Last week at COFES 2018, I had a privileged to moderate discussion at the round table with a subject “Decentralized PLM”. You probably had a chance to read my earlier blog, which was mentioning COFES roundtable discussions.
Setting up the stage
I used the following passages to set the stage for the discussion.
You can hardly find manufacturing companies doing everything in a single place. The time of Ford Dearborn plant is gone. Today, even smallest manufacturing startup will be employing people in 3 different locations with several contractors and suppliers. This is very “larger context” is coming and it is very much resonating with roundtable discussion announced below.
Is decentralization is the next step in maturity of PLM systems? Few of us work in a world where we have complete control – we live and work in a world of intersecting domains. PLM may be an excellent tool today for control and management of MY firms intellectual assets, but those assets live in a larger context. Can moving from large central system to distributed decentralization be the solution to connecting data and orchestration processes between OEMs, contractors and suppliers? What would we need to consider if we moved down that road? How do we manage security, trust, governance, and veracity? How would this change how we protect our IP?
Discussion – What is decentralized PLM?
There is no discussion about PLM without asking the question “What is PLM?” Defining PLM is hard and there are certainly more opinion about that usually then people in the room. COFES round table was not an exception. Although, we were able to move forward, an echo of PLM definition (if PLM is X, then Decentralized PLM means Y) was around all the time.
We had an excellent 1.5 hours discussing on topics closely related to the teaser above and I want to share some of the conclusions. There are three main meanings of ‘decentralization’ in PLM:
1- Decentralization of process. Decentralized process means a possibility to define processes in a single organization or multiple organizations and to have process to span across these boundaries. How process is flowing between different organizations and decision makers? Is it a single distributed process definition? Or maybe we talk about multiple processes.
2- Decentralization of tool. Another perspective on decentralization is around tools. One tool vs multiple tools. Single vendor product vs best of breed. How process span across multiple tools – CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, CRM? How to distribute data flow and decide about the control.
3- Decentralization of power and decision making. The discussion moved towards who has a power to decide in centralized vs decentralized system. Stockholders, software vendors champs, job security, sales cycle. You name it…
Usual suspects of all PLM discussions
There are few topics that is hard to avoid when you talk about PLM. Here is list of topics mentioned by participants that I cannot directly connect to the topic of decentralized PLM, but they are worth mentioning.
1- Standards. Yes, they (standards) are important, but they are not necessarily a problem of decentralization. Standards are driven by customers and must be demanded by customers. Although it sounds like an obvious conclusion, it is still very much a problem for many of us in PLM.
2- Usability. For the last decade, PLM industry made a shift towards usability of PLM tools. No directly related, it is worth mentioning as it came across as one of the most important characteristics of PLM tools
3- Simplicity. Although it is slightly connected to usability ,I wanted to put it separately. While usability is mostly connected to user experience, simplicity is more related to PLM concepts and amount of effort company needs to spend to get up to speed with engineering and enterprise aspects of PLM development.
What is my conclusion? PLM is still complex discipline demanding lot of control and governance. Therefore, the discussion about decentralized PLM is obviously touching the way how processes are controlled and managed. PLM paradigm shift is required to move PLM from controlling side to intelligence and insight. It will bring a process of rethinking of PLM business and turn around PLM into much more valuable business application. The last one is absolutely needed to drive future of business model decisions in PLM. Just my thoughts…
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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.