How Legacy PLM Systems are Impacting Digital Transformation Initiatives

How Legacy PLM Systems are Impacting Digital Transformation Initiatives

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about digital transformation. Essentially, this is the process of taking an organization that is stuck in its ways and modernizing it for the digital age. For many companies, this means rethinking everything from the way they do business to the way they use technology.

Every manufacturing company in the world has a bunch of legacy systems. It could be a very old MRP system (sometimes homegrown), it can be purchasing, PDM, PLM… you call it. The thing is that these systems are usually very sticky, companies are implementing them for a long time and no one really knows how to get rid of them. And, most importantly, companies’ business processes are tightly dependent on these systems, so you cannot rip them off and replace them overnight.

Legacy Systems Syndrome?

Of course, one of the challenges that come with digital transformation is that many organizations have legacy systems in place that were built for a different era. In some cases, these legacy systems are so deeply ingrained in the way an organization functions that it can be difficult to make the changes necessary for modernization.

My attention was caught by the Aras Corp blog suggesting the existence of the so-called – PLM legacy syndrome. Check it our here – Do you suffer from PLM Legacy Syndrome? The article brings three use cases: (1) Difficulties to access product information; (2) Release lock-in and inability to upgrade to a new version of the existing PLM platform; (3) Purchasing another system that creates a piece of new information siloed system.

Yesterday I wrote about Gen3 SaaS PLM and how to avoid Release Lock-in. I found that Legacy System Syndrom suggested by Aras article is another side of the same problem – the absence of a digital transformation strategy.

The Challenge of Change

One of the biggest challenges facing organizations as they try to undergo digital transformation is the fact that they often have legacy systems in place that were built for a different era. These systems can be deeply entrenched in the way an organization functions, which can make it difficult to make the changes necessary for modernization.

In many cases, these legacy systems were designed with specific business processes and workflows in mind. As such, they may not be able to easily adapt to new ways of working. This can lead to frustration on the part of employees who are trying to use new technologies within the context of an old system. It can also lead to errors and inefficiencies as people try to work around the limitations of the system.

Another challenge posed by legacy systems is that they can act as a barrier to communication and collaboration. Although modern technologies have made it easier than ever for people to connect and work together, legacy systems can often get in the way. For example, if different departments are using different software applications that aren’t compatible with each other, it can make it difficult for people to share information and work together effectively.

Information Flow and Processes

Despite the challenges posed by legacy systems, there are ways to overcome them and make the transition to a modernized organization. And this is a goal of every manufacturing company these days from a very small manufacturing shop to a large industrial enterprise.

However, I’d not be trying to solve the problem by starting to find a new PLM platform (Aras recommendation in the article is very understandable and every vendor would be doing the same), but by doing some information planning. The challenge is that many organizations are too focused on IT systems when they speak about digital transformation and they are missing that all systems will be useless without foundational work. Like I always say – don’t bring a computer into a mess, because you will end up with a computerized mess. First, you need to clean up the mess and then bring computers.

To start fixing your digital transformation journey, do some planning before bringing digital technologies in. Here are 3 steps that I recommend you to do first before even thinking about any new digital technology.

  • Discuss the bottlenecks of your organization’s performance
  • Assess the impact of your data silos on the organizational performance
  • Make a proposal for new information flow and processes to solve the bottleneck
  • Introduce information process quality KPIs

Once you’re all set with these four steps, you can start selecting technologies and, potentially, new PLM software.

Making the Transition

The transition is not less important than the current state. Depending on the company, status of the system, size, and many other factors, the transition can be very disruptive and it can even kill the architects of the transition processes. Here you need to do three things in the right way:

  • Find technological experts to assist you to catch up with technologies, vendors, and product lifecycle management software.
  • Define transition steps. No transition can be done overnight. It usually includes (1) preparation steps and prototyping; (2) introduction of the infrastructure; (3) gradual transfer of processes.
  • Keep a backup and co-existence plan. Supporting business continuity is a big challenge. Plan it upfront, including technologies, data backup, and system availability.

Last, but important, work transparently within the organization and get buy-in from all users of legacy technology and systems.

Another important element is having buy-in from senior leadership. Making a successful transition to digital requires buy-in from everyone in the organization, but it’s especially important to have support from those at the top. Senior leaders need to be committed to making changes and willing to invest both time and resources into making it happen. Without this commitment, it will be very difficult to make lasting changes within an organization.

What Is My Conclusion?

Undergoing digital transformation is a challenge for any organization, but it’s especially difficult for those who have legacy systems in place. These systems can be deeply entrenched in the way an organization functions, which can make it difficult to make the changes necessary for modernization. However, starting from information planning, connecting it to company process performance KPIs and finding modern technology to support it are important elements of your digital success.

Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital cloud-native PDM & PLM platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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