Everyone has a dream. What’s your dream? If you’re a user, you would like to have a system that will read your mind. If you’re a business owner, you would like the system to magically adapt to every single need you will have as you go and use the system. The users’ demand from the PLM system is to be ready to use out of the box in the way they want it.
Flexibility is one of the most important requirements in product lifecycle management. PLM debates about flexibility, customization, and configuration are decades-long. It comes and goes in waves – flexible data models, complexity, customization, configurations, out-of-the-box, templates, and repeats again.
Recently flexibility became a new competition front between SaaS PLM and monolithic legacy PLM platforms. Flexibility is a big deal for enterprise PLM. For many enterprise industrial companies, it is the only way they can see PLM programs can be implemented. These programs involve a large number of service providers, advisors, and consulting companies. Altogether, it is a solid front to preserve an existing PLM Junge status quo with current systems and to give some time to major PLM providers either to acquire or to develop new SaaS technologies or platforms.
I recently came across a few articles where the topic is debated from different angles. Here is Yoann Maingon blog – Limitations of SaaS PLM.
This challenged me because it challenges the idea that all of a company’s IT can be built by paying for SaaS services and interconnecting them with platforms that interface APIs with each other.
Digital Transformation eBook by Tech-Clarify speaks about tensions between cloud and new digital backbones with flexible capabilities.
Our experience shows that most PLM implementations are not OOTB, especially for large organizations. This creates tension between cloud benefits and creating the new digital backbone and a “right-for-me” experience. As our experience and the research for this eBook shows, however, the right balance between cloud benefits and desired customization may be available through the emerging alternative to customization, low-code / no-code development.
So, who is right in these debates? Is there a real problem with SaaS PLM architectures that makes it inflexible and not capable to provide configured and custom-tailored behavior? Here are some of my thoughts about it.
1- SaaS is Always Out-of-the-Box
One of the most typical mistakes coming from the first days of existing PLM providers is attempting to host their existing PLM platforms on the cloud and even making the multi-tenant. The customization was cut first and that created the first myth. In fact, cloud and SaaS solutions are developed using modern web technologies and provide a much easier way to customize and integrate between themselves and other systems.
2- Multi-tenant SaaS is a compromise between economical aspects and flexibility
Multi-tenancy is a big deal because it gives you many new capabilities in business models, features, and functions. One real advantage of multi-tenant architectures is to share the data and produce intelligence. However, a narrow point of view is to say that the only reason for multi-tenancy is for a vendor to use shared resources and save cost. Multi-tenancy is used in a wide range of web and enterprise platforms, it gives a unique set of features that cannot and will not be delivered in legacy PLM software.
3- You cannot customize SaaS PLM
SaaS software is not different from any other software. It provides you with the capability to do anything. But most SaaS PLMs are young and still growing. What is important is to look into data management architectures, flexibility, and other important features developed by vendors. Dig deeper and don’t stop when you see limited features or functions. The native SaaS architecture, modern data management, and other capabilities will make a completely different SaaS PLM in the future.
What is my conclusion?
SaaS and cloud are architecture and technology to deliver software in a new way. It gives tons of advantages and redefines enterprise systems from all standpoints – reliability, scale, functional capabilities, collaboration, and many others. However, there are two aspects of cloud and SaaS that make it controversial. As every new system doesn’t come with all features developed for the last 30+ years in legacy software, it requires re-thinking and re-imagining many behaviors. Also, there is a big difference between native SaaS PLMs and existing on-premise platforms hosted on platforms like AWS, Azure, and others. While SaaS PLM architectures are under active development it would be a mistake to claim that such architecture is limited. The devil is in detail – start from evaluating systems online and see the difference. 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.