PLM and The Collapse Of Complex Societies

I had chance to post about the issue of complexity in enterprise systems in general and specifically about the complexity of PLM systems. In my view, the complexity as one of the biggest problems in the development of systems for engineering and manufacturing these days. It comes constantly as a feedback from many customers and professional communities. If you had no chance to read it before, please take a look on one of my previous posts about dependencies between complexity of the systems and user’s adoption (Complexity kills or Three Ways To Improve PLM Adoption).

I came across a very interesting book during this weekend – The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter. It made me think again about the problem of complexity. Some thesis made by Joseph Trainer was the following:

[…societies become more complex as they try to solve problems. Social complexity can include differentiated social and economic roles, reliance on symbolic and abstract communication, and the existence of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy (meaning resources, or other forms of wealth). When a society confronts a “problem,” such as a shortage of or difficulty in gaining access to energy, it tends to create new layers of bureaucracy, infrastructure, or social class to address the challenge. Eventually, this cost grows so great that any new challenges such as invasions and crop failures cannot be solved by the acquisition of more territory. At that point, the empire fragments into smaller units…]

I’d like to make an analogy between societies and enterprise and manufacturing systems. What is my take? Current enterprise systems supporting product development (CAD, CAE, PDM, PLM, ERP etc.) went through the long path of integration from early 2D to 3D, from MRP to MRPII and ERP, from EDM to PDM and PLM and finally rich the point where the almost cannot respond to the changes required and will tend to break again to the smaller pieces. Does it mean these systems will disappear? No, I don’t think so. However, I think, the new organization of systems can come to the enterprise and this new organization will have an ability to scale beyond the current level of possible complexity. Some interesting trends on this way:

SOA, Web and SaaS
The architecture of most of the enterprise systems was built 15-20 years ago with the state of mind of operation in the scope of a local department and/or company. They obviously outgrew themselves. To bring web experience including SOA architecture, Services and other technologies allowing operation on the global scale will be an approach that allows to bring large enterprise systems into smaller manageable pieces.

Global Data Models
As we had chance to discuss in the end of the last week, PLM data, PLM data models and identifications are still in the state that fundamentally assumes the possibility to build “unbreakable” standards and “single data models”. The data identification problem is a very complex issue, especially in case of multiple enterprise systems. We had chance to discuss it on the example of Part Numbering. This problem is real, hard and seems to me not resolvable in current systems.

What is my conclusion today? Current product development systems (EDM, PDM, PLM, ERP) are showing signs of over complexity. Following Tainter’s theory, they are trying to create news layers of bureaucracy and infrastructure. Industry best practices and out-of-the-box solutions are great examples of such new “organizations”. The potential solution will be in restructuring of these systems into smaller functional pieces, including the ability to handle globally scaled data and self-organized components.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg



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