20 years of PLM: Why do many still doubt the benefits?

In the meantime, I can look back on several years of consulting for Product Life Cycle Management. A topic whose popularity has fluctuated considerably over the years and is currently on the rise again in the wake of digital transformation.

Despite the increasing attention for PLM again, I notice that the term continues to have a large, cumbersome, tedious, and uneconomical taste. Amazing, because the effort that many companies put into ERP projects, for example, was and is significantly higher in most cases. Nevertheless, the necessity and benefits of – expensive – ERP projects are discussed, but rarely questioned, see Haribo and Lidl.

How do these different perceptions come about? One explanation could be that the benefits of PLM for management and employees in companies have not been sufficiently exploited over the years. This was mainly due to the fact that the scope and visibility of PLM projects in companies was often very limited.

A closer look shows that many of the earlier PLM implementations were in fact PDM implementations. PDM, Product Data Management, focuses on product descriptive data, primarily CAD models and drawings. “PLM” was therefore limited to the core areas of product development, very often even to Mechanical Design. Although beeing avilable in some PLM solutions for years, Change Management, Document Management, Project Management, cross-departmental collaboration or communication with external parties have not been used. Instead, solutions based on Excel, Outlook, the file system or SharePoint were often created on their own. Tools that everyone in the company knows. And for those one can very easily find someone to “optimize” these tools by macro programming. In addition to that, the negative attitude towards PLM was certainly fuelled by the overloaded, highly compressed “engineering user interfaces” of the 1st and 2nd PLM product generations.

So it’s no surprise that PLM was seen in the company as an expensive, less useful and exotic application!

In the current PLM renaissance, companies now have every opportunity to learn from the deficits of the past and to take advantage of the impressive potential of Product Lifecycle Management. Many obsolete and discontinued PDM and PLM solutions are currently or soon to be replaced by modern 3rd generation PLM platforms, which also support the use cases around the Digital Twin and the Internet of Things. They breathe life into the PLM idea by effectively and efficiently supporting processes across phases, departments and company boundaries. New, web-based HTML-5 user interfaces significantly increase acceptance among all user groups in the company by making even complex relationships clearer and handling them more efficient.

Now there is a chance to realize “real” Product Lifecycle Management! Against the background of new, digital business models, which put the use phase of products much more in the foreground, this becomes all the more important. PLM solutions play a central role here, as they lay the foundation for data relating to the Digital Twin.

But in the end, hard facts also count when it comes to benefits and ROI: If PLM is actually used company-wide with all its possibilities, high economies of scale quickly result from the significant minimization of non-value-adding activities. This alone often enables a return on investment after just one year. Regardless of the additional revenue potential from new, data-driven business models that PLM will enable in the future.