Enhances PDM Software (Slightly)
Jakovljevic - March 20th,
In February SAP AG announced an expanded version of an application that
lets manufacturers collect and manage databases of information about the
products they make. SAP's announcement continues a trend that started
last year among vendors of product data management (PDM) software.
confined to engineering departments that wanted to keep track of their
product designs, PDM applications are now being reinvented as Web-based
systems that can be used by a wide range of internal and external end
users to check on products, from the development stage through manufacturing
and use by customers. For example, SAP's new Product Lifecycle Management
(PLM) software includes links to its business planning and product configuration
applications, plus a set of Web-based tools that can be used to work collaboratively
on product plans and changes with customers and suppliers.
Arabian Oil Co. (Saudi Aramco) is one of the first companies that signed
on to use the new software. "The oil producer plans to turn on the beefed-up
PDM applications late next year as part of a wider rollout of SAP's R/3
enterprise resource planning system", said Guy Pengelly, the lead designer
on the logistics piece of the Saudi Aramco project. "The collaboration
tools that SAP is now providing should make it much easier to gather and
maintain data about the equipment used in Saudi Aramco's refineries",
Pengelly said. That information, which manufacturers now send in on floppy
disks that have to be loaded into a homegrown mainframe application, is
vital to keeping the refineries open. "Without that data, it's very hard
for us to maintain our equipment, and maintenance is really our business,"
Pengelly said. "In order to sell oil, we have to have plants that run."
Management Ltd., a Switzerland-based maker of elevators and escalators
that already uses an earlier version of SAP's PDM software, plans to upgrade
to the more advanced version in May 2001. Edwin Ming, a senior PDM engineer
at Schindler, said the company had to develop its own Web-based user interface
when the SAP software was installed in late 1998 for use within its sales,
engineering and manufacturing operations. "Having an SAP-developed Web
browser will free Schindler from the need to upgrade and maintain its
own code", Ming said. "And the new collaboration tools should make it
more viable to open up the PDM system to external suppliers", he added.
But the company still needs to work with external users to figure out
exactly what kind of data they should see and how it can be safeguarded,
Contrary to its CRM and SCM initiatives, SAP was one the first ERP vendors
to recognize the need and tackle development of its own PDM functionality.
The product lifecycle management (PLM) is a natural extension of the earlier
SAP PDM module.
PLM is envisioned as an integrated business application within mySAP.com
for managing the complete product life cycle of the extended supply chain,
from design and production through sales and maintenance. It enables fast,
reliable collaboration for product design, manufacturing, and service
within an enterprise and with external trading partners. Companies will
benefit by achieving greater control and accuracy over the product life
cycle, bringing products to market faster, and improving product designs
to better satisfy customer needs. The product brings benefits particularly
to companies in highly engineering-involving industries (e.g., petroleum
& chemicals, aviation & defense, etc.) where SAP has a large foothold.
we do not believe that the latest product exhibits any significantly new
functionality besides being a Web-enabled version, we endorse SAP's holistic
approach to integrate PLM, SCM, and CRM products, and this is a step in
the right direction. We also acknowledge a painstaking effort and significant
amount of time required to accomplish that integration. As also admitted
by the company's official during one analyst briefing, this is still a
'pie in the sky'. Nevertheless, the new software puts SAP in the same
Web-based collaboration and product life-cycle management league with
specialist PDM vendors such as Parametric Technology Corp. in Waltham,
MA, and Structural Dynamics Research Corp. in Milford, OH.
We believe that SAP is slowly moving in the right direction, and has huge
financial, sales and personnel resources to throw at the problem. Nevertheless,
users are advised to consider both product maturity and functionality
in their evaluations and make comparisons to competitive offerings. Existing
SAP users will have to decide between brand loyalty (which means waiting
until at least the end of this year for the GA product release, with possibly
sub-optimal functionality) and considering already available and fully
functional products from niche vendors, however, with the inevitable interface