Digital PLM – A Technology Looking For New Customers?

Digital PLM – A Technology Looking For New Customers?

PLM marketing and strategy these days are shifting towards everything “digital”. The number of “digital” articles is growing. While selling a “single source of truth” is still the dominant value proposition of PLM sales, we are is on the trajectory to sell “Digital Future”. I came across the whitepaper published by xLifecycle called Towards a digital future: the evolving role of PLM in the future digital world. Check this out.

I liked the objective, which seems to be very timely.

Not only do such developments as Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things, the Digital Thread and the Digital Twin offer ways to enhance PLM, but they have captured the attention of senior management in a way that PLM never has. PLM has been contributing to digitally transform the design, engineering and manufacturing world for over two decades. There is a vast amount of experience that should be carried forward into this new Digital Age. Furthermore, a sound PLM platform is an essential requirement for accurate digital continuity.The purpose of this initiative is to put forward a neutral picture of the role of PLM in the ever-changing Digital landscape, and of how Digital is transforming PLM

In other words, the article is sending a strong message to PLM sales people – senior management is listening to “digital” chatter and you will be heard if PLM will be capturing some digital waves in the messages.

My special attention was caught by the following passage.

Digital’ is much bigger than PLM, and encompasses such things as machine control and analytics; agriculture systems that monitor the yield of every square metre of land; and the ability to switch your heating on before you set off home.This means that senior management within a company are likely to see ‘Digital’ as a brand new opportunity, and fail to see the connection with PLM –or even neglect PLM completely as “yesterday’s technology”. Nevertheless, Digital offers massive opportunities to enhance the capability of PLM in terms of collaboration along the value chains, and integration of the product lifecycle. Every company should have a PLM Strategy and a Digital Strategy, and the two should be closely coupled.

I think, this passage is kind of “Houston, we have a problem”. I can hear from many PLM people today – digital is a new PLM. On the other side, Digital is bigger than PLM. Companies execs are not placing an equal sign between PLM and digital initiatives, which is probably the biggest danger from PLM initiatives to be out of the list of priorities.

So, what is the future of Digital PLM?

I can see a combination of problems and opportunities at the same time. Before jumping into discussing them, I want to stop and talk about “Digital Future”. Digital technologies are tools that coming to the company to change the way company does business. It can be a new way to organize the process, a new way to communicate with customers, new business model, or business opportunity. Think about digital as an enabler to change the company.

What opportunities digital brings to PLM

New technologies such as cloud, IoT, web, devices, computational power can help to solve old PLM problems that industry can see for the last 20-25 years. Tons of things can change and PLM can re-invent itself with SaaS, global connectivity, access, new business model, etc. If you convince manufacturing companies how these problems can be solved and digital is a big win for PLM.

What problems digital brings to PLM

There is a danger for PLM vendors and software to attempt to sell itself as a new “digital” tool. I can see how it happens sometimes and I can see a danger in such positioning. Because it can create a sense of “old stuff has now a new name”. In the past, the PLM industry was known by inventing new names and buzzwords. An attempt to rebrand PLM as Digital PLM can be a big failure.

In my recent article – How PLM project can get CEO attention I outlined top priorities C-level people in the company are focusing on and how to get them interested in PLM tech – sales, cost, new business. Digital PLM must bring something that manufacturing companies never saw (eg. online solutions, different business models, intelligence in data that cannot be achieved any other way that using new digital PLM). Otherwise, Digital PLM will be dead at arrival.

What is my conclusion?

Traditional PLM was heavily focused on the engineering side and failed many times to deliver a broad business message to industrial companies. Digital is the opportunity to change it, but it needs a different state of mind and most importantly different customers in the organization. Digital PLM targets should be different from what we have seen before. Old problems are there already – PLM is expensive, complex, and heavily focused on engineering. How to change the existing status quo will be the biggest challenge for the PLM industry in the next few years. 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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