‘Last mile’ problem and how to rethink the way we implement PLM

‘Last mile’ problem and how to rethink the way we implement PLM


Back in the old days, CAD system was a tool to design product. PDM was a tool too to manage CAD files and sometimes Bill of Materials (BOM). There is no simple agreement about what is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) – technology, tools, products, business strategy. We’ve got familiar with PLM definition puzzle. The last addition to already complicated definition of PLM was “business of engineering“, which in my view was a clear indication of PLM identity crisis as it was highlighted by Jos Voskuil.

A new thing coming to us – innovation platforms. This is such a sweet word and, therefore, everyone is moving to develop “platforms” now. Nothing wrong with that, but… here is the thing. With too much focus spent on platform thinking, we have a chance to face an increased problem with “PLM last mile”. In other words, how to deliver platform services and turn it into something that customer can use.

If you ever touched telecom business, you should be familiar with the “last mile” problem. The most expensive piece in any telecom solution is not national data pipes, international data networks, back-office billing systems and not huge amount of data moving across all networks. The most expensive and problematic aspect of any telecom solution is connection from the telecom switch to a consumer home or business. It involves “digging up” streets, running wires and working with customers.

So how does this ‘Last Mile’ problem in telecom relates to Product Lifecycle Management business and platforms? I think the same “last mile” problem exists between any PLM solution and any specific customer implementation. It has struck me that most of PLM platforms are here to provide game-changing functionality, but… fail at the last implementation mile. Well… these platforms don’t fail, but require digging holes (in existing data models), placing pipes (in existing APIs), running wires (between elements of user interface) to deliver data content and functionality to engineers and other PLM users.

Every single PLM “last mile” solution is different. The outcome of this is complicated implementation and many interaction with customers. This is a main reason why PLM business doesn’t scale for many companies as they want it to scale. This is also a reason why PLM is infamous by the complexity and cost of implementations.

So, how to scale it up? In the world of social networks, internet, crowdfunding and services like Facebook, Uber and Airbnb, to move implementation work to actual users can be a fundamental shift and rethinking of PLM fundamentals. Facebook turned every single user with smart phone and camera into media content creator. Uber turned every single driver with smartphone into a taxi. The next turn for PLM platforms is to ask users to implement it.

Whoa…. you can ask me – are coming back to PLM toolbox approach? I don’t think so. PLM toolbox was a set of infrastructure to be used by system integrator and programmer. Since that time, we improved tools to make it easy to use and administer. However, these tools are still “tools for administrators”.

The next shift in PLM development is to make tools that can work for end user. Let user to figure out how to use them, implement them and organize their work in a company. Sounds crazy? Maybe… But this is where a future challenges. It will be easier for people to collaborate and setup processes and data models in real systems rather than having long months of agreement and “implementation planning”. But existing tools are not good at this. These tools will have to change to support a different administration and implementation process.

What is my conclusion? Infrastructure and platforms are very important. But in the future, we can see an increased demand for end-user oriented PLM platforms. These new tools will allow to use to self-tune their personal working space, connect to other services and perform work in a flexible business environment. Every single person will become an implementer of this “last mile” and solve the problem of PLM services delivery. So, all modern platforms, IoT services, business processes and collaboration services will be delivered to a specific problem solving tasks. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.


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