Are you connected? In the modern world, we use such a word very often. Our phones and computers are connected to WiFi or mobile networks. We are connected to the internet and to dozens and sometimes hundreds of different services. Our TVs are connected. Our cars are also very often connected to the internet too. The list of “connected things” is growing. What does it mean for us and how does it impact or what does it bring to PLM?
PLM vendors realized the power of “connected” marketing and the word is used broadly and often to identify some novelty in PLM that is becoming insanely connected. The connected thing came to the PLM on the wave of IoT technologies. If you had a chance to read my old article “Connected PLM – the buzzword of a differentiator?”, you might see the importance of connecting PLM to the physical products. This type of connection is becoming extremely important as companies want to track everything that relates to the products they manufacture, to understand how products are used, how products can be improved, and what other products customers want to buy.
Another aspect of connected things and connected PLM is related to the connection between companies. The communication between companies is becoming extremely important because the world of single companies making things is quickly coming to the end. Even the smallest manufacturing company is using dozens or even hundreds of contractors and suppliers. This is an interesting problem. In my other blog – Will connected PLM replace the single source of truth? (), I share my thoughts on how communication between companies will impact the future architecture of PLM systems. It is almost obvious that all the companies in product development and manufacturing supply chain must be connected. But how to do so is remaining a question for PLM architects and implementers.
These two connection trends made me think about what are the needs of manufacturing companies as well as are critical technological and organizational aspects of the future architecture of connected PLM systems.
1- Digital Identity and Data Independence
Local PLM servers used some internal ids to manage data. But when you think about connected services and global product development and manufacturing, local identification can become a big deal. Product data is a building block for future connected systems should be self-identified, modern systems must be able to share data with everyone else. Without that, we would never have connected PLM. This is a foundation of connected services.
2- Online Services
The information lives in the systems but should be available for consumption by customers, partners, suppliers, contractors. How to do so? Online services. Unless you lived under a rock for the last 10 years, you should be familiar with REST API and web services. This is a communication system of connected PLM systems. Without that, nothing will be connected.
3- Tenant Layer
An important element of modern SaaS architecture is the tenant layer. Usually applied to multi-tenant architecture, the tenant layer helps to organize the communication and to provide a system to integrate data and access control between different companies and individuals using the same services. Systems with multi-tenant architecture usually provide a better way to communicate and share data. Multi-tenant architecture is also a key foundational layer in supporting new business models and allowing to scale PLM from very small companies to large OEMs.
4- Data Networks
A single source of truth was a key element in the old PLM paradigm. While the notion and the importance of a single source of truth remains the same, the truth is now distributed. It is unrealistic to keep collecting information in the single database. So, as a result of this distribution new connected PLM architectures will build data networks from connected elements of information belonging to different companies.
What is my conclusion?
Connected systems and connected environments will be a major driver in the replacement of old PLM architectures mostly relying on legacy SQL-database-driven backend with modern PLM system architectures using cloud technologies, online services, available globally and capable to manage data belonging to multiple companies. PLM architectures will be moving away from files and local environments to build a network of companies, products, and lifecycle activities. Modern cloud and SaaS technology will play a key role in the enablement of connected PLM services. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks.