Last week, I was recording a video podcast with Adam Keating, CEO of CoLab. We discussed modern tech trends, and PLM development and in general compared our notes about PLM, the development of CoLab and OpenBOM services, Systems of Engagement and Systems of Intelligence, and many other topics. I look forward to sharing with you the podcast when it will become available. One of the questions Adam asked me was about current PLM trends and where I see PLM is going now. Over the weekend, I had a chance to think about it more and I decided to share my thoughts with my readers. As we’re moving towards the end of 2022, I’m getting more and more questions about what PLM looks like in 2022 and what I can see as the most significant elements of the PLM market and technological development this year.
PLM was around for the last 20+ years in different variations helping manufacturing companies to manage engineering processes while attempting to expand downstream. It is generally accepted by large manufacturing companies developing complex products. However, the popularity of PLM with SMEs is not the same and the debates are all around how to get it done for smaller teams. The increasing complexity of products and supply chain management increasing the demand for technologies that can help distributed engineering teams and large companies to manage their engineering processes across company boundaries.
Although PLM is a well-established discipline with 5-6 large vendors running an existing “PLM show”, I can see some trends in PLM development that can bring future changes in this field.
Enterprise SaaS PLM
Product lifecycle management is famous for long implementation cycles to support customized product development processes and product data management. It was generally accepted by large industrial companies for a long time, but changes are coming fast. Companies are facing business challenges and looking at how PLM can help them to support new business strategies. Bad news – old product data management (PDM) systems are stuck in the past and cannot move forward. This is one of the most painful topics in PLM known as “release lock”. Upgrades are hard and expensive.
At the same time, large companies’ ITs are checking how to use the “cloud”, which is in a nutshell switching their IT stacks to services such as AWS, Azure, or some others. This cloud adoption is becoming urgent because companies are looking at how to improve data management and security with a growing need for digital transformation.
These two trends create a new opportunity called “enterprise SaaS PLM”, which in a nutshell, is the next wave of hosted PLM systems sold by subscription where PLM vendors or service companies are taking care of all aspects of PLM product delivery using AWS, Azure or other providers. You can see similarities in solutions coming from PTC (Windchill+), Siemens (TeamcenterX), Aras (Enterprise SaaS), and some others.
Data Management Technological Maturity
How to get more value from the information that exists in manufacturing? Industrial companies are looking for a better way to manage data, get insight, and support data-driven decisions. Modern data management stack is capable to provide solutions, but the old architecture of PLM software, and bad interoperability of legacy software combined with implementation complexity creates a big disconnect between old and new systems.
A new set of technologies is available to solve complex data management problems related to data access, sustainability, intelligent process management, collaboration, and many others. Modern collaboration services with real-time data access, machine learning, AI, and connected processes – this is only a short list of innovations that can be come to expand the existing PLM stack.
A big portion of innovation is dependent on people. Technology is rarely independent and enterprise systems require adoption. It is a tough moment because bringing new technologies and products requires agreement between people, and the establishment of new processes. The learning curve is steep. There is a need to make a mental shift to move from “Excel-ware” to “online applications”. This brings a question about the growing gap in PLM education. This is one of the attributes of modern PLM systems adoption. Product lifecycle management needs education and a new communication system to help manufacturing companies to develop a business strategy for new product lifecycle and new business processes.
From SQL Databases to Multi-Tenant Web Services
A single source of truth is a mantra that product lifecycle management is using for the last 20+ years. While it still good as an implementation idea, the technology behind the scene requires an upgrade. The past PLM system were taking a single source truth idea and converted it into a “single SQL database” idea. It was an appropriate step in the 2000s, but modern product lifecycle management demands new data management and communication system, which relies on connected services and platforms capable to work in distributed environments where people are working for multiple companies and businesses are connected to each other – no product can be delivered by a single company with no connections to an outside world. So, the same change should come to PLM – new product lifecycle management services have to switch from trying to hoard all data in a single SQL database and switch to multi-tenant services.
The adoption of multi-tenant web services started as a SaaS development. New platforms such as Autodesk Platform Service (former Autodesk Forge) and Autodesk Fusion 360, PTC Atlas (former Onshape) and multi-tenant PLM SaaS services delivered by PLM startups (eg. OpenBOM, Propel PLM, and others) are example of services that can change the adoption curve and replace old fashion PDM/PLM systems.
What is my conclusion?
PLM doesn’t stand still. New product lifecycle management technologies and services are coming to replace PLM legacy and to help establish a connected product lifecycle for new manufacturing realities. Old document management and engineering data management systems mostly focus on managing CAD files followed by the export of BOM to Excel and sending it via email is not enough. New PLM solutions will be coming to support large and small industrial companies helping them to design and building products, streamlining communication and product lifecycle. Just my thoughts…
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 networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.