SAP PLM: Outlook and Predictions

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This year, product lifecycle management (PLM) vendors have put many interesting initiatives on display to PLM buyers. These initiatives include the possibility of generating more synergies between enterprise search and PLM, more intuitive decision support in design and engineering, connectivity between direct modeling and history-based modeling in computer-aided design (CAD), social product development in the cloud, etc.

Although most of these initiatives need more time before we can really testify to their value—i.e., the execution of these visions is the challenge that vendors are facing—I believe the PLM industry is shifting from functionality-driven to vision-driven.

This makes sense, since users have by now learned that PLM adoption is not a one-time deal—besides what you can get from a PLM vendor right now, the solution's future evolution is also a critical factor to be considered. Of course you can always change your mind if you feel you have selected the wrong solution years after implementation, but switching from one PLM provider to another is usually quite painful and costly, and if your new selection is based solely on your current solutions’ capabilities, a happier engagement is not a given.

As such, most PLM vendors are not shy to show off their visions of the potential benefits they are planning to bring to the table. However, marketing-wise, I haven’t seen as much buzz around SAP PLM as I would have expected, during the past couple of years. After talking with the SAP PLM team at SAP Influencer Summit 2010 (December 7-8 in Santa Clara), I understand that this was probably due to SAP PLM’s conservative approach to marketing.

As I was told, SAP PLM has fully achieved what it planned to do (summarized as “enabling product and service leadership” and explained in the SAP PLM Roadmap presented in 2008). While waiting for an update to the product roadmap, I’d like to speculate on the future growth of SAP PLM based on my understanding.

PLM Analytics

Although in analyzing product definition data, we are not yet as skillful as in analyzing transactional data using business intelligence (BI) tools, I can see that PLM analytics are becoming increasingly important for product quality improvement, portfolio management, and development process optimization. When more PLM analytic capabilities are required from users, SAP PLM will become a more favorable solution—not only because of SAP’s possession of strong BI technologies, but also because analytics become more meaningful if we combine PLM data and data from other areas (e.g., inventory, shop-floor operations, sales and marketing) together, as I mentioned in Product, Project, Process, and People: The Four Ps of PLM Analytics.

Sustainability from a PLM Perspective

As I see it, SAP is one of the most advanced enterprise software vendors in providing solutions for sustainability. I tried twice to take a look at how enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors were getting involved in sustainability—first in 2008 [read the blog post], and second in 2009 [read the blog post]. SAP came to the top both times. Of course what I used was not a scientific research approach, but I do think it more or less reflects some state of the market of sustainability.

SAP’s strengths in sustainability will become a significant differentiator for SAP PLM. For example, by connecting to SAP Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS), SAP PLM’s capability in design for compliance can be conveniently enabled. With time, I believe more sustainability enablers will be tied into SAP’s PLM offerings.

Going after the Fashion Industry

While many PLM vendors are working diligently to pursue market share in the fashion industry, SAP PLM doesn’t seem to have much to do with it thus far. Personally, I think fashion is an ideal industry for SAP PLM to go after. The current market situation is that PLM for the fashion industry strongly requires combined sourcing and supply chain collaboration capabilities, which should be SAP's strength. As fashion is a relatively new area for PLM, the market is quite fragmented in terms of solution providers. That said, it’s perhaps not too late for SAP PLM to become more “fashionable.”

Among the three points discussed above, the first two look quite obvious to me, but the third may be a risky bet. Although it sounds logical for SAP PLM to expand to the fashion industry, there is still a lot of development work to be done. If SAP makes a “go” decision, which seems unlikely at the moment but is what I hope to see, will its fashion PLM offering be developed in-house or acquired by buying an existing fashion PLM player? Well, we'll have to bet on those horses when we see them.
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