Why complexity is killing PLM and what are future trajectories and opportunities?

Why complexity is killing PLM and what are future trajectories and opportunities?

I’m catching up on the social reading and publications after few very busy weeks. There are not so many non-vendor PLM events in the world. Actually only a handful. One of them PI PLMx (formerly known as PLM innovation). I attended PI PLMx Chicago back in November. Check some of my articles.

I wasn’t able to visit PI PLMx London. Thanks to Jos Voskuil who provided a very good report from the conference. But… I found very bad message there. The number of attendees is is shrinking. Too bad for conference organizers. But unfortunately, it is not surprising me. In the current state of PLM affairs, not many people want to learn how to speak PLMish.

Jos has some hypotheses. Here is the passage:

…the number participants is diminishing. Main hypotheses: (1) The PLM-definition has become too vague. Going to a PLM conference does not guarantee it is your type of PLM discussions you expect to see? (2) The average person is now much better informed related to PLM thanks to the internet and social media (blogs/webinars/ etc.) Therefore, the value retrieved from the PLM conference is not big enough any more? (3) Digital Transformation is absorbing all the budget and attention downstream the organization not creating the need and awareness of modern PLM to the attention of the management anymore. g., a digital twin is sexier to discuss than PLM?

I think, Jos missed one important point. PLM stuck in complications and a continues going down the rathole of wasting resources on complex solutions and explanation why complex is actually a good thing. The most ridiculous promotion of PLM complexity you can find on Jos’ blog – PLM is not simple!

Well, this is a tricky thing. The problems PLM is solving are complex problems. The reality is that people don’t like complex solutions. Therefore, simple will be always better. How to solve complex problems with a simple approach or solution? This is something that PLM vendors are continuously missing. One of my favorites videos about how to approach complex problem with simplicity by Eric Berlow – Simplifying complexity is here.

The slide Eric presented during his presentation was painfully similar to all PLM slides we can see at PLM events.

In the past 10 years, I’ve heard many things from PLM vendors about consumerization. But one of the most important aspects of consumer behavior was missed by majority of PLM people. Check what Gartner says about the world where “death of complexity” is one of the most important trends. Gartner presentations few years ago:

Market Trend No. 9 — The Death of Complexity. The consumer market is becoming progressively less tolerant of complexity. Although consumers tend to buy products with ever-richer features, they often prefer those that are simple and intuitive. The ability to provide appealing and intuitive user interfaces has become a critical point of differentiation among competing technology providers. As technology becomes more complex, vendors need to invest more in keeping the user interface simple and intuitive. T&SPs therefore need to focus on  simplifying technology, pricing, brand messaging, and feedback and interaction, and consider offering chargeable help services for consumers challenged by installing and configuring new equipment and services in their homes.

I can see a clear conflict between traditional PLM complication in definition, approach and business models. What to do? How to make the transformation from “complex and painful” to “simple and easy”? Getting back to Jos’ picture, we need to find a better way – simple and right. Well, this is not easy. I want to start with my view on a current state of PLM business:

– Product lifecycle information is extremely valuable. It distributed in multiple systems, legacy databases and even in paper archives. This is one of the most valuable assets PLM vendors has today.

– PLM is mostly appreciated by large companies – OEMs and their top tier suppliers. Moving down to mid-size manufacturing companies, you will find very few people that are ready to touch PLM approach. It perceived as complex and expensive. And the demand is to have solution which is easy to understand, experience and adopt.

– Digital X is a newcomer in PLM vendors vocabulary. We can see Digital Twin, Digital Thread… Companies are actively “rebranding” with digital transformation slogans. The dangerous trend is when existing PLM technologies, products and solutions are just rebranding into “Digital”.

Where PLM can go in the next few years? I can see few possible options and trajectories for PLM business development.

1- Global online platforms and information fusion

Information is a big deal. Intelligence can be even more important. Information fusion brings intelligence.. It can be done by applying data science and data management technology developed for the last 20 years. The ultimate goal – manufacturing intelligence. PLM vendors are great candidates to make it happen. Manufacturing companies are looking how to do business online and PLM vendors should figure out how to provide global online platforms available to a larger network of companies. These online platforms should be affordable and available for all manufacturing companies from a very small shops to larger contractors, suppliers and OEMs. This is PLM white space.

2- New Enterprise Platforms

Current PLM implementations are stuck in complexity and bring no excitement and trust. If PLM vendors can provide open and trusted enterprise platforms that can be used for long time by large OEMs, without version lockup and 5 years implementation plans, it can change current negative perception about enterprise PLM. Combined with simple answers on how to solve complex problems it can be very powerful. All together, it can open doors for companies to adopt PLM systems. This is a market for large enough companies today sitting on a fence and debating if PLM is a right way to go.

3- Digital Overlays   

Many large OEMs are stuck in old PLM products. This is a reality of last 25 years of PLM development. Companies can start enterprise transformation by revisiting and overlaying existing enterprise data management systems and PLM databases. It doesn’t require abandoning existing systems and can be less painful for PLM leadership involved into previous PLM decisions. This is a business for large OEMs that already implemented 1-2 or sometimes even more PLM systems and stuck in PLM development.

What is my conclusion? It is a time for new PLM leadership that can be built of transparency, trust and new technologies helping to build new intelligent and affordable systems for future manufacturing business. The old mantra about complex PLM should go away. Otherwise PLM will shrink, retire and die. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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