How Resilient Thinkers are Saving PLM

In my previous blog, "The Talk" I discussed the all too familiar story of PLM sponsors unexpectedly facing the limitations of their newly installed PLM systems due to the outdated frameworks upon which most older PLM systems are built. My point was that, for any PLM system to be able to adapt to evolving business processes and future, but currently unknown technology, it must be built on a resilient, future-proof platform.

Decades of building systems (yes decades, I pride myself on my ability to use punch cards) has convinced me that there is no way to predict the future, (I think I learned this in graduate school), but it has also convinced me that with the right type of thinking, platforms can be designed and built using strategic design principles making them resilient and adaptable to change. But who are these folks that spend their days contemplating the future of system designs and how to make it flexible to change? How do they operate? Are they available for dinner?

Right now, I am imagining several very experienced people with limited fashion sense and huge coffee mugs in a windowless basement war room surrounding the largest white board ever built. (Let’s not forget the inspirational poster on the wall asserting “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” – Einstein.) Let’s face it, you were thinking the same thing.

What I do know about these resilient thinkers is they start by defining and agreeing on strategic design principles that will ensure the platform will be able to absorb changes in business and technology as well as scale to what surely will be a more complex and data centric world. They realize that locking in to any specific technology, even their own, will lead them to a dead end.

The resilient thinkers emerge from their lair with three guiding principles… and the need for another cup of coffee:

  • Transparent – While technology changes, the data inside the technology does not. The idea behind data transparency is that resilient platform design eliminates the data’s dependency on the application. I have worked with PLM systems where it is virtually impossible to understand the data layer of the application due to the complexity of the model or proprietary encryption. Working with complex data structures within the application may be fine within today’s application, but if this data were found twenty years from now without the application, could you still extract your product structure and data? A transparent platform allows the owner to control the destiny of its data and does not hold it hostage to an aging technology or software vendor.

  • Evolvable – A resilient platform should never be locked into a technology. If a platform is built with hard dependencies to its technology, everything built on top of the platform also becomes dependent. As technology evolves, the ability to utilize new technology in a strategic manner will set the stage for how customized and complex the eventual technical landscape will become as well as which new technology can be leveraged by the existing applications on the platform. Piecemealing technology together to grow a platform over time will create an ugly, legacy system with high maintenance costs. I’m sure no one has ever dealt with this situation, right?

  • Adaptable – A resilient platform needs to be so adaptable, it not only supports change, but encourages it. Perhaps encourage is a strong word, but if a platform does not provide a strategic way to create and manage customizations, custom code will inevitably be developed. This very common approach will increase complexity to the whole environment, impacting on-going costs and efforts to support the system. Can you say, “instant legacy?” The resilient thinker anticipates change. Since “out of the box” implementations are rarely (if ever) possible, they require the platform to support system changes in a low-code, configurable environment without complex coding for each modification. The environment is designed to implement changes without increasing the complexity of the whole environment or impacting the platform’s ability to be upgraded in the future.

I would imagine there are few people that would disagree with these points, but it is amazing to see so few platforms in the marketplace support these basic requirements. There are many claims, but few hold up to truly be considered resilient (as seen by the number of companies running on aging versions of software, long cycle times for customizations, or just significant data issues due to ineffective integrations).

The resilient thinkers at Aras recognize the responsibility of creating an environment capable of adapting over time. But, business owners must also be resilient thinkers, with the same understandings and goals, in order to successfully implement a resilient platform. This collective vision between designers and business leaders is necessary to ensure the platform will be built to meet its full resilient potential.

Business owners need to question the most basic of today’s conventional wisdom―even the concept of “going out of the box.” While “going out of the box” is the mantra of most system implementations today, should the business resign themselves to accepting application functionality as is? All too often, the benefits of going “out of the box” are negated by the complex, custom code required to meet basic business requirements. Resilient thinkers appreciate the need for applications to adapt to evolving business strategies but also acknowledge that these changes must be introduced strategically, so they do not impact other applications or the overall platform. To achieve resiliency for the future, applications and their components must be built on top of resiliency, not customizations, otherwise you are headed into the “instant legacy” zone.

The Aras platform is built to model business processes, business rules, and its associated data in a low-code environment, limiting the amount of effort necessary to adapt to change. This critical information becomes easily portable and ready to move forward with any technology, at any time. Incremental deployment functions support agile methodologies and executes on a fast-paced schedule. Aras also guarantees and executes platform upgrades as part of the subscription, so customers never fall technologically behind. Without the ability to continually execute platform upgrades, the environment struggles to support technology advances and inevitably degrades the effectiveness of applications built on top of the platform.

While the insatiable demands of business continue to change and enhance our systems, we have seen the negative results of implementing changes in legacy applications with “quick” and “creative” solutions, which we know really means custom, sloppy code. The approach often rewards “thinking out of the box” to meet schedules and costs because the limitations and customizations in the existing environment prevents a more strategic and complete solution. The resilient thinker realizes that the need for change will never relent, so the only way to manage the future is to design for it so the business can always adapt to the best solutions available, not the most convenient to implement.

These resilient thinkers may even change the poster on the wall… “If everyone has to think outside the box, maybe it is the box that needs fixing” - Malcolm Gladwell

The question is, are you a resilient thinker? (and an experienced person with limited fashion sense and a huge coffee mug)?

Learn more about Aras’ Resilient Thinkers and Resilient Platform.