For many years, customization was one of the key elements of PLM system implementation. It was a step when PLM technology usually met the rubber of manufacturing organization with specific requirements, business needs, legacy data import, integration with other enterprise systems, etc. The devil of PLM implementations is in the details and n many situations, software code was the only way to bring specific customers needs into PLM system.
For the last few years, new technologies in PLM development made possible to review some of implementation practices. The idea of “configuration” opposite to “customization” came into life. It created some confusion between where is the boarder between heavy configuration and light customization.
My last year article PLM configuration vs customizations. Let’s sort it out… can give you some additional perspective.
The term configuration means that system behavior will be altered using vendor supplied configuration tools. Some systems provided more user friendly UI for administration, which became important, especially for software integrators running PLM implementations for their clients. Configuration tools are provided by vendors and, therefore, vendor is taking care of future compatibility between releases.
Cloud brings many challenges to enterprise software configuration and customization. Many well known techniques (especially related to SQL and database customization) cannot be used. Databases are hidden behind web and application servers. Multi-tenant cloud systems are bringing even more complexity to support database level customization. As a result of web and cloud technologies development, there is an increased demand for two things – 1/ Robust configuration tools provided by vendors; 2/ Web based APIs. Together, API and configuration tools need to support the demand for PLM system flexibility.
My attention was caught by TechTarget Search Oracle article – Oracle Application Builder Cloud Service builds no-code apps. The article speaks about how OABCS allows you to create business objects and make application tailored to specific customer needs. OABCS is do-it-yourself platform to create and hosting web apps.
According to Oracle, you can create and deploy a complete business application within minutes, using the Web-based ABCS design interface. The interface offers a visual development tool and an application hosting environment that require no software downloads or installation to use. You only need to log into the ABCS site through a supported browser.
With the ABCS interface, you can access existing REST services, build custom business objects and assemble an application using a collection of built-in controls. And while Oracle ABCS is designed to enable code-free application creation, you can also add custom code to the application to integrate more sophisticated features, if your organization has the technical know-how.
The typical workflow for building an ABCS application begins with creating the business objects that define the application’s data sources. Next, you build pages that display the business object data in tables or lists. You can also add forms to your pages to allow users of the application to interact with the data.
It made me think about cloud platforms like Oracle and others. My hunch Salesforce.com can provide some sort environment where business cloud applications can be created. Maybe this is a route PLM platforms should take by providing an environment where business objects and specific application design can be done?
But here is a problem. The scenario explained above is too generic. It is good for techo-marketing events and evangelizing of “hello world” business apps. When it comes to real applications, you will always find missed data modeling features, REST API web hook or some specific element of the design that doesn’t fit. I can hardly come with examples of real business applications that were developed using these no-code environments.
I’m not aware about no-code PLM applications built on top of Oracle ABCS. However, you probably remember my article about PropelPLM– new PLM startup building applications on top of Salesforce.com platform. I wonder if everything PropelPLM does can fit the same story Oracle ABCS is tell us. Then somebody can build PLM on top of Oracle cloud platform too.
What is my conclusion? Cloud platforms are at the early stage of the development. The last decade we’ve seen lots of maturing features of cloud infrastructure. I doubt, cloud environments are robust enough to build complex business systems such as PLM. This is a challenge and an opportunity for large PLM vendors to come with the platform. At the same time, it is an opportunity for startups to build robust PLM applications on top of existing mature cloud infrastructure. Just my thoughts…
Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.