During the weekend, I was reading Mid-Market PLM Deployment Challenges by Tom Gill from CPDA. He wrote about multiple issues customers face during the implementation of PLM systems. Tom mentioned multiple issues such as economical barriers of implementing something beyond of AutoCAD managed by Excel; the need to implement more simple industry-oriented, process-based applications, the lower price point for customers of smaller sized-companies. One of his recommendations was to decrease the complexity of deployment and the need to make simpler systems. All these recommendations were based on analyses of challenges make a lot of sense.
I’d like to come with an idea of a fundamental, initial step that would simplify the way of smaller customers to PLM. I think that the key for a company is “PLM content”. Today, “PLM content” is not under control in most of mid-size companies. PLM content is spread over multiple sources of activity: (1) PDM systems manage CAD drawings; (2) Multiple Excel files (imported/exports into Bill of Materials; (3) Word documents outlines customer requirements; (3) Homegrown ERP systems manages Items Master information and others.
What can we propose for a company that literally cannot invest significant resources in the establishment of a PLM system? The company needs to start gradually, building its PLM content from the Bill of Materials and Item (or Part Numbers) information. This needs to be the key information so that the company can start to manage their information centrally. Later, this content will become the core of the PLM system. This system needs to include two basic components for such a management system – (1) Part Numbers /Items/ and (2) Multiple Bill of Materials. As soon as this information is established, the rest of the information such as drawing, supplied part, and manufacturing information will be linked and connected to this content.
Even if there are multiple systems in the market, I think that these systems survive from the complexity and the intensive support required in order to implement a PLM system. Newcomers need to propose a way of managing Bill of Materials and Items differently. They need to eliminate the educational barrier and propose a simple user experience practice. (For example, native typing in a grid combined with search functionality). I’d like to refer to these as Excel-like social services. They also need to provide a user-friendly way of creating and managing Item/BOM content. This content need to be searchable for all users in the organization, utilizing multiple devices – personal computers, PDAs etc.
More practically, I am looking for a Wiki-style application that can provide an Excel-like user experience for content authoring. From a technological standpoint, MS Excel Server provides an easy way of rendering Excel data in IE. I think that developers of such a system can leverage this Excel services. Additional collaborative capabilities can be provided by Instant Messaging, Video Conferencing and workflow services.
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.