Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is the Cloud a Panacea for PLM Deployment?

I was following the recent announcement of Autodesk PLM 360. The announcement appears to include a host of good tools for any company to use that will help them deploy PLM. The solution is "insanely configurable" with more than 140 apps available. PLM applications such as Project Management, Change Management, Supplier Management, and Design Reviews were mentioned. These applications are templates that the customer can configure to match their business processes. A learning curve of  "3 days" was referenced, and ease of use is clearly one of the key benefits for this technology.

This all sounds great but one thing worries me: companies might get the mistaken notion that in order to start using PLM, all you need is new cloud technology: the cloud is mysterious, the cloud is awesome and powerful, it must have the answer!

We already have PLM technology literally coming out of our ears, yet most companies still struggle to deploy PLM. Why is that? We surely need PLM solutions that are easier to use, maintain, and deploy. Having a PLM solution based on the cloud can theoretically remove many of the challenges that face the average PLM customer: hardware upgrades, user support, software installation, maintenance, and a host of other potential challenges.

However, I hope Autodesk customers don't get the mistaken idea that all you need to do to implement PLM is sign up for Autodesk PLM 360, and Whalla! you have PLM. Implementing PLM properly at any company is a process that must be planned and approached properly to gain good results. I am always afraid someone might get the idea that PLM has just been made simple. All PLM vendors like to sell their technology as so simple even a caveman can do it (I think that's the wrong vendor). PLM is not simple! Implementing PLM properly is not simple! You can do small, simple parts of PLM, like data vaulting or visualization, and work on it step by step, but implementing PLM requires a good plan and a determination to follow that plan through to the end.

One of the challenges for Autodesk is that many of their users are familiar with 2D/3D CAD and basic CAD Vault data management, but they are less familiar with other important concepts of PLM, such as configuration mangement, structure management, classification mangement, DMU, and other PLM concepts that span the enterprise, like digital manufacturing. They will also need to raise the level of PLM understanding that currently exists within their partners who will ultimately sell this solution. So, what is to be done?

I believe the key to any PLM deployment is training. Before launching off into the PLM space, you and your team need to be trained about PLM. Training allows you to understand the importance and power of PLM to support innovation: not just product innovation, but process innovation as well. A company should always consider their business processes, industry, competitors, users, and company goals before choosing technology for PLM. If you choose technology first, automate out-dated, inefficient processes, and push information up to the cloud, that will not support innovation. Making process innovation changes that support the work you want your people to do first will allow the new technology included in the AutodekPLM360 solution to make a real difference in any business.

I know where to get PLM training, do you?


  1. Jim, GREAT post. I couldn’t agree more. The cloud only solves the IT provisioning problem (period). Yet so many people believe it is a cure-all, as I recently wrote about in an Aras blog post.

    We all agree that legacy enterprise PLM architectures are just too hard to work with. But the answer isn’t in the cloud or in moving the data center to another country. And it’s certainly not in ignoring the hard stuff. The answer lies in better PLM architectures. Advanced, modern software architectures address the cost and risk associated with PLM customization, as well as the pain of support/upgrades problem.

    The business of product innovation, design, manufacturing, sourcing, delivery and support is not simple. It was never simple. It will never be simple. In fact, it’s only going to get more complex. With advancements in technology, global pressures, competition, etc., the complexity and rate of change will continue to increase. Jim nailed it: the primary driver of complexity is configuration management. And we’re not just talking about 3D CAD files. Complexity comes from getting CM right for the entire lifecycle with the electronics, embedded software, contracts, requirements, specifications, supplier quotes, test plans, simulations, work instructions, packaging, pricing, documentation… This stuff is difficult.

    Do we wish that PLM processes and strategies could be deployed in 2 weeks? Sure. Many CEOs probably also wish engineering was not such a black box process -- "why can't they give me a new iPAD killer product every 2 weeks?". But it’s not and they can’t, and setting the wrong expectations (especially with the CFO) has the risk of leaving many manufacturing companies with no PLM strategy, a $75 budget and no chance of achieving any meaningful product lifecycle process improvements.

    Just my opinion, what do you think?

  2. Peter - Great comments! Glad there is someone out there who: 1) actually reads my blog, and 2) agrees with what I am saying. As more people get educated about PLM, we will have a much better chance of seeing more successful implementations; At least I will keep hoping!


  3. Jim you are not alone and I fully agree with your excellent post.

    Having seen many SmarTeam implementations in the past I have seen this topic of easy deployement before. Thanks to an easy customization environment (VB) people bought SmarTeam and started to implement without a global plan or vision. At the end the implementation was endless and a mess and the software was blamed.

    I am sure Autodesk PLM 360 is providing a more advanced configurable environment and by having it on the cloud you overcome IT-resource issues.

    But at the end it is about a company that needs to align and agree to work different in the way they worked before. And I would not trust any implementation where the company gives its destiny to the software. You need to have a vision where to go with your PLM practices.

    So your call for training, either through CIMdata or other PLM skilled consultancy offerings is key to my opinion. Unfortunate building a vision, PLM training and understanding is a human process which software vendors do not want to address.

    I understood Autodesk is now providing online PLM experts to answer all your questions. My first challenging question would be probably: How can we assure innovation with your software ?

    I have been slogan a lot by PLM marketing teams and I am currently investigating this topic and hope to publish my thoughts on PLM and Innovation in my next blog post.

    Final comment for Peter: When stating "We all agree ...till .. the answer lies in better PLM architectures" it is again introducing the misconception that PLM is an IT driven approach. It is about business change (my conclusion after 15 years)

    Thanks for raising the flag and you have at least two readers ;-)

  4. Jim, I think you're raising an important topic - how to educate people about PLM. At the same time, for most of the people in manufacturing companies, PLM is about how to design and manufacturing products. The question is how they will adopt tools that will help them to do so. Cloud in my view is about two things - data access simplification and decreasing of IT infra cost. Both factors are disruptive, btw.

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