What is behind “digital PLM” buzzword?

What is behind “digital PLM” buzzword?


In the early days of electronic and computer development, “digital” was a technology that generates, stores and process data in terms of two states: positive and non-positive. Positive was expressed by number 1. Non-positive by number 0. Each of these states was referred as a bit. It was developed as an alternative to analog technology which conveys data as electronic signals of varying frequency or amplitude. Read more here.

These days digital is becoming technical, marketing and business jargon. Everyone wants to go digital. You can hear about “digital” every day. But do we really understand what that means?

Companies today are rushing with reckless haste to become more digital. For some people is about technology. For others is about a new way to do business. Both of these definitions are correct. But with a such diverse perspective, the danger is to create another overhyped marketing jargon without value behind is very high.

It’s very tempting to search for a simple definition and come with a proposal like “Digital PLM is X”. I’m not sure it is possible. I also think that digital is less a thing, but more a combination of thing or approach to do business. However, even so, to break it down into more specific guidance can be helpful.

Let me come with few examples…

Five years old NYT article Digital Workplace: Useful Term or Confusing Jargon? brings an interesting perspective. According to the article, the original intent of “digital” was to re-brand unsexy “intranet” term. However, it also represents a danger. Here is the passage explaining that.

Some intranet people are interested in rebranding intranets as the “Digital Workplace”. But there’s no reason to do that — it takes a term that is understood (“intranet”) and replaces it with something so broad and generic as to render it meaningless….

Advertising Age article – Are You Confusing ‘Digital’ and ‘Data’? Apparently Some Are brings the point of vague definition of what digital means and confusing people.

“Apparently some people confuse the term “data” with “digital.” People in politics especially don’t get it, and neither do the very journalists who are supposed to be able to relay information about these concepts clearly to their readers.

Here is a proposal how to differentiate between “digital” and “data” according to the same article.

Digital is a medium. Digital basically refers to any action taken over the internet. Ads delivered to a desktop, tablet or phone are digital ads. Social media is digital. E-mail lists and open rates are digital. Data – or analytics – is an approach to decision-making. Analytics can be applied to the use of any medium, not just digital, or to all campaign operations across the board.

Accenture, one of the largest consulting and service outfits in product lifecycle, is coming with Digital PLM framework. Here is how Accenture explains “digital” for PLM by focusing on how “digital model”.

Digital technologies are disrupting and changing businesses. Product innovation and development is at the forefront of this new technology wave. Integration of data, processes, business and IT is “stimulating” innovation in product and service delivery. For decades, companies have adopted tools to digitize and automate the product development data and workflows. Now, leaders are looking for a digital model to significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of PLM processes—and thus deliver substantially higher ROI on R&D.

Jos Voskuil’s article What is Digital PLM? is coming beyond “digital vs analog”.  Jos is comparing “classical PLM” and “Digital PLM”. The key element that differentiate between classical and digital PLM is the fact information is now should be managed and stored as data objects opposite to “files”. Here is the passage that explains that.

For me, classical PLM is the way PLM has been implemented in the past 15 years, often as an extension of engineering with the purpose of centralizing and sharing information. In particular for CAD data, classical PLM is focusing on managing files in a controlled way, through check-in and check-out mechanisms.

Modern PLM is based on the vision that all information should be managed and stored as data objects, not necessary in a single system. Still the PLM infrastructure, using structured and unstructured data, should give each user in the organization with almost real-time information in context of other relevant information.

Similar to Accenture, Jos brings the aspect of modeling as one of the important elements of product lifecycle management technology helping companies to create a  representation of processes – configure to order, build to order, engineering to order. According to the article “model-based” or “model-driven” will be a medium to help companies to move data across the organization.

All together, it made me think that probably “data” is more specific word to explain what engineering and manufacturing companies are managing to improve their business processes. I recently covered “data” in my PLM Book. Here is the link on Data chapter.

And in PLM all starts from data or data modeling. The question you might ask – what is the right data model for PLM? Also you might be interested to learn what are modern trends in data modeling and databases that can help you to build a right PLM model for your organization.

What is my conclusion? In many situation “digital” is an appropriate term that can be used to describe a broad trend in leveraging data in business. However, I would recommend to be more specific when it comes to bits and bytes of implementation and PLM technology. It is better to talk about data objects and models that can be used to store and process data. 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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