How to Take PLM Beyond the “Department Of Lost and Found Revisions”?

I was reading Jos Voskuil’s post, “Where does PLM start beyond document management”. I think Jos raised a very valid point. Lots of PLM implementations stack in the middle of CAD document management, and in the end customers see it as place to look for your latest model, assembly or drawing revision. So, I understand all organizational, political and educational problems related to PLM implementation. Although I’m sure we can solve them, but at the same time, I’d like to propose a mixed business and technological solution that can change this status-quo.

Business drivers behind PLM:

You need to explain to your business why they need PLM? Look at the most problematic issues you have in your organization. I’d bet that you deal with at least these three objectives:

  1. Reduce product cost
  2. Streamline organizational processes
  3. Develop innovative products

Depending on the type of organization, I think that you will have a different range of these business issues differently.  However, I assume that these are all typical issues for most organizations. In order to find a way to resolve these problems with Product Lifecycle Management, you need to identify what tools and practices you have today in the business areas related to these issues. This can be difficult, but you need to map and identify all the tools and how you use them.

In most of the cases, you will see how your organizational processes are inefficient and disconnected. You probably have document management, but it is not connected to engineering and manufacturing. Your design-to-manufacturing processes are managed by mail. Your Bills of Materials are a bunch of Excel files on shared drives. You standard part library is not updated with the latest suppliers, changes etc.

Organizational Meta-data and product model first!

The most fundamental technological piece you need to implement is that you need to create an overall product model for your product and organizational processes. Without doing so, your will still be doing fragmented stuff. The strongest sides of Product Lifecycle Management (and I’m talking about an approach rather than about a particular system) is the ability to map and optimize organizational data and processes by integrating them as single piece. So, you need to model it. If you didn’t make your decision regarding your PLM system of choice, that’s ok. You need to choose the products that can help you to model organizational meta-data. You can choose any one of Entity-Relations Management tools to create you overall enterprise product data model.

   Copyright Wikipedia. 

Of course, it would be better if you already decided about your PLM system and already have started to use it.   Then you can start modeling your product data – Requirements, Items, Bill of Materials, Design data, Manufacturing etc. Don’t think you can finish it all at once. You need to go between logical steps. Managing of Engineering Bill of Materials together with Design can be one path, or you can follow different paths. In one of my previous blogs, I discussed a “PLM Action Plan for Dummies”. You certainly can consider this way too.

The only thing you need to remember – all you have done until now is for people that manage PLM. The rest of the people in your organization (end users) normally don’t value data modeling. They view these as either obvious or unimportant.  So you need to show how technology and tools can benefit the organization with the model you created.

Additional technologies that can help you:

I have identified the following technologies and tools that you can use to help you focus on making your organization and customer happy about PLM.

  1. Integrate tools your customer uses on daily basis (design, engineering, simulation etc.) with central meta-data model and product information storage. Check how the PLM system of your choice can do this. As many tools as you will be able to integrate with PLM system, your life will be much easier in the future. Requirements, designs, bill of materials, suppliers data – these will all be very beneficial and need to be represented within the PLM system you are implementing.
  2. Visualization tools and technologies: You can use any tools – Excel, Reporting, Graphic tools etc. But try to make your product data available for users. This will convince people to bring more data to your PLM system. It starts from various Bill of Materials and ends with customer requirements and feedbacks.
  3. Collaboration Technologies. In life today, you need to work socially and collaboratively. Check how to use modern Enterprise 2.0 technologies and tools together with your PLM. This will provide you with a significant organization performance boost and also connect your product model and data to everything that going on in your system. I discussed many topics related to social product development in the past and you can certainly consider integrating these technologies and tools with your PLM.

I’m sure I’ve missed some issues, whereas some of the ones I’ve mentioned can definitely be improved or expanded. But remember one more thing – don’t make a compromise and invest into creation of a model that allows you to map all you have in your organization and move “beyond document revisions” to PLM values.

So, what should we do next? I’d like to hear your voices and comments. Also, I’d be interesting to know from your experience if you tried to implement the technology and tools I mentioned in any way. I’m looking forward to our discussion…

Best, Oleg.


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