PLM Philosophies Collide

Somebody asked me last week about how I see th future of PLM… Does it look like-BOM or like-Workflow? I found this question very interesting. Bill of Materials and Workflow (or process management) are fundamentally two most important pieces of PDM and PLM systems for many years. So, we have them already in place. However, thinking about the future – what will be a dominant solution? Do we need re-invent the wheel? Is there any conflict here? I want to elaborate about both to see what future PLM looks like.

Bill of Material World

BOM is considered as a foundation of design, engineering and manufacturing. You can see it everywhere – design BOM in CAD system, Engineering BOM, Manufacturing BOM, Support and Service BOM. You can follow a product lifecycle by discovering different bill of materials. You can find lots of methodologies and systems that help you to handle your Bill of Material world. These things are really complicated. Bill of Materials represents many issues related to product development and in the end of the day you can think about a virtual Bill of Material representing everything.

Workflow World

Processes (or how we can simply call them Workflows) are very important for an organization too. They are a life blood of every manufacturing organization. Organization is running business processes and making overall execution of the business. We can classify them as local and global cross-department. Local are mostly focusing on departmental processes. The more interesting and challenging thing are cross-departmental processes. These processes are connected people working in different departments. Cross-departmental processes are very important if you think about the overall product lifecycle.

PLM Philosophies Difference

So, why I put BOM world against Workflow world? You can draw your organization in terms of Bill of Material and, at the same time, in terms of organizational processes. Is it about philosophy or about real development practices? In the early days of PDM and PLM, the main focus was absolutely on files, data management, revisions, Bill of Materials. Later, PLM system discovered “process world”. This “discovery” was part of the competition between PLM and ERP world. PLM systems made an upscale to compete in the high society. The “process approach” presented organic change to fit product development processes in organizations.

What is my conclusion?

I think, this question represents one of the biggest philosophical collide in engineering and manufacturing software. What will be the winning behavior in the future? It is hard to say. In my view, the end-game solution will need to provide answers to both sides of the problem. BOM and Worklow need to be equaly included into PLM solutions. Only together they can keep an organization to manage efficiently product lifecycle. Just my thoughts. What is your take?

Best, Oleg


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  • I feel Bill Of Material solution is still in its primitive stage although many vendors have been talking about BOM for atleast 2 decades.The industrial world has been progressing towards mass customization and I am not sure if the BOM solution has matured enough to handle the different Product variations or Product configurations probabilities.The future of BOM would be to handle the various Product Configurations/Variations and looking at the current situation I see that only PLM would provide some hope in this space.

    About the workflows, its all about collaboration and its obvious that BOM release & validations has to be supported by workflows.

    According to me both BOM and workflows highly complicated and are equally dominant and they ought to be dominant in this PLM world.

  • Ajit, Thanks for sharing your thoughts… Agree 100%. Both BOM and Workflow are with us for the last decade (at least). What is interesting is to see future trajectories. I hardly can see a dominance of one of them. How to balance and get rid of complications this is a right question to ask. Just my opinion… Best, Oleg

  • John Sprenz

    Hello Oleg! I am trying to understand your point of view. What have you done and what do you currently do with PLM? What PLM systems are you familiar with? You bring interesting points but I need to understand the direction from which they come? What is your Industry experience? I ask this because I want to comment but not on a ground-floor level if you are sky high in terms of level.

    I implement Teamcenter and administer it daily. From a practical use point of view I find that Teamcenter has more than adequately addressed both BOM in all of its variations and Workflow, including Internal, cross-departmental and External allowing collaboration with suppliers and satellite facilities.

    I believe that PLM must expand in actual use. It needs to be supported at the middle manager level in the form of enforcement of use and commitment of resources. The philosophy/attitude “PLM/PDM is nice but we don’t need it to survive” or thinking of it as an “extra” thing we have to do to complete our work has got to change.

    I believe the biggest challenge facing PDM/PLM is demonstrating in very real ways to the customer that this stuff really does add value. Everyone thinks that PDM/PLM is difficult to install and or use and it is neither. Email is more complicated for the user.
    Set up/upgrade is a once a year activity (unless your company purchases other companies like mine does) and administration of 300 or so users can be handled by a single individual.

    In contrast MTD’s ERP system has 105 current full time programmers, administrators and installation specialists. Your thoughts?

    P.S. Thank you for writing your blog. I think it may be therapeutic for me 🙂 because I have nobody to talk to about it and constantly wish I did. Thank you sir!!

  • John Sprenz

    Oleg, Your Beyond PLM site crashes on my machine. Not sure if it is my machine but I do not believe it is. Thank you sir!

  • John, Thank you for the comment. I’m sorry you had a problem with and I’ll wait for more information in order to fix it. Please see my email separately about that. You can get into my linkedin profile to see more background information – I think PLM is setting high-level of expectations with regards to the value/cost. PLM can be very successful, especially in case that company implementing PLM will have people with knowledge, skills and passion about what they are doing. PLM implementations are experienced some problems proliferate downstream in the company from the standpoint of usability and cost. I had a chance to write about this on my blog multiple times. I appreciate your comments and interest and will be glad to discuss more. I hope we’ll be able to re-solve website issue. This is, actually the first time I’m hearing about that. Best, Oleg

  • Kate

    Hi Oleg, just a thought . . . why do you reduce PLM to product data management? It’s much more than that! Best, Kate

  • Kate, Got your point, thanks! Well.. I don’t think PLM is only about “product data management”. In my view, PLM is about product data management and processes in the context of many other elements of product development. These elements related to the specific aspects such as design, manufacturing, services, supply chain, etc. So, I just took product data management and processes (workflow) as two fundamental pieces. Just my opinion… Best, Oleg