consulting outfit – Razorleaf. Navigate to the following link to access Razorleaf’s PLM and SharePoint white paper. Here is an interesting passage from Razorleaf article:

SharePoint is poised to become an ubiquitous document and content management system with great capabilities for ad hoc collaboration, whereas Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a similar but more structured system focused on product development content.  By integrating SharePoint and PLM (the Product Data Management (PDM) components of PLM), users can blend the benefits of both to enable ad hoc collaboration on top of rich, structured product data and information.

Another similar conclusion is coming from Aras PLM blog – Why Can’t We Just Use SharePoint?  The discussion in the article is about why SharePoint is not capable to replace PLM software. Aras blog is mentioning two significant capabilities missed in SharePoint – context / relationships management and missing workflow capabilities. Without agreeing on specific elements, I have to admit that general conclusion in the following passage seems to be right:

SharePoint is a powerful tool that has a very useful place in your PLM strategy, however, unless you are ready to invest significant time and resources into customization (i.e. building all the PLM functionality), it is not a replacement for choosing and deploying a real PLM system.

What is my conclusion? Back in 2006-2007, SharePoint provided an interesting and easy to deploy set of tools perceived by everybody as something that might have a potential of PLM system. Since that time, SharePoint gravitated more towards “platform”. At the same time, PLM is more focusing on cloud vertical solution and business application. Will their paths meet in the future? This is a very good and important question to ask. I’m doubt about that. Meanwhile, the difference is so obvious, in my view. So, to stop comparing PLM and SharePoint should be a clear goals. The complimentary paths are possible indeed. Just my thoughts…



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  • Jonathan_Scott

    Thanks for mentioning Razorleaf’s information on this subject.

    It is interesting how many companies are talking about SharePoint and PLM and how few businesses are actually combining the two systems. For IT groups already fond of SharePoint, it is a logical question to ask, “why can’t we use SharePoint for PLM? For engineering groups managing CAD data, it is a logical question to ask, “how can SharePoint possibly manage CAD?” Of course both groups are wrong and right at the same time.

    Since SharePoint can be seen as a sort of development platform, of course you can make it do anything with enough time and money. My opinion is still that the highest-value-for-lowest-cost approach is to use SharePoint as an interface into PLM content, exposing complex PLM data to a wide enterprise audience and letting them do SharePoint-ish activities around that (social, wiki, discussions, ad hoc collaboration, etc.).

    I’m always looking for people who are doing interesting things with SharePoint and PLM though. Please post and share if you’ve got an interesting project in this area.

  • beyondplm

    Jonathan, thanks for your comment! you nailed in a very good way – both IT and Engineering people are trying to figure out what to do with SharePoint. To have SP as an interface into PLM content is probably the most straightforward application. However, within growing complexity of SharePoint, I can see more companies are finding this combination too complex. I’m also looking for more examples of combining SharePoint and PLM. So, appreciate you share examples… Best, Oleg

  • Ah, Sharepoint. Sharepoint gained huge traction at inception because of bundling, every enterprise with MS Office licensing invariably had Sharepoint dropped in their lap. And you know how it goes, there’s no arguing when something is cheap as free. It was a boon for intranet pages mostly, that were more or less impossible to administer outside of IT prior to having access to Sharepoint.

    Fast forward a few years, and there are quite a few languishing Sharepoint installations and a graveyard of attempted integration projects. Many of those projects were technically successful, except for one problem: no one really wanted to use them. I’m looking at you TC Community.

    And that’s really the larger problem with Sharepoint. As an intranet tool it has select uses, as a content management system for any kind of document, well, MS forgot about the user. Most I know ran away from it screaming. It’s obtuse. Since its on premise, it looks downright antiquated in the shadow of things like dropbox, believe it or not, even though dropbox is just one giant landfill. That’s because despite all the inherent capability in Sharepoint, most people used it for exactly that – a bunch of document landfills, by department. The capability to do anything else was entirely lost on them. Try poking around in your company’s Sharepoint structure and you’ll see what I mean.

    I think the relationship with PLM and Sharepoint is largely over. Let them go their separate ways.

  • beyondplm

    Ed, Thanks for your historical perspective on relationships between SP and PLM. Yes, on a grad scale, I’d agree with. However, zillions of SharePoint licenses and implementations are around and, as you said,… hard to say something against when it is free. But, I don’t think it will be cheap and free for long time. Just my opinion…. Best, Oleg