Common product lifecycle between hardware and software

Common product lifecycle between hardware and software


Software is eating the the world. The phrase attributed to Marc Andreessen, American entrepreneur, investor, and software engineer. While it is a true in general it might have an interesting impact on manufacturing and product lifecycle software.

Software became an essential element of every product manufactured today. The examples are coming from all manufacturing industries. Take, for example, the last PCMag video from CES – Cars Are Becoming Gadgets With Wheels. Recent Tesla autopilot function was delivered as a software package – so called Tesla Version 7 software.

The importance of software in new hardware products developed by startups is growing too. Snapmunk blog – Pretty Soon All Hardware Startups Will Be Software Startups, makes a pretty strong claim towards the role of software in new hardware projects with example from Jawbone, NeuroOn and others. And one of the main reasons – business differentiation.

One of the main reasons hardware companies eventually gravitate towards software is that physical devices are prone to commoditization. Over time, it becomes increasingly challenging for any brand producing physical goods to differentiate itself from competitors. Earlier, the only way to stand out was by lowering prices.Now, businesses have the option of distinguishing themselves with the kind of software they offer in conjunction with their devices.

So, what PLM vendors should do about it? And what are customer demands?

PLM origins are mechanical CAD and it has little to do with software. For long time, PLM products didn’t do much about software. It was  software configuration management (SCM) role to manage software versions and data. Later one ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) discipline has emerged – Application lifecycle management (ALM) is the product lifecycle management (governance, development, and maintenance) of computer programs.

Conceptually, functionality of PLM and ALM are overlapping. But from a practical standpoint and because of integration with different tools and packages are traditionally separate.

There are multiple use cases that can lead us to to think about future convergence between PLM and ALM tools. One of them is the need to manage multi-disciplinary bill of material including mechanical, electronic and software elements.

However, the reality in organizations is defined by people. And software engineers have their own preferences in terms of what tools to use and how. I can hardly imagine software engineers are moving from GitHub to some PLM-ish environments. The same can be said about mechanical and electronic engineers – they are using their own tools.

PLM vendors are stepping into ALM world via acquisition, investment and development. PTC acquired MKS back in 2011 and keeps Integrity is a separate product line within PTC portfolio of products. Siemens PLM made an investment in Polarion Software maker of ALM software. Aras recently announced an extension of ALM integration to connect with software world. I’m sure there are more examples.

What is my conclusion? You cannot stop the software. The complexity of software in manufacturing will increase and products will demand a more deep integration into product development process and lifecycle. It will be hard for manufacturing companies to keep software teams in a silo. So, better integration between software and other elements of product data will be demanded. Something PLM and ALM vendors should think about together. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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