Ask two engineers about how to make stuff and you get at least three opinions about possible ways to do so. To find consensus in engineering, product development and manufacturing is hard. From my experience engineers and software developers is the group with largest diversity of opinions and custom requirements. I’ve learned it hard way implementing and developing PDM / PLM software. Large manufacturing companies are better organized and leaning towards well-established business processes and polices. PLM vendors are using so-called “business transformation” approach to implement PLM for large manufacturers. It proved to be efficient for many companies (not only largest OEMs, but also smaller companies). However, the TCO of existing solutions is still too high. It is very hard to convince small company to implement PLM. In addition to that, smaller companies are less influenced by corporate hierarchy, business processes and IT system governance. I put some of my thoughts about that here – Why PLM stuck to provide solutions for SME?
Software vendors and service providers are facing the problem how to customize PLM for large and diverse set of requirements. Software toolkit was the first way to solve customization problem. Only very large customers accepted toolkit approach. It was complicated and costly. The next answer provided by PDM / PLM vendors was flexible data modeling and configuration. Most of modern PDM / PLM software suites are providing set of configuration tools to do that. Nevertheless, PLM implementation is still long process taking weeks or months. In many situations, it still requires some customization to be done.
Vendors need to find another way to customize PLM system. Current customization approach is mostly focused on a company – industry, size, processes. It made me think about another way to customize the system by focusing on a specific user in a company. I can see some of these ideas in role-based and out-of-the-box approach in developing of enterprise systems. However, I can see it different by stepping down from holistic company-wide customization towards specific user-oriented goals. In other words, company was the customer before. Now, it is about individual users.
Below, I summarized six dimensions of customization that can help to identify customization directions.
1- Who. This is very similar to role-based approach. It can help to identify specific key people and their everyday needs. List their functions and pains. What is specifically different for each of them. How to personalize apps / service for every individual.
2- What. This dimension speaks about specific function. How to customize the system to a very specific operation. What do customers do differently with the system. Go to the level of person (not department)
3- Where. This is a dimension that helps you think about customized locations. How is your system different for every place. How customer can do the work everywhere and how is that different. How to provide system wherever customer wants.
4- When. There are two major aspects here – how to make system available 24×7 and how to make system available instantly (by eliminating long implementation cycles and preparation).
5- Why. One of the most critical customization factors. Why user needs your system? How to provide ROI and make system stick? How to add more value for every specific user and not “in general” for the company.
6- How. This dimension is about customization factors responsible for how to delivery the product to different customers. What delivery forms to use. How my customers are different and how to satisfy customers in every way.
What is my conclusion? Today, company policies, business practices and organizational structure are factors that impact the way PLM vendors are customizing their software. Nothing wrong with that approach. Future customization can move from holistic “company” wide customization towards specific “customer” (read – user) needs. PLM software should be more personal and, by doing that, to attach to specific user functions in a very unique way – to provide value, be available everywhere, anytime and in any form. This is a future for truly customizable PLM software. Just my thoughts…