The Technology Gap

Throughout its history, PLM implementations have fallen woefully short of their intended vision. These systems were largely chosen on the basis of their breadth and depth of functionality and were intended to manage an organization’s product throughout its lifecycle, which is still critically important. In the vast majority of cases, these implementations took years to deploy and, in the end, were de-scoped in order get them into production.

Typically, PLM deployment resides in engineering—performing a Product Data Management (PDM) function largely centered around controlling parts, documentation, CAD, EBOM, change management, and sometimes MBOM with an ERP integration.

Many companies are on their third or fourth generation PLM, but still have failed to incorporate the latest technology available and achieve their vision. They invariably get stuck in time due primarily to customizations on architectures and schemas that were never intended to be customized. Organizations are then forced to spend money on software maintenance and resources to continue these legacy systems. They find they are unable to rapidly roll out changes that utilize the latest technologies that would allow them to rapidly innovate and adapt to the changing needs of markets and customers. Over and over, PLM deployments get stuck in time, falling many years behind. As the years go by, it becomes harder to justify the upgrade due to the technical debt that has been incurred. The budget that could help companies innovate faster and adjust to unanticipated business needs—is instead squandered by supporting legacy.

Countless articles have been written on the correct steps to implement a successful PLM system making the point that it’s more than just about technology—it’s your ability to change your people and processes, deal with bad data, and, of course, have an executive sponsorship. I’m not dismissing this. 

But, today, something has changed. 

What’s changed is the explosion and confluence of technology (social, mobile, analytics, cloud, AI, ML, AR/VR, IoT, etc.), which, along with data, are accelerating exponentially. As an example, IDC predicts that global data will go from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 275 in 2025 (The Digitization of the World – From Edge to Core, IDC, 2018). Along with this, customers are also demanding more complex technology-driven products and OEMs have had to develop more agile supply-chains to meet this demand.

The notion that you judge your requirements solely against a comprehensive easy-to-deploy, highly configurable, out-of-the-box (OOTB) PLM vendor’s products is no longer valid. To keep pace, the traditional OOTB PLM vendors have been acquiring more and more technology, but they’re separate architectures that must be integrated. This simply adds to the already growing complexity instead of focusing on a resilient platform technology that enables companies to stay up-to-date and take advantage of technology.

With technology changing our world at an increasingly accelerating rate, our ability to adapt with architecture that can configure, use no and low code, augment, and connect has become increasingly important. You need functionality, of course, but capability without a resilient platform technology that allows you to upgrade at least every year leaves you open to the increasing gap between your implementation and technology as depicted in the diagram below.

No company can accurately predict what tomorrow’s processes will need to be or what new technologies, mergers and acquisitions, and competitive pressures will make an impact. Therefore, it’s imperative that you manage your product’s lifecycle with a resilient, up-to-date platform that can integrate with whatever technology and data is required. Companies must close the gap that allows them to fall behind their unanticipated business needs.

In addition to staying up-to-date, the PLM provider must provide the flexibility, scalability, and the ability to connect, augment, and customize to close the gap between where they are at today and where technology will be tomorrow. Speed to deploy, customize, and upgrade are king.

It’s been my experience that, while well-intended, the technology has outpaced many a company’s vision because they’re forced to utilize their best resources on an outdated PLM system. You can’t be ready for tomorrow if you’re working with yesterday’s PLM.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts.