Last month, I started a series of “PLM Glue Technologies” posts which I would like to continue. I titled my Recipe #1 post ‘data modeling’ and Recipe #2 ‘Rules’.
Today I bring you Recipe #3 is about processes or what we refer to sometimes as business processes. Process technology is definitely something that makes a lot of sense in the context of PLM. Since we like to see a typical organization as something that is “process oriented”, describing processes in the context of an enterprise manufacturing organization is very important, in my opinion. Also, a process-oriented approach can provide many methodologies for organizational improvements.
Today’s Process Management technologies are represented in the market by many platforms and tools. Process Management is part of large IT platforms provided by IBM, Microsoft and other large vendors. Process Management is also included in the portfolios of ERP vendors such as SAP, Oracle and others. PLM providers also have process management in their array of capabilities. With the wide selection available in the market, how do you know how to choose the right technology? What is important for PLM? How many process management technologies you need to have in your organization?.
So what is important for PLM? There are two aspects of process management: process model and supported content. Process model is not very different if you compare multiple providers, but ability to support PLM content is one of the keys.
I have mentioned that one of the PLM differentiators from other enterprise systems (like ERP and CRM) is the ability to model a product together with all organizational aspects related to this product model – internal organization, extended enterprise. In many cases, the ability to create this model correctly is one of the main advantages that a PLM system can provide. Process Management technologies can interoperate with PLM content – this capability is must for providing PLM process support. It starts simple in the way a PLM system can support CAD structure, Document Structure and BOM and route these documents among people. We end up with a system that allows to create processes between people and involve organizations in this process.
So, CAD document routing is first level of PLM process support. System will be able to manage automatic document assignment based on CAD documents and other CAD data dependencies. The second level is to be able to create a human-oriented process. Human oriented-processes do not always involve data but incorporate more of a business understanding of how an organization works. These human-oriented processes need to have access to product models and content, to get information for routing and rules. In many cases, this connection allows you to manage business process flows, depending on the product context. The third level is the ability to have mixed document, human and application level processes. In this application level, processes, products/applications act even more actively than people. Applications communicate between themselves by sending messages and transferring control of the data. They require a deeper level of integration between processes and the product content /data model.
Another aspect of process management is the ability to provide information about processing, monitoring and administration. These capabilities are different depending on what technologies and packages are used for these purposes. On the simple side, workflow and document routings provide a very small amount of capabilities for monitoring and process metrics. As we move to more sophisticated process management tools, we will see more capabilities for process administration and KPI monitoring. Sophisticated process management tools provide capabilities for process re-engineering and optimization.
Last, but not least is the standards. As you expand your discovery of PLM process management capabilities for the whole organization, the importance of standard compliance will also grow. Without getting too deep into a review of process management in this post, let me just say that in today’s process management world, BPMN and BPEL are ranked at the top. Most systems support these standards while adding their specific flavor of implementation.
So, to sum up my PLM Glue Technologies for Organization posts, I think that the following three technologies provide the top needs in order to successfully build a Product Lifecycle Management foundation in your organization: (1) data modeling; (2) rules; (3) process management.