Businesses must constantly plan for the future. In the world of manufacturing companies, the future is now. How to get up to speed with the digital transformation, how to get value from the huge amount of data accumulated by manufacturing companies, how to get connected with the customers and turn products into services. These and many other questions are on the top of the minds of engineering IT and manufacturing companies. Besides that, every manufacturing company is now also a software company. The amount of software in the modern manufacturing business and modern smart products is skyrocketing. How to get up to speed and manage an entire set of information about the product, which combines multi-disciplinary data and connected lifecycle? What software can help manufacturing companies do so?
For over the last 25 years, manufacturing companies have implemented and benefited from traditional PLM systems. These systems were mostly deployed to large OEM businesses and enterprise manufacturing organizations. Most of these companies are old platforms, siloed between MCAD and ECAD, heavily focused on CAD file management, and not well connected and prepared to manage data including complex systems, multi-disciplinary data sets, and software. Besides that, PLM software even if it is deployed successfully for large companies is not ready to scale down to medium businesses and is even less ready to provide solutions for companies working together. Each PLM database is a solution for a single company with very little to no capabilities to help manufacturing companies, contractors, and suppliers coordinate their work and share the data.
Characteristics of new PLM – SaaS, Network, Open API, Data-Oriented
A traditional PLM system is a single large platform and most probably enterprise manufacturing companies are not going to abandon these platforms tomorrow. These platforms cost too much from both licensing and implementation standpoints. Too much business is dependent on these platforms. However, as Steve Jobs famously said many years ago when he was introducing the first Macbook Air, the change is in the air and PLM software is changing. First, it is fast adopting the SaaS model (no more installations, upgrades, and crazy IT cost)- everything now is a service and a vendor is taking full responsibility. Second, PLM is now connecting multiple companies, contractors, and suppliers into a network. No more limits on data transfer between isolated PLM databases. The third is the level of flexibility and integration is growing as SaaS PLM is adopting modern web and cloud tech and standards. Last, but not least is the total focus on how to get more value from the data.
Let me talk about four main differentiators of modern PLM that are coming from technology, product experience, sales, and marketing and training.
One of the myths that you hear a lot is that PLM technology is good enough to solve most of the data and process management problems manufacturing businesses have and, therefore, the focus should be on how to transform organizations and help them to drive the change, business value and use cases and, finally, to get PLM systems adopted. While there is a lot of rationale about how to educate companies (I will talk about it later), the key advantage of modern technologies is new data management. Polyglot persistence is a new data management strategy helping to bring a whole set of new data management tools – robust, scalable, flexible, and, most importantly, capable to deal with highly complex data sets and analytics.
A second big chunk of new technological development is related to system architecture and delivery models. It is about how to develop global and distributed systems capable of leveraging modern IaaS infrastructure and making them globally available. Companies are distributed and demand to use systems everywhere without thinking about the company and geographical borders.
SaaS models bring a new way to build systems in everything that is related to products and close the loop with the customers. Read my earlier blog about 3 things only SaaS PLM vendors can do to enable digital business. What was popular in the past is a long development cycle and infrequent delivery model. These days you can see short development cycles (sprints) and continuous delivery. These both things together allow vendors to continue a close loop with the customers, their needs, monitoring, and improvement. The approach can be scary at the beginning, but once adopted seems to be the only viable model to develop modern products and stay in the close loop with the customers.
Sales & Marketing
Modern PLM is different when it comes to the sales and marketing process. New technologies and products bring business models in which customers have access to the software much earlier, can experience the software, and build drive their PLM implementations by adopting incremental steps of trials and validation of how the products and technologies can work. A big number of digital tools are available now to improve the initial experience- from content, videos, and online tools and ending up with trials and experiments of customers with the software before purchasing.
Training and Education
The last, but very important element of the modern PLM is how vendors and customers are approaching education and training. In the past, companies were buying black boxes of software tools, and later on, training courses were provided. Nothing wrong, but modern products demand modern training. It starts from online materials and self-education options such as videos and online courses to help people and companies to grow their awareness about how to manage data and processes. The online training provides a foundation for more dedicated, custom tailored training opportunities in which out of the box training courses are adapted to the needs of specific customers and use cases.
What is my conclusion?
Everything is changing these days and PLM is not the exception. The modern technology developed for the last two decades finally started to make a difference. The initial change happened back in the 2000s, with the change that was brought by consumer web platforms, new data management, and cloud. As a result, the 2010s became the time these technologies shifted to business. Manufacturing companies are probably one of the very few segments that still rely on many technologies developed back in the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. New online SaaS eco-system for manufacturing companies is yet to be built. But we can see a starting points of these new product development and manufacturing eco-system with new SaaS services provided by many companies in different ways. The time of the old technologies and products is counted and the change is in the air. 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.