PLM+ERP: How to Prevent a Divorce?

I’d like to start new discussion this week with this challenging topic. In my post about “Top Five Disappointing PLM Technologies” last week, I mentioned PLM/PDM -ERP integration as #2 and actually got lots of interesting comments on this. And as I mentioned, this topic, in my opinion, has remained the same for at least the last 5-10 years. So, I came to the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong and it will be really good to make open up a more detailed discussion on this.

So, I’d like to put the reasons that have brought us to our present situation regarding the PLM/PDM and ERP world into 4 groups:

  1. Bill of Materials Management. The way a Bill of Materials need to be managed in both systems is different. While PDM/PLM is more oriented on “work in progress”, such as the design Bill of Materials and Engineering stuff, ERP is more of an “effectivity-oriented” model. The bridge between these two models is the Part Number, but this is not always simple to coordinate between multiple manufacturing facilities and different Engineering /Design views. So, the fundamental models are different. Therefore, the connection and mutual life of these systems together is very problematic.  
  2. System and Process product supports. PDM/PLM and ERP support a different community of people (and processes) in the organization. Their work goals are unfortunately defined separately, and processes are not always well integrated. When they belong to different organizations, it’s very hard to make them work together since they are disconnected sequentially (input-output) and not designed to work in parallel. This causes major dissatisfaction and loss of interest among people, followed by #4.
  3. Concurrent Management. In many cases, people get the feeling they are working ‘on the same’ topic (BOM, Product, Part etc.). In this concurrent mode, systems (or people working with systems) are trying to establish a way to say their “final word on change”. Although the overall process spans across PLM and ERP, this process requires concurrent work.  In order to work concurrently, the integration between PLM and ERP needs to be robust.  If it is not robust enough, the process is not optimal and becomes a bad and unnatural process.
  4. People’s nature and various organizational issues. As you, probably know, in the end it’s all about people. When we have all the problems I just mentioned in #1-3, it causes people in the organization to resolve problems in the way they think will be appropriate – they do not always take organizational goals into account. They are driven by their position in organizations, organization political influence and various short and long trends. This is normally ends with organizational failure or one system dominance.

So, will the PLM/ERP marriage end in divorce or end-up as a happy partnership? What I see for a long future is happy ERP and PDM/PLM relationship, if they can find a good find way to live together. If this happens, it will provide huge advantages for customers from the standpoint of streamlining organizational processes and the ability to decrease the cost of the products they manufacture. Alternatives are very complicated and in most cases can be separated as 1/competitive dominance – one of the systems will be dominant in organization; 2/an extremely high price will be paid to integrate systems: 3/inefficient organizational processes.

I’m sure there is potential to solve this problem and that the solution can come from the technological side as well from the organizational side. I’d like to hear your voices and it will be great if you will share your experience and opinion on this problem.


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