How to Build a Digital PLM? It is not what you think…

How to Build a Digital PLM? It is not what you think…

Digital transformation is big marketing hit these days. Everyone is obsessed with how to transform companies, tools, and customers “digitally”. However, let me ask you what does it mean? PLM was from the beginning deeply involved in data about the product and related processes. Also, the same can be said about the collaboration between engineers and downstream organization processes. New innovation – digital thread and digital twin are inspiring, but still, the question what makes a thread (life cycle history) digital and what modeling capabilities of a twin will make it actually “digital”. Is there a digital differentiation or it is just a better way to sell existing PLM platforms.

I’ve been thinking during the long US weekend of July 4th, what can make PLM digital.  As you know, simplicity is one of my favorite topics. And to be fair, simplicity and PLM aren’t really good friends. It is not uncommon to see how PLM systems are sold based on the feature checklist. As a result, you can get systems with a huge amount of features (sometimes overlapped and too complex to use).

A long time ago, I write the article about how to get PLM from definition to the realization. Back in 2011, I didn’t know how to answer on the question how defining simplicity. Last years of development in cloud software actually was some kind of an eye-opener. We need to use the data to iterate through the product definition, focusing on usage and experience. This is what will make a product (not only PLM) digital.

My attention was caught by the article – Great Products Do Less but Better. Here is excellent guidance on how to apply “Do less” principle in digital design.

Use data. If we’re doing our job right, we have data on how users are interacting with the products we build. Use that data to build a case when you notice a certain feature is being underutilized.

Set a feature budget. Agree on a certain threshold of features your product will have, and keep prioritizing the ones that are more closely aligned with your business goals for that year.

Say no. Focus means saying “no” to customer feedback and feature requests. It feels uncomfortable at the beginning but gets better over time.

Compensate users. When you’re removing features you know users will complain about, come up with a plan on how to mitigate their frustration. What can you give them before, during, and after the feature removal to keep them excited about your product?

In my view, the key to building digital products is to connect them to user experience and to learn from that user experience. This is the main differentiation of connected digital PLM systems (as well as all other systems). The digital process is transforming what a company does and connect users and pieces of information. This connection is essential, otherwise, tools will be just creating a “clone” of existing processes.

What is my experience? Digital transformation became a buzzword in a modern product development world and used by everyone. Nevertheless, I think, it is important to focus on how to build a new experience (and functions) of the product connecting between digital products and real users. The lifecycle of the PLM product in a digital world is the difference and not limited by creating a digital model of the product and its behaviors. Digital product has its own lifecycle and it needs to become a digital tool. 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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