PDM/PLM and Customization

Customization is a topic in Product Lifecycle Management that always raises discussions. There are multiple aspects related to customization of PLM systems, and I decided to explore them. In my view, the nature of PLM system customization is deeply related to engineering and product development aspects that in most of the manufacturing organizations are related to their core competencies and touch many processes in the organization. To be able to support them PLM systems are providing various customization capabilities. On the other side, the total cost of PLM systems and especially cost of changes becomes crucial for many companies and implementations. When it comes to implementation cost, need to customize PLM system becomes a negative factor.

Early Monsters
In the early beginning, PDM started as a completely customizable toolkit-oriented systems. In order to implementation and customize them, the significant amount of work needs to be done. For most of the early cases, vendors provided unique production builds of the systems dedicated to a particular customer. PDM was considered as 1M dollars project.

Flexible Data Models and API
Since demand on PDM/PLM systems started to grow, vendors looked how possible to deliver PDM system that will not require a significant effort in order to be customized and tailored to customer needs. The concept of “a flexible data model” was born and few very innovative systems were introduced to the market in late 80s and early 90’s. They provided set of customization tools to modify data schema and additional parameters as well as advanced APIs to support customer-oriented environment. Later in the mid of 90s, more PDM systems were created under significant influence of Microsoft Windows environment.

Out-Of-The-Box PLM
Next step in the PDM customization story was so called “out-of-the-box” system, yet fully customizable. Most of these systems were born as a modification of “a toolkit”-oriented implementations and providing their configuration tuned with a specific parameters and data schema. In my view, it was a beginning of “PLM industrialization” bubble. When systems still provided all options to be flexible configured and customized, the marketing story always emphasized their ability to be ready-to-implementation AS IS. Unfortunately, because of a significant emphasizing of out-of-the-box, technological and  development focus shifted from innovation in providing of flexible, customizable systems towards “packaging” and selling of boxed PLM for industries.

Cloud and PLM
Customization is considered as one of the most significant risks and problems related to PDM/PLM systems in what called ASP model in the beginning and later became OnDeman/Cloud systems. I don’t think, there is a Cloud/SaaS PDM/PLM system today that can provide the same level of customization as a system-on-premise. I think, an effort need to be made to learn Salesforce.com environment and specifically their Force.com platform in order to understand the “secret sauce” of their success story.

What Is Next?
I have a feeling, we are in the middle of debates about flexibility and customization vs. out-of-the-box flavors of PLM. When it became clear, out-of-the-box systems cannot provide what customers need, industry is still continuing to promote ready-to-go solutions, industrial verticals and other sales and marketing oriented speeches. Nevertheless, I can hear strong voices to revise experience of the past 4-6 years and focus on technological development that can provide a platform for the future flexible and customization PDM/PLM system.

What is my conclusion today? Product Lifecycle Management is in the critical situation. It started as a complete customizable environment and, since 1990s moved towards out-of-the-box packages and non-customizable solution. The last happened based on the strong message about making implementation faster and cost reducing. It seems to me that out-of-the-box PLM is a marketing and sales dreams. Engineering and product development cannot be done “out-of-the-box” and even so, companies are doing similar things, their strong believe in the uniqueness and benefits of the engineering and manufacturing environments. The key word for me in PLM customization today is a granularity. To make it work is hard. How to bring it up remains a completely technical topic.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg


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  • Nawal

    I agree with your comment – “It seems to me that out-of-the-box PLM is a marketing and sales dreams.”. The challenge is customers have drunk the cool-aid.

    Do you see changes in customer in realizing that OOTB is pipe-dream, they have to customize some piece of it?

  • Nawal, I had chance to discuss lately, and I can see more and more people are considering “out-of-the-box” as a pure marketing activity that shows system potential. However, for the real implementation it needs to be changed. Best, Oleg

  • IMHO the OOTB approach is a way to open the market to smaller organization. They usually can allow to be flexible and to align their processes with PLM vendor’s OOTB approach. The big customers will always require the software to be aligned with them, but the industry know their requirements, so OOTB product can be developed in direction that suits their needs or is easily configurable for them. In both cases OOTB is a way to go.

    As for customization of cloud/on demand solutions it is possible already – see dedicated service on Netideas’s Windchill on demand: http://www.netideasinc.com/windchill-on-demand-2.jsp

  • Marcin, Thank you for your comment! Why do you think OOTB is the way to go for smaller organizations? I can see it actively pushed for the last few years. However, many customers consider it as a ‘marketing approach’ (actually important one) and when it comes down to the implementation, it requires multiple changes and adjustments.
    Thank you for the link to netideasinc. I did’t know about this specific company, but they seem to me in the market of ASP. So, they host dedicated Windchill environment for you and, obviously, you can customize it. When I’ve been talking about cloud/saas, my assumption wasn’t to talk about old ASP-based model, but more about modern web apps (similar to Salesforce.com etc.). What is your view on this? Best, Oleg

  • ramesh

    Can we customize PLM enough to be used as a social networking and chat facility with in the organization in PLM other than the legacy OOTB activity ?

  • Ramesh, Thank you for comment! PLM system is normally having an underline data model that allows to customize it to the various types of customer environment. The functionality you are talking about such as ‘social network’ and ‘chat’ can be embedded into PLM system. However, they are not recognized as platform capabilities. They are normally “features” of apps. Such “IM” functionality is part of DS 3D Live product and similar products from other PLM vendors. Best, Oleg

  • Oleg, OOTB is a way to go, because it’s cheaper and it gives you free knowledge.

    It’s cheaper – the consulting cost is minimized, maintenance cost (especially when base product is updated) is just a fraction of what you need when you have to upgrade or migrate custom solution.

    For me the free knowledge customer get it’s also huge advantage – it prevents you from reinventing the wheel. Most major PLM/PDM systems are tailored to industry standards and best practices during vendor’s discussions with other customers. If your organization works differently maybe it’s a good time if you are doing the good thing.
    I can see other benefits – you can expect that some of your new hires will know your system already; you get free support from internet; your suppliers/customers will work in similar way etc.

    For me the situation with clouds is quite similar to the one with ASP – it’s feasible to have customized instance available only for you, but it again will be more expensive that keeping shared OOTB instance. I may be wrong, but I don’t see clouds and saas solutions as a revolution – they are just (better/cheaper?) ways to offer you the same means you can get by ASP or self-hosted platforms.


  • Marcin, What you are saying about OOTB is right if this is “YOUR” OOTB. I had chance to see such situations with consulting and SI companies. When it comes to the point to propose OOTB solution from vendors, they often can be interested in selling their own development as “OOTB” template and not the vendor’s one. So, to create OOTB becomes a very tricky and fuzzy way to go. In the end, it reminds standards – everybody wants them, but nobody is interested to use somebody else standards. Don’t you think so? Thanks for your comments! Best, Oleg

  • Thanks for the post. Completely agree with “out-of-the-box PLM is a marketing and sales dreams”, but yes, I think for SMGs OOTB may work well where funding is limited & need to up-running in short time frame by compromising with some functionality.

    For lager customers, OOTB PLM solution is not possible in practical, as they have there own self developed Legacy Applications/processes which they do not want to change & want to integrate/change in PLM solution.

    I think , in these kind of implementations, more than 30% implementation time spent on Customization & tailoring User Interface of the PLM solution.

    Also, Complexity of PLM customization depends on “How PLM Solution is developed”. If PLM solution is using open-source technologies, makes it simple to customize.

    So, my conclusion is that, I think day-by-day PLM solutions are getting more mature & I think slowly PLM customization will get decrease but will not get completely disappear.
    Just my thoughts ….!

  • Oleg, the problem of different interpretations can be solved by PLM/PDM producers by releasing sets of OOTB usage patterns (“best practices”). Do you agree?

  • Marcin, “Best practices” is a tricky question. In the way, I see it delivered today, there are more problems. I wrote about that in the earlier post – PLM Best Practices Torpedo (http://plmtwine.com/2010/03/10/plm-best-practice-torpedo/). However, the way to improve it is to make it more “granular” set. In this case, I see the chance. I have never seen such things implemented. Do you? Best, Oleg

  • Chandrajit, Thank you for your comment!
    I assume you mean “small organizations” when mentioned SMGs. In my view, this strategy was implemented by multiple vendors during last 3-5 years. Today is a time to make a conclusion and analyze results. I don’t think, I can say yes/no for the moment. I’ve seen a lot of excitement when customers were exposed to PLM “OOTB” jump-start. The question how much of this implementation is going to garbage as soon as it becomes closer to a production system.
    On the open source: Open source helps to customize. However, I don’t see it as THE only way to go. You may see lots of flexible systems, which are a not open source.
    And the last -I believe PLM world will become more granular and configurable. You cannot make it standard as ERP. Otherwise, you’ll stop innovation in product development. Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg

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