PLM is the system, technology, and process at the heart of your product development. It is a central control point to manage your product data and processes. From one side, it sounds very simple – data gets in and data goes out. Your data such as design files, engineering information, and all related pieces of data are entered in the PLM system, shared with your team. controlled by the people with the right level of access and once the work is released will become a place to trace the historical data about what happened with your product during the design, manufacturing, and maintenance stages. It is also a control center to manage your change process.
Even it sounds simple, the decision about PLM system is not that simple and manufacturing companies are spending a lot of time trying to decide what is the right system, will the system and technology fit the process, and how companies will switch from the state of doing business today into a new state of the business with PLM system on.
From the experience of consulting many companies and working with many vendors and also serving many customers, these are five things I wish every PLM vendor will tell their future customers before embarking on a PLM project.
1- Data Planning
Even the smallest possible PLM implementation will demand organizational work and preparation. It will require your people and team to describe formally what data they want to manage, to define this information, and configure the PLM system to manage this information in the way it will fit the department and people. Usually, this conversation sparks a lot of debates about data and related activities and can preoccupy people in an organization for some time.
2- Legacy Data Import
To get existing data in the system is a substantial task that is usually heavily underestimated. Even the smallest manufacturing organization has tons of existing data in a variety of forms – Excel files, Access databases, and old applications of different kinds. To collect this data, clean it, sort it out, and import it to a new system takes time, effort, and resources. More importantly, this does not work that you can easily outsource to somebody, so money won’t solve all problems here.
3- Process Organization
Exactly in the same way, you will have to perform data planning, the processes will also require adjustments as soon as you move from the way you worked before the PLM project and afterward. And if you have a mess, don’t bring computer systems. It will end up as a computerized mess. First, you need to sort out the mess, and then you can bring new systems and plan the work differently. Be ready to talk about it and do some work.
4- Data is only as good as you can access it
PLM systems and projects are usually sold as a way to organize a single version of the truth about the data, a way to organize information and keep it in order. What is often forgotten is that data is only as good as you can access it in the way you need. Don’t forget that once you are done, the PLM system will become the only way to access the information. You should be prepared that many people might have a temptation to export data in a good old Excel file to consume it and to return it back (just to control it). Although it can solve some adoption barriers, I don’t recommend it as a long-term solution. Therefore, check how data will be accessible and if it will satisfy the needs of all people in an organization.
5- Upgrade Process
Everything is changing and PLM systems are not an exception to this rule. How new features, functions, and fixes will be coming? How the system will be upgraded. How often it will happen and who will be responsible for this upgrade and functional adjustments. These questions exist for both on-prem and SaaS products and to address them upfront will help you better understand your future.
What is my conclusion? I wish PLM vendors will be more transparent about processes of system acquisition, implementation, and maintenance. Many of the questions and issues I mentioned above can be easily solved earlier in the process of PLM planning and to remove the stress of PLM implementation and delivery. Let me know if you have questions -I’m happy to discuss them with you. Meantime, be careful and thoughtful when you plan your next PLM journey. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.