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Is MAPICS Getting the Magic of PLM? Part Three: Challenges and User Recommendations

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: July 22 2004

How Magik! Fits with MAPICS

For over two years or so, MAPICS, Inc. (NASDAQ: MAPX), possibly the largest global solution provider of extended enterprise applications for discrete manufacturers after acquiring its former competitor Frontstep (see MAPICS to Leap Forward in a Frontstep Way), has shown both signs of significant changes and a persist number of historically recognizable and invariant tenets of operation. During the same time, the vendor has continued with the painstaking process of producing and executing a strategy going forward that would pragmatically blend the company's traditional values and success factors with new approaches to stay in tune with market trends.

To that end, on May 5, MAPICS announced it recently acquired the MAGIK! Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution, from its longstanding partner—Ceimis Enterprises of Laguna Hills, California (US). This former strategic extension solution has purportedly been well received by a number of MAPICS customers and is already integrated with the MAPICS ERP for iSeries product.

Ceimis has had another approach to PLM, which is to leave existing product development management (PDM) systems in place and overlay a workflow management tool to extract data, manage it in a forms-based environment, and disseminate it to users across different functional groups touching the new product development and introduction (NPDI) process. MAGIK! PLM was designed to take data from various systems and thus provide a mechanism for sharing all the computer aided design (CAD) drawings, non-CAD graphics, quality data, etc.), format it into an easily understandable presentation, and let users make changes, which then update the source system. This process helps companies to manage product development and change and helps to communicate data for planning and prioritization—all with a web-based and highly flexible workflow management tool, referred to as "Flex Forms," and the relative ease of creating data tables on the fly for reporting purposes. The product gives manufacturers capabilities to more effectively design, make, deliver, and support products through PDM, multimedia attachment capabilities, integrated workflow and inquiry tools.

Mid-market manufacturers, which have been overwhelmed by the huge scope and complexity of still evolving PLM concept, are focusing on taking incremental steps to adopt PLM (see The PLM Program - An Incremental Approach to the Strategic Value of PLM). For that reason, manufacturing companies that use MAPICS ERP offerings that want to take an initial step into PLM might want to start initially from enabling design collaboration during the NPDI process, where an urgent need for a PLM solution might be felt. The messages of enabling transition of new product design to new product introduction by providing quality parameters, scrap analysis, and manufacturing process information in an iterative approach to refine a product's design for manufacturing characteristics, as the first manageable PLM initiatives, should strike chord with the risk-averse target market (see Can ERP Speak PLM?).

The PLM market, however, covers a wide range of above-mentioned, previously unrelated software applications and the suites offered from different vendors can vary dramatically. Applications include CAD files management and CAD Integrations, product portfolio management, project management, customer needs/feedback management, resource management, strategic sourcing/approved vendors list management, design collaboration, 2D and 3D visualization, change management & quality assurance, and others in addition to traditional engineering applications like PDM, computer aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer aided engineering (CAE).

In other words, the PLM market is still in its infancy compared to enterprise resource planning (ERP), and therefore, no vendor provides all of the required solutions for a full PLM initiative at this stage, and almost all more complete PLM solutions will involve best of breed components. Due to the number of earlier stipulated components that are used to deliver a PLM solution, there is still a plethora of niche providers that offer compelling products yet fail to deliver the breadth of solutions required and sustainable to customer bases. The acquisition of MAGIK! might further confirm the trend of a dubious stand-alone future for PLM niche providers that fail to differentiate their value to the market, as also illustrated in the last year shopping spree of Agile Software (see Has Consolidation Made the PLM Market More Agile? ).

MAPICS thereby joins the mass of ERP vendors that are making their way into the PLM market by bundling or partnering strategically to embed PLM functions within their suites. Namely, some enterprise application vendors like Oracle, SAP, IFS, SSA Global, Epicor, etc. have been adding some of the above PLM capability into their products, in addition to the likes of PeopleSoft and QAD still filling their gaps through partnerships, with Agile and Arena Solutions respectively.

This is Part Three of a three-part note.

Part One detailed recent events and began a discussion of the market impact.

Part Two continued the discussion of the market impact.

Challenges

Still, one should note that the MAPICS PLM solution (or however it might be re-branded in the future) will not have an all-encompassing functional footprint. Furthermore, most PLM vendors focus on specific vertical industries, and their solutions have been developed to solve the specific needs of those industries (e.g., consumer goods companies focus on maintaining and extending the value and variety of merchandize brands; pharmaceuticals and life sciences are concerned with ensuring regulatory compliance and patent protection; high-tech and fashion verticals focus on shorter time-to-market, manufacturing speed and change management; and automotive suppliers care mostly about effectively managing the complex supply chain). As a general rule, the closer the PLM solution gets to the design and production of the product itself and the more complicated the product, the more industry focus will play a role (see PLM Is an Industry Affair—Or Is It?).

At this stage, it is somewhat apparent that MAPICS will not focus initially on providing industry-specific PLM solutions, but rather it will focus on off-the-shelf generic workflow collaborative capabilities. While this may be good enough for many existing MAPICS' customers, some, like aviation and defense or automotive manufacturers might be left wanting more CAD/CAM/CAE functionality that focuses on geometric design and control. This is where MAGIK! does not exactly excel. The converse reality is that a high percentage of these manufacturers have never connected their engineering data to their ERP system.

Also, while the idea to enable the product development team at MAPICS to gain economies of scale by building common application components as commodities that can be deployed within the entire product portfolio is tempting and promising in the long run, at this stage, we are not aware of the MAGIK! PLM's availability to other product lines beside ERP for iSeries and MAPICS should swiftly clarify its when and how. This is especially important given the fact that at the same time MAPICS is integrating MAGIK! PLM into the business, it does not appear to have completed its acquisition strategy, since the vendor touts it is likely acquire additional products to expand its product footprint and gain access to new industry verticals. Absorbing the current and future acquisitions will require strong vision, leadership, and execution or it will result in a company with a suite of somewhat uncomplimentary business and products.

User Recommendations

Small and medium size manufacturing businesses using MAPICS back-office applications that have the need to connect their engineering and manufacturing or supply chain departments, and have new product development and introduction concerns, should react positively to this announcement. The existing MAGIK! PLM users should be assured of their investment's viability; while MAPICS will likely gladly oblige the ongoing support and service for non-MAPICS MAGIK! PLM users, clarifying this with a new owner can never hurt. They should approach MAPICS to clarify its current skills to support their short- and long-term PLM initiatives, and to clarify the product roadmap.

Prospective MAPICS users should evaluate the above potential inexpensive PLM collaborative functional enhancements as a way to add value to their existing applications although bearing in mind that some other PLM vendors might currently offer more functional and appropriate products for their business at this stage. These prospective customers should consider adding the announced functionality to their requirements list, as to secure value in terms of both potential cost savings and increased efficiency. For a more complete discussion of how to select a PLM vendor, go to Selecting a PLM Vendor.

MAPICS remains a stable company, with a strong financial position, a depth of manufacturing knowledge, a strong customer service record, and a developed affiliate channel, which has also broadened its product offering. Thus, the prospective customers in MAPICS' focus industries (such as fabricated metal products; industrial/commercial machinery and computer equipment; electrical equipment and components; transportation equipment; and measurement, analyzing and control instruments and related products) should consider evaluating MAPICS, given its understanding of manufacturer's business problems, its excellent track record of customer service, and its set of solutions for discrete manufacturing companies with revenues in the range $20 to over $1 billion (USD) which consist of independent companies and divisions, sites, and subsidiaries of larger companies.

Combined respective MAPICS and Frontstep customers and partners should be encouraged by the progress of Frontstep's assimilation. Still, users will benefit from approaching MAPICS and informing themselves about what the company plans for future service and support (or discontinuation or product stabilization) of its individual products are, and what would the ramifications of migrating (or not) to its new product offering be. Existing users of iSeries, Oracle, and Progress database-based products as well as of former Frontstep's non-mainstream products (SyteCentre and SyteDistribution) would benefit the most from doing so.

Detailed information about MAPICS ERP for iSeries and MAPICS SyteLine ERP Release 7 is contained in the ERP Evaluation Center at http://www.erpevaluation.com/.

About the Authors

Predrag Jakovljevic is a research director with TechnologyEvaluation.com (TEC), with a focus on the enterprise applications market. He has over fifteen years of manufacturing industry experience, including several years as a power user of IT/ERP, as well as being a consultant/implementer and market analyst. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and he has also been certified in production and inventory management (CPIM) and in integrated resources management (CIRM) by APICS.

Jim Brown has over fifteen years of experience in management consulting and application software focused on the manufacturing industries. He is a recognized expert in software solutions for manufacturers and has broad experience in applying enterprise applications such as product lifecycle management, supply chain management, ERP, and customer relationship management to improve business performance. Brown began his professional experience at General Electric before joining Andersen Consulting (Accenture), and subsequently served as an executive for software companies specializing in PLM and process manufacturing solutions. He is a frequent author and speaker on applying software technology to achieve tangible business benefits. Brown can be reached at jim.brown@tech-clarity.com.

 
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