Has PLM innovation stalled?

Has PLM innovation stalled?


We love to speak about latest gadget features and disruptive technologies. Earlier this month, CNet posted  about “telepresence robot” is currently holding a place for a woman in Sydney who will be one of the first in the world to own Apple’s latest smartphone. Wow… it sounds great, but here is an immediate disappointment – the new smartphone biggest difference is invisible.

Stories about enterprise software progress and innovation can disappoint too. Companies are spending huge amount of money on sales and marketing activities to demonstrate their financial strength and vendor sustainability. Dreamforce 2015 was one of the biggest enterprise software conference in the world organized by Salesforce.com. A very interesting data point about the event is here  – Dreamforce has almost become bigger than Salesforce and it accounts for more than half of annual revenues.

Over the weekend, I read the article – You Call this Progress? I liked the article. The following conclusion passage was my favorite:

I think we should admit that our hypothetical 1885 person would be more bewildered by the passage of 65 years than the 1950 “modern” human. I think we should admit that the breathtaking pace of major breakthroughs has actually declined. That’s different from stopping, note. I think we need to take our energy predicament seriously, and acknowledge that we have few new ideas and don’t have any consensus on how to design our future infrastructure given the pieces we already know very well.

It made me think about PLM development progress. It is impossible to track 100 years back for PLM, but I can honestly think about comparison between 1995 and 2015 which can give us solid 20 years distance of innovation. And to be more specific about what is PLM, my commentary is specifically about what CIMdata defines as cPDM.

No question – PLM software is getting better. We finally got enterprise software vendors to acknowledge the importance of user interface importance. And you cannot ask to tolerate bad performance. For the last 2-3 years, all PLM vendors came to the agreement about importance of “cloud technologies” and the fact companies will be interested how to bypass hardware purchase and to use system hosted somewhere. But the problem is that after all PLM tech innovation companies still need to spend time and effort to get these systems “implemented” and adopted. Which highlights the fact traditional PLM reached their limits – costly, slow ROI and hard to bring new business functions.

I’ve been sharing my thoughts about PLM and manufacturing in a networked world last week at CIMdata Collaborative Innovation & Product Development Workshop in Louisville, Kentucky. Here is a slide from my presentation:


In a nutshell, 20 years ago and now, PLM (cPDM) was about two main things – to define data model and to set workflow processes. Then spend time on importing of legacy data and synchronizing between silos. The marketing changed, but these fundamental things remained unchanged.

The problem with “data+workflow” PLM vision is that humans (especially engineers) often have a tough time expressing exactly what they want. Items, parts, classes, business objects, data models, workspaces, primary identificators, attributes, characteristic, parameters, classification, links, references, semantics, data model, information model, knowledge model, etc. Also, very often, humans may not know what the heck they want. Many decisions have political flavor and when PLM system is usually stays for at least 10 years, for many people the decision is still about “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”.

What is my conclusion? If I bring engineers from 1995 into today their biggest surprise might be actually large flat screens. Enterprise systems changed very little and for many companies and still managing data with Excel spreadsheets. It is still hard to grasp the idea of how to implement PLM system. The data model of items, parts, documents, bill of materials, changes still looks the same. And it is still enormously hard move data between people, systems and organizations. Perhaps this is something to think about before inventing new PLM buzzword. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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