Why standards is not a silver bullet to create PLM innovation platform?

Why standards is not a silver bullet to create PLM innovation platform?


The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to chose from. Engineering.com article Moving Towards Product Innovation Platforms put a great deal of focus on opportunity to use standards to solve the problem of data integration and interoperability in product development, engineering and manufacturing.

I captured few very interesting quotes. Here is the one by Gartner’s Marc Halpern:

Halpern said, “I do believe that standards should be playing a greater role. It’s really funny how, among my manufacturing clients, they all want standards and they all want interoperability but they don’t seem to make it a top priority when they are choosing software partners.” He added that, “If there had been standards supported by the vendors in question, then that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem.”

Another one comes as a “dream request” from Prof. Martin Eigner:

The bottom line, Eigner claims, is that what is needed is to define and create better international standards is to bring all the different systems together. “The dream is that we would have a high-level product structure on top of all the existing systems and that we also had a high-level architecture of change and configuration processes. Maybe we can do it on top of the legacy system.”

But the following passage from  Volvo Group’s External Collaboration Manager Patrick Langton. is my favorite, because it explains the nature of the problem and key complexity – existing data and systems.

“We have parts of the hub already in production. We call it step one, or WISE 1, where we support the initial phase of collaboration. It’s in production and we’re planning to develop it into the next phase by implementing our service architecture. But that is the tricky part right now, and it’s not a hub that solves that. It’s really our legacy system that is the challenge right now.” Langton added that in the end, Volvo Trucks need to move to some kind of standardization, especially for the definition of a BOM.  “That’s right, it’s so different. Some companies are very manufacturing oriented, some are very product development oriented. So, we need to find that definition. If Volvo can define it and convince our partners that we have a good definition, that will be the standard.”

The idea of magical standards that can help to organize disparate tools and data into platform isn’t new. Some of these standards are really useful. JT and STEP were specifically mentioned by Daimler Mercedes’ former IT director, Dr Alfred Katzenbach, but at the same time he is asserting that a real question is how to combine JT and STEP to make the best of both.

These comments made me think about standards and data integration problems. The main challenge PLM environments are facing is heterogeneity between enterprise systems and product development domains. Each product under the umbrella of PLM innovation platform has its own schema and the way it manage data. If we think about universal plug-n-play architecture two things needs to be handled – schema map and match. It will help to translate data for queries and transactions in the universal way.

The underlined reason for heterogeneity is the fact schemes are created by different people and different reasons. Even two programs written by two people for the same reason will use different data schema, variables and names. Also, each PLM implementation is a bit different. Although PLM systems and databases are created for the same purpose, PLM systems and implementations contain a lot of variability.

With all these challenges, to reconcile two databases or even data sets produced by different systems in manufacturing company can be vert challenging. Here are some typical problems you can face during the integration process:

  • Semantic is not fully captured by data models of applications or even standards.
  • The keys in schema and data models can be unreliable .
  • Semantics of information is subjective and can differ even for the same data
  • Combine data correctly is difficult and it can require lot of handwork.

Despite all these levels of complexity, community and analysts are pushing for standards. Although standards is something most of customers like, I can see two main reasons why even if the best standard will be created tomorrow, it will not solve a problem in practice.

The first is related to existing data and schema. Usually company already has something implementation. In the example of Volvo Trucks above, the legacy system is one of the challenges. To make a change and apply a standard is very costly. Company usually has not enough incentives to make a change.

Second one is related to domain delineation. Think about data, systems and standards. There are some overlaps. Where is the end of engineering and beginning of manufacturing? Where is the boarder between PLM and ERP, MES and PLM, etc. It creates layers that can be hardly reconciled and standardized for specific company.

What is my conclusion? Standards is not a silver bullet to create PLM innovation platform. In practice, standards can work for only limited use cases where the number of attributes is relatively small and there is a strong incentive to agree on a standard (or exchanging data is critical for business process). I can see some places in engineering and manufacturing processes where standards can work. CAD file translation is probably one of them. Procurement could be another one. Standards can be good a reference point for companies to make PLM implementation. It can remove some level of data integration complexity. However, when it comes to complex product development processes, BoM management, change processes, etc., implementations will always run into some level of diversity and ambiguity. Because of that, I don’t see how standards can be used to establish a universal plug-n-play PLM innovation platform. It is probably a question for PLM technologists and architects to find a new technology to solve challenges of product data integration complexity. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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  • Hakan Karden

    Oleg, as we both know there is no silver bullet at all in PLM. It is hard work. Thing is that the importance of standards should be raised. But is is more fun to spend time on all new SW tools arriving every year. But in fact, with new tools and all the legacy around, standards become even more important. Instead of comparing with toothbrushes you should look at almost any industry like automotive, aerospace, transportantion, telecom, hightech etc that would not work without standards. Or international travel even if you need adapters to make it. But it works 🙂

  • I agree with Hakan. There is no silver bullet in standards and at the time the interview was made with Marc we had a discussion in a much wider scope. Gartner is also stating that the future of business is in algorithms. If you haven’t seen Peter Sondergaard’s pitch on this topic, it is worth reviewing. In order to apply algorithms, you need a standardization in data in order to interp

  • beyondplm

    Hakan, thanks for this note. Of course, standards are very important. My point is that “standards” won’t help to industrial companies and PLM vendors to rationalize platform and make it “universal”. Actually, I’ll pick your example with travel adapters. We still need them because of country legacy. There is no incentive to change all plugs to a single standard for all countries. The same happens with manufacturing companies, legacy data, existing implementation and future platforms. The last one will have to adapt to a new environment and not to come with the proposal to change everything.

  • beyondplm

    Hi Jos, do you have a link on Peter Sondergaard’s pitch? So, do you expect PLM companies to invest in AI now? It could be the next wave after IoT… Thanks for your comment!

  • Hakan Karden

    Oleg, there is a certainly an huge incentive to go for the same electric plug in all countries. It goes for all travellers and all equipment manufacturers like GE, Electrolux, Samsung, Apple etc. And for the environment as so many adapters are basically taken from the Product box and put as garbage. Manufacturers of adapters are OK today with current situation. But is the incentive big enough for a single actor? Or more so can a single actor change all existing infrastructure – NO. This is a system that is hardwired and costly to change. PLM is also costly to change with all legacy HW, SW and processes. But I am sure there will be more standards used in PLM over time but right now the push need to come from users. We will see some convergence also of standards and this is needed. If we do not put standards in use we will have a hard time to move to the next levels like including IoT, applying algorithms to business as Jos Voskuil pointed out. Etc. Unless you stick with one PLM SW vendor that you are ready to bet your company’s future on and that you think will deliver all you need when you need it. Including your complete business network. Thanks Oleg for discussing, now I need to go on and develop more of what is needed for standards to be useful and taken into production 🙂

  • Oleg hi, the webinar is called the Algorithm Economy – interesting viewpoint for the future http://www.gartner.com/webinar/3167733?srcId=1-6061198338

  • beyondplm

    Thanks Hakan! Great comments and observations! The cost of PLM is a critical factor. If adoption of standards will help to take the cost down, I’m sure customers will support that. I can see only one possible “push” from customers – stop buying PLM systems that not following standards. Standards are certainly one of the criteria used by customers to evaluate vendors. At the same time, I never seen customer that decided to switch from one PLM system to another just because of that. Look forward to your standard development! Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Jos, thanks for the link!

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