Shh, don’t talk out loud about PLM!

Phew, as a PLM fan you had to take a deep breath last week: Two well-known bloggers lowered their thumbs in the headlines: Joe Barkai: “Why I Don’t Do PLM” and Oleg Shilovitsky: “Are PLM conferences dead?

Curiously, both pull on the opposite ends of the rope. For Barkai, the classic view of PLM as a “single version of the truth” falls short, while Shilovitsky conjures up the basics behind the PLM idea.

Barkai: „I find it fascinating that traditional PLM software vendors are not realizing how the Internet of Things and the connected enterprise are breathing a new life into the PLM space that does not quite know how to reinvent itself. After decades of using enterprise PLM software, it is still common to hear at a PLM conference a speaker announcing, “Let me give you my definition of PLM.” Or those never-ending debates about eBOMs and mBOMs and where PDM ends and PLM begins.“

Shilovitsky: “I know many people struggling with their PLM decisions and fighting alone to balance tools, budgets, organizational and cultural changes and timelines. Companies are struggling with very basics things – Part Numbers, Change Management, Revisions, and others. To discuss the real problems, can be an opportunity. This is the foundation – the story. This is a single unit… If a single unit doesn’t sell, making it broader or scaling it up won’t solve the problem.”

To be honest, depending on which colleagues I talk to in our company, it could turn out similar. But there is one thing we are all pretty sure about: Writing PLM in bold on an invitation or an advertisement takes some courage these days.

So are the best times of PLM over?

Companies survive in the market because they listen to their customers and adapt their offer to new requirements and possibilities in good time! Yes, the basics are still the low-hanging fruits, and the pioneers are taking care of the more demanding potentials in the product lifecycle, where the integration of disciplines, tools and processes is at stake. Some PLM providers, for example, are using their experience and their current portfolio around the virtual product to expand their offering towards the internet of things and the digital twin.

This highlights the dilemma: PLM, unlike ERP or financial accounting, has never been a self-runner. The PLM idea has always had to be particularly convincingly motivated by the sponsors.

And this has often not been successful, as my colleague Rolf Stübbe puts it in a nutshell in his blog post “20 years of PLM: Why do many still doubt the benefits“: “Despite the renewed increase in attention for PLM, I notice that the term still has a large, cumbersome, tedious and uneconomical flavour. Supposed lighthouse projects such as the almost endless Teamcenter introduction at VW and Dassault’s licensing policy, which was one of the reasons for the Code of PLM Openness Initiative, are representative of the many pinpricks that have tarnished the reputation of PLM over time.


It’s like Monty Python in the Fawlty Towers episode of “The Germans”: “Don’t mention the war!” PLM: Everyone thinks about it, but everyone tries to avoid the term. 

Yet times have never been better for the PLM idea than today. The pressure in companies is high and continues to rise in order to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital transformation. But storytelling must get better. The old stories and complicated definitions are certainly no longer suitable, and the PLM concept as an advertising medium is only of limited use. Storytelling and project marketing belong together right from the start. It starts with the goals. Here I am with Oleg Shilovitsky: we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Crude promises and obscure visions that are doomed to failure do not help, on the contrary. It is better to package the low hanging fruits attractively, give the project a meaningful name and do everything possible to ensure that the initial, manageable goals are achieved.

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.

Hat PLM eine Zukunft und wie sieht die aus?

In meinem letzten Blog-Beitrag habe ich darzulegen versucht, warum es aus Anwendersicht so wichtig ist, PLM aus seinem Engineering-Nischendasein zu befreien. Ebenso wichtig ist es aber auch aus Anbietersicht, wenn die PLM-Hersteller sich auf Dauer am Markt behaupten wollen. Darauf hat vor ein paar Monaten Oleg Shilovitsky in einem Gastblog hingewiesen, den ich jetzt erst entdeckt habe. Continue reading “Hat PLM eine Zukunft und wie sieht die aus?”