PLM workflows are dead. “Interactive” user experience is coming

PLM workflows are dead. “Interactive” user experience is coming


Most of product lifecycle management implementations are about two things – getting control over product data and setting up processes around it. The last one is about workflows and PLM workflows are hard to implement. Although the idea of “workflow” is pretty natural, it ends up with many clicks, messy reality of notifications and complex user experience. After all, PLM business process applications is a glorified envelope around workflow engine, which can give short productivity gain, but mostly leads to complex implementation challenges and slow ROI.

There are some bad news for PLM vendors – new generation of customers  (“millennials”) has a completely different demand for how to use technology and what use experience should be. It all about “interactive” experience.

My attention was caught by Wired article How millennials require us to design the technology of tomorrow. Read the article, put aside your Blackberry and corporate laptop. Things are changing as we speak. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

What does the millennial generation mean for technology makers? In a nutshell, it means that interactive technologies, from smartphones to websites to mobile apps to SaaS apps, need to provide the most usable, self-guided, hiccup-free, efficient user experiences in history. Contrary to the belief that millennials can make anything work, their expectations for slick user experiences are the highest ever. Although millennials can often figure out how to use an app or site that is a clunker, they probably won’t take the time to do so. They are experts at finding alternatives and they simply won’t put up with bad user experiences that get in the way of accomplishing their tasks NOW.

“Interactive” technologies made me think about PLM  implementations and workflows. Most of them are “process driven”. It seems to me different from how most of user experience in a modern collaborative applications. People are actually working together despite different location, devices and environment.

What is my conclusion? I can see a difference between user experience and user interface. The first cohort of PLM innovators was mostly about how to make UI looks pretty. It was a nice change from old-fashion-ugly-enterprise-software-screens. But, we need more. New collaborative user experience is about how to change the way people communicate and doing work. Although processes are absolutely important, the switch to “interactive” experience is what millennials will demand. PLM architects and user experience designers can take a note. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at



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  • norsjo

    Hi Oleg,
    Millenials are one demanding group but even the old grey beards you see at most PLM conferences are also hoping for changes to the way they work to match how they operate outside the office.
    One proposal I worked on 3 years ago was on Social/ Collaborative PLM – the client had engineers who collaborated freely with the world outside the company on topics like cars, travel, open source communities etc., but rarely interacted with people in other groups even on the same floor within the company building related to work topics. This scared the life out of new graduate recruits – gave them a Hotel California feeling.
    Unfortunately their PLM vendor had no “product to add” hence no interest is “facebooking” their platform. So lack of re-use, poor tagging and search etc continued.
    Good to see some changes emerging now in the big 3’s platforms.

  • beyondplm

    Derek, thanks for sharing your insight and thoughts. You are spot on- vendors are more interested these days to bring new UX including social and facebook-like approach. Still, long way to go for many product to change their fundamental “process oriented” approach. It will take time, but things have started to move. Best, Oleg

  • David

    Hi Oleg
    This article reminded me of an interesting research paper I saw from Eric Bowman from Bingham University, the gist of his paper was that modern CAD systems prevent realtime awareness between designers and disciplines as the updates to the model are asynchronous, i.e. work ,–> save/check in –> get work . The research looked how gamers in online multiplayer games, especially building ones like Minecraft (or my favourite Space Engineers) managed to coordinate complex building or fighting activities with large groups (up to 30) extremely efficiently, with minimal communication or prep work. They then went on to create a synchronous mode in CATIA /CREO and NX showing how designers could build things very effectively in real time collaboration mode. The then went on to enable this real time collaboration across CAD platforms, meaning surfaces could be done with the best surface modelling tool and solids with the best solid modelling tool etc.
    Regarding Dereks post, don’t give up, being a big supporter of social computing and having come from the monolithic control paradigm of PLM, im glad to say that our Yammer use has now reached 600 active users , something that our grey beards would have never believed in just 2 years ago.

  • beyondplm

    David, thanks for your comment! I haven’t had a chance to read Eric’s paper (if you have link, please share). However, I agree – I’ve heard many times how CAD killed collaboration between engineers compared to drawing boards (where all people were able to walk around and communicate based on what they can see).

    I’d love to learn more about 600 active Yammer users you have. Can you share more info? – oleg [at] beyondplm [dot] com.

    Best, Oleg

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