Next PLM marketing battle – monolithic system

Next PLM marketing battle – monolithic system


PLM is getting more competitive these days. Cloud technology development, SaaS applications and new business models injected competitive energy between old established PLM vendors, growing vendors and startups. Established PLM vendors learned how out-market cloud PLM newcomers. Debates about “true cloud” are interesting, but not very productive and PLM industry pretty much back to focus on what cloud PLM can give to users in addition to the ability to deliver PLM to your company in a different way. Kind of boring…

So, forget about “true cloud” vs “fake cloud” debates. The new wave is coming. Now it is about so called “monolithic PLM”. CIMdata article  – A Product Innovation Platform and Its Impact on Successful PLM Deployments (Commentary) gives you some explanation about what is monolithic application and what is wrong about them. Here is a passage I captured:

While the initial implementation of traditional PLM-enabling systems, such as PDM, remains very important, it can be rapidly overshadowed by the cost and disruption from continuing upgrades and deployment to new areas, projects, and programs, as well as by partnerships and acquisitions that bring new, unanticipated mixes of tools and processes to bear. Under these circumstances monolithic enterprise IT applications (e.g., many legacy PDM solutions) are no longer sustainable and robust enough to provide a viable solution. They are difficult to maintain, particularly when an enterprise wants to tightly integrate its product data with its product lifecycle processes and tools. A product innovation platform approach can help mitigate these problems. Product innovation platforms support extended enterprise data and process integration and enablement—well beyond departmental, typically monolithic implementations. This vastly increases the value of processes, and the information they operate on, to the business.

The main point – closed application not capable to integrate with other systems is monolithic and introduces potential inefficiency in modern manufacturing environment. It makes sense. At the same time, all PLM systems were focusing on integration technologies for the last 20 years – EAI (enterprise application integration), ESB (enterprise service bus), SOA (service oriented architecture), plug-ins, adapters…. you name it. The amount of enterprise integration technologies is huge and PLM systems have them all. What is so special about monolithic applications?

The story looks different from software architecture and technology perspective. Wikipedia article gives very simple definition of monolithic application:

In software engineering, a monolithic application describes a single-tiered software application in which the user interface and data access code are combined into a single program from a single platform. A monolithic application is self-contained, and independent from other computing applications. The design philosophy is that the application is responsible not just for a particular task, but can perform every step needed to complete a particular function.[1][2] Today, some personal finance applications are monolithic in the sense that they help the user carry out a complete task, end to end, and are “private data silos” rather than parts of a larger system of applications that work together. Some word processors are monolithic applications.[3] These applications are sometimes associated with mainframe computers.

Short trip to multi-tier applications Wikipedia article and you can learn that opposite to monolithic applications, multiple tiers allows to engineers to modify and reuse component of applications. In other words, making applications more flexible.

In software engineering, multitier architecture (often referred to as n-tier architecture) or multilayered architecture is a client–server architecture in which presentation, application processing, and data management functions are physically separated. The most widespread use of multitier architecture is the three-tier architecture. 

N-tier application architecture provides a model by which developers can create flexible and reusable applications. By segregating an application into tiers, developers acquire the option of modifying or adding a specific layer, instead of reworking the entire application. A three-tier architecture is typically composed of a presentation tier, a domain logic tier, and a data storage tier.

From technical standpoint, all PLM systems these days are multi-tier applications. They are clearly combined from data layer, business logic and presentation layer. Does it mean I was wrong by calling both Windchill and Aras “monolithic PLM backbones” in my earlier article? This is an interesting question. Marc Lind is calling for facts check  about Aras in my earlier blog:

Monolithic” describes a major problem we’ve set out to solve at Aras. Whole point of ‘interesting technological elements such as open XML driven data model schema’ combined with our loosely coupled, federated services is to enable fast customization and integration while retaining continuous upgradability… not sure how that could get lost / forgotten after all these years?!? Agile PLM layer (i.e. Aras) over “stable” legacy PDM is for speed today. That way can gain rapid benefits now… and retire legacy whenever ready… rip & replace doesn’t have to be prerequisite for strategic benefit… it can happen anytime.

What is my conclusion? You can see different perspective on what is monolithic applications. CIMdata and Aras are looking how to differentiate “old vs new” in PLM, integration, federation, agile development. But from software architecture perspective, excluding rich old PLM clients, PLM systems on the market today are multi-tier applications. These application suites were developed using different technological stacks and in the context of time, external constraints and historical events such as mergers and acquisitions. So, these applications are indeed different. But how? Is “monolithic” definition is good enough to explain the differentiation? Is it pure marketing to call some applications monolithic? Many questions today. No answers yet… But, let me know what do you think.

Best, Oleg

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. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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  • marclind

    Oleg, seems there are many uses of the word “Monolithic” in software.

    Where we’ve heard people use it to describe Wc/Tc/En is because it’s near impossible to automate a single process like just change mgt, etc.

    It’s because of the myriad of dependencies inside those systems. Schema dependencies, redundant biz logic, obfuscated data, partial/proprietary/closed APIs, and on and on.

    All of these together make the legacy PDM systems an ‘all or nothing’ proposition… even if you only want to use one aspect of the system.

    Very heavy weight, very complicated, very… Monolithic (even if not the precise definition on wikipedia 🙂

    Anyone who’s been struggling with these systems for years knows what I’m talking about.

    That’s what we/Aras have fixed, and oh BTW our approach makes continuous upgrading far easier/faster even when heavily customized. That’s why we guarantee it.

    Just my 2 cents.


  • beyondplm


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I clearly can see points Aras can provide a better architecture and implementation. To me it is part of the reasons why Aras object model is more robust compared to some other competitors. In my view, it is a combination of technical and historical reasons I described in my earlier blog about Aras – What is behind Aras momentum? (

    However, speaking about “monolithic”, the way Aras use is pure marketing. Btw, nothing wrong with that- it is like lucky strike’s “it is toasted” campaign. Just my thoughts…

    I believe to understand what is monolithic system is important. I’m planning to come with few additional articles soon. Stay tuned 🙂

    Best, Oleg

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