When it comes to software and business, I like the word “Platform”. It feels strong and powerful, You want to rely on it and you feel secure and safe. All your company data and processes are connected and integrated. There is no chance somebody is out of the loop because the data is unified and connected. There is no problem making a change because (again) everything is connected and synchronized. There is no problem getting the right data, because (again) everything is in the same safe place, which is called “The Platform”. I wrote it after watching the Dassault Systemes webinar “Streamlining Engineering To Manufacturing” lead by Garth COLEMAN, Vice President, ENOVIA Advocacy Marketing – Dassault Systèmes.
I captured a few screenshots of the story. It is easy to get the logic – from over-the-wall synchronization and multiple BOM (spreadsheets) to unified product definition and holistic approach.
I like the webinar. Garth Coleman is a good presenter and he made a great story including the drama of disconnected data processes and resolution leading to a unified problem-solving “platform”. The idea of platforms and vertical integration was the ultimate answer of PLM developers to improve solution integration and eliminate the huge need to spend tons of resources and IT services to integrate data and processes between silos and applications.
A platform sounds like a good idea, but on the opposite side, it stuck into something that Marc Halpern of Gartner called “a single vendor black hole”. The slide was presented at the PDT2020 event.
So, the ultimate question is still not answered. What is the right approach? A unified platform with a danger to face a single vendor black hole or spaghetti integration? I’m still far from the conclusion. The DS vision is always powerful, but the reality on the ground can be different. Also, how to jump from the messy status quo to the shiny future? The presentations made me think about three challenges companies can face when moving to unified platforms and the possible danger of system locking
1- Unified Data Model – Is it real?
Let’s start from the basics. Unified data model. Is it real? How many compromises companies will have to make to align their data sets to the unified concepts. Also, what is the point of unification between multidisciplinary design definitions coming from multiple systems – mechanical, electrical, software. With all respect to the power of DS, it doesn’t own (yet) ECAD, PCB, and software development tools So, the solution advertised by DS is the so-called “PowerBy” approach allowing to map multiple CAD systems to the unified data model. Mapping means synchronizations and data transfers, which was the problem in the first place.
2- How to define organizational borders?
Let’s say we align the entire organization with a unified data model. The solution cannot live in isolation. What about an increased need to integrate platforms with teams working in multiple companies, contractors, and suppliers. How the data from the unified platform will be traveling back and forth. What does it mean from a data synchronization standpoint? The challenges of cross-company communications are going much beyond the need to transfer a file. It leads to multiple questions about data access, security, roles, and communications with other systems.
3- Platform Leapfrog
Last, but not least is the question about how to jump from the current realities of multiple systems, messy communication, and existing processes to the future nirvana. Companies are ridiculously afraid of the big bang approach when the company moves from the old world to a new one overnight. Such leapfrogs are usually dangerous and have the potential to lead to challenges and sometimes local disasters when companies are required to match their processes before and after.
What is my conclusion?
Companies are looking for better solutions. With more than 60% of companies looking for a cloud as an alternative solution (according to CIMdata research) to existing on-premise solutions, the question about moving to a “single platform” is not limited to research of PLM architects and 5 years forward planning. Companies are struggling with data, access, organizational processes, and their inability to streamline information flow. The Excel files, zip drives, legacy databases, and 20 years old PLM/PDM systems are what companies live in day-to-day business. The demand to have an open and flexible platform is huge. What is the answer and what system can stand for such a challenge including the complexity of modern manufacturing is a big question. The jury is still out. These are 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.