Home
 > Research and Reports > TEC Blog > The Best-kept Secret in the Product Lifecycle Management ...

The Best-kept Secret in the Product Lifecycle Management Mid-market

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: February 20 2009

In the past decade or so of our coverage of numerous topics in the enterprise applications space, every now and then, we come across a vendor whose value proposition, product offering, and install base deserve much more credit and awareness than IT pundits acknowledge. One example of this is privately-funded Omnify Software, the Andover, Massachusetts, (US)-based provider of product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions. The vendor’s product content management solutions have helped over 200 original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and tier two and tier three electronic manufacturing services (EMS) providers shorten development cycles, accelerate product innovation, and improve profitability.

Most of Omnify’s customers are companies with less than $500 million (USD) in revenues. Some are even pre-revenue startups, with the Omnify Empower PLM suite being their very first system of record, given they have no need for a transactional back-office system yet. Given that the vendor’s solution currently supports only English, the Omnify’s primary geographic markets are North America and Europe (specifically the United Kingdom and the Nordic region), with the industries served being electronics, mechanical, medical devices, and defense.

Omnify’s PLM modules have been successfully deployed with over 1,000 installed individual user licenses (in a floating, concurrent user licensing manner) within various businesses, helping them to more efficiently develop products, including wireless network platforms, soft-switch gateways, enterprise border controllers, advanced voice services platforms, aerospace navigation and control systems, digital and sonar imaging products, patient monitoring technology, and semiconductor equipment. As mentioned, Omnify customers encompass an array of business types, from start-ups such as Pacific Biosciences, Rivulet Communications, Still River Systems, and Wavestream to well-established corporations that include L3 Communications, Astronics, Acme Packet, and Cynosure.

Besides its headquarters in Andover, Omnify has offices on the US East and West Coasts. In addition to providing direct sales, consulting, and support services, Omnify Software has established a network of partners to deliver its PLM solutions as business ready. Currently, the vendor has 10 value-added resellers (VARs), which cover the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Nordic countries, which have the expertise and experience to help plan, install, and support the Omnify PLM solutions. Omnify assigns a channel sales representative to each reseller group, which, together with the direct sales force, adds up to over 100 sales and applications support personnel.

Omnify Software Genesis

Omnify Software evolved from Trilogic, Inc., the largest electronic design automation (EDA) VAR in the United States, and still a major Omnify reseller. In 1998, after many years of consulting with customers to help them create or define board-level design process flows and component information databases, Trilogic began to develop the Omnify Tool Suite. The result is today’s PLM system, which addresses the needs of companies seeking to improve their overall concept-to-design-to-manufacturing process.

The origin of Omnify technology is a universal bill of material (BOM) system developed in 1998 by the Omnify founders, and which is still in use by numerous OEMs today. OmniBOM is Omnify's BOM creation and processing tool for creating, editing and processing BOMs. With OmniBOM, users can import BOMs generated in other systems or formats (such as computer-aided design [CAD] and computer-aided engineering [CAE]), normalize, check, and analyze the data; and then automatically feed BOMs directly to other systems such as ERP/MRP or any downstream tool to easily integrate engineering BOMs with manufacturing systems.

According to one case study, OmniBOM provides a clear, concise view of all the changes to the initial BOM, and BOM comparisons are used to catch changes in the BOM from the customer, down to a single-digit change in the manufacturing part number. OmniBOM is lauded, by one customer, as its “most valued daily-use documentation tools [which also] ... enhances documentation communication with [its] customers ....” (For more commentary, visit http://www.omnifysoft.com/customers/Omnify-IMS-PLM-SuccessStory.pdf)

In any case, the PLM technology development began at Omnify in 2000 in earnest. In September of 2001, the Omnify product suite came to fruition with its first beta customer installations, while first customer shipments of the PLM system began in early 2002. Omnify Software was later incorporated in October of 2002. The solid electronic design and manufacturing process knowledge, and customer service-oriented background of the Omnify founders has given the company both a strong sensitivity to customer needs and a deep knowledge of what it takes to integrate engineering concepts, data management, and business systems.

Reflecting this customer-oriented philosophy, the company remains focused on allowing its customers to have a direct impact on the direction of the Omnify technology, ensuring a solution that truly meets their customers’ specific product development needs. To maintain this strategy, which has been in place since the company’s inception, Omnify technology provides an open-architecture PLM system that gives direct access for all groups involved in design and manufacturing processes and allows relatively easy integration to existing engineering and manufacturing systems.

Fast forward to early 2008 when Omnify Software announced exceptionally strong year-end results for 2007, exceeding revenue goals, increasing sales by 30 percent over 2006, and remaining profitable for another year. Omnify has reported steady growth, year after year, as the company continues to deliver comprehensive PLM solutions. The launch of Omnify's next-generation PLM solution, Empower PLM, was reportedly a key factor in the company's 2007 success.

Omnify recently transitioned its PLM technology platform to Microsoft .NET Framework in order to leverage advanced technology that provides a faster and more secure environment. The Framework enhances Omnify's existing open platform for third-party integrations and offers easier customization of user interfaces (UIs) and reports through Web services. This further supports Omnify's commitment to delivering a system that is easy to implement without disrupting existing processes.

While the product suite will be detailed shortly, for now, it suffices to highlight that project management, quality and corrective and preventive action (CAPA) management, and training record management are a few of the key new features or modules in Empower PLM. This new functionality has extended the capabilities of the system beyond traditional PLM to give users direct access to important product data that is often managed in separate systems. Empower PLM thus provides a mechanism to capture design, manufacturing, quality, service, and customer information and tie it back to the product record all within a single environment.

PLM’s Value Proposition, Revisited

Due to constantly changing product content information and shrinking product life cycles, electronics OEM and EMS providers need to enhance communications throughout the design-to-manufacturing process. Omnify Software offers a solution that streamlines the flow of product information among the design environment, both within the enterprise and its supply chain.

The drivers behind Omnify’s existence start with the typical (and yet unfortunate) disconnect between the engineering and manufacturing departments, where manufacturing is not aware of new product releases and revisions, while engineering is unaware of design issues impacting manufacturing and procurement processes. To make things worst, the traditional manual or paper-based processes mean no automated part request process and no electronic engineering change order (ECO) processing. As a result, everyone relies on ineffective (if not even counter-productive) means, like e-mails, faxes or phone calls, and spreadsheets to correct problems.

Last but not least, enterprise systems are still not integrated across all disciplines, so islands of information still exist. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems do not contain enough product data and are difficult to integrate into engineering tools. In other words, due to the inherent transactional purpose of an ERP system, most do not contain the detailed information that engineers need to drive design, including part specifications, design and test notes, and vendor-supplied documentation. In addition, ERP systems typically do not provide the security or capability to enable external manufacturing or supplying partners with direct access to product data or the ability to participate in development processes (for more information, see Can ERP Speak PLM?).

With no enabling technology to collaborate with external resources, the engineering department usually has no system to help manage “pre-release” product data. To that end, the PLM software enables companies to manage and support all the information surrounding their various products and parts—from the initial idea and subsequent design and engineering diagrams via BOMs, manufacturing documents, sourcing details, and maintenance data to product discontinuation, in other words, a “cradle to grave” cycle).

As its name suggests, PLM software was designed to manage product data throughout the entire product lifecycle, but is crucial during the design phase, where engineers need instant access to product data, including specifications, engineering parameters, and documentation. A sound PLM system centralizes all of this information for easy access by all team members by tracking and managing component data, BOMs, product documentation, engineering changes, and revisions, as well as compliance data. PLM systems should also offer the flexibility to support the many iterations of a design before it reaches the prototype and manufacturing phases.

A contemporary PLM system is composed of several elements, including foundational integration technologies like extensible markup language (XML)-based Web services (see Understanding SOA, Web Services, BPM, BPEL, and More) or more traditional enterprise application integration (EAI) tools. Its core functions typically entail data vaults; document and content management; workflow and program (portfolio) management; and information authoring tools and functional applications (see Critical Components of an E-PLM System).

The various sets of these PLM systems’ highly configurable software modules should be easily integrated with underlying engineering, design, and product data systems. Smaller companies often start with basic PDM to provide broader access and reliable documentation, but once the data is under control, more sophisticated workflow, collaborative design, and project portfolio management (PPM) or program management might follow (see The Many Faces of PLM).

Thus, one of the key components of a PLM system is that it provides an automated change management facility that allows dispersed team members to electronically propose product changes (so-called “redlines”) to BOMs, documents, and vendor or supplier information. By leveraging a workflow engine, these changes are then automatically routed to the appropriate resources for electronic signatures, and once all constituents have approved the change, the PLM system automatically updates the affected products with the suggested changes and then provides the updated information to the ERP system.

An electronic change process eliminates manual data entry errors, streamlines routing, and allows all involved resources to view and sign changes simultaneously. All of these factors should result in a significant time and errors reduction in the ECO process. Automating product design processes can enhance overall product development by shortening cycle times for engineering changes and new-part requests. It also improves data integrity by eliminating human error from hand-entering and re-keying data. By enabling data to be shared between engineering and manufacturing staff, an automated system ensures that all product data is accurate, by creating a single version of the truth.

Several macroeconomic trends seem to be helping the PLM market, starting with the rampant offshoring of facilities and the expansion of outsourcing and contract manufacturing overseas (see Global Product Development Seen as a Boon for Product Lifecycle Management Vendors). There are also escalating mergers and acquisitions (M&As) within multiple business sectors and the inexorable spate of regulatory and compliance mandates within many industries and geographic regions (see Thou Shalt Comply [and More], or Else). This dovetails into the relentless pressure to innovate and bring ever more functional (and even “cool”) products, that have shorter life cycles, more quickly to the market. This is the key differentiator, especially in the electronics and consumer packaged goods (CPG) sectors.

What distinguishes PLM from ERP is a tight focus on products rather than transactional business operations, respectively. Namely, PLM software is designed to handle the swiftly changing, unstructured data associated with product design, while ERP manages highly structural financial or inventory transactional data. What PLM software brings to the enterprise is the chance to enable company- and supply chain-wide collaboration to create whatever products are in play, by providing marketing, production, sales, services, and even external suppliers, with increased visibility and early engagement in product development decision-making.

In fact, a recent benchmark research report by Aberdeen Group indicated that best-in-class companies are at least twice as likely as industry average companies to capture and reuse product development knowledge; to have formalized change processes within design engineering; to integrate their product development data into their business processes; to have centralized their product data; and to have developed formal metrics to measure their product development process.

Enter Omnify Empower PLM

To fulfill these requirements, in mid-2007 Omnify Software announced Omnify Empower, its latest PLM solution based on the Microsoft .NET Framework (see Subtle [or Not-so-subtle] Nuances of Microsoft .NET Enablement). Omnify Empower leverages Web services to deliver the next level of open architecture for easier data sharing and customization of UIs and reports. The ability to tailor UIs creates a more familiar environment for users, assuring a simple transition from legacy practices, while custom reporting offers high-level views of key development data and key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify trends and issues early in the development cycle.

 New functionality, such as Project Management, Quality Management, and Training Records Management extends the capability of the system to capture manufacturing, quality, and customer information, and tie it back to the product record. These capabilities also aim at further improving visibility into all aspects of product development for manufacturers and extending the current capabilities of the PLM solution to support better design practices, improve product quality, and shorten development cycles. As described in Omnify’s brochure, the product has key new modules and enhancements, including the following:

  • Project Management Module. Automates the management of tasks and project schedules for a more accurate view of project progress and completion. The module also offers the Automated Tasks feature that allows external and system actions to automatically update project progress. Capturing all product and program data in Empower offers executive views for more accurate prediction of deliverables, and analysis features facilitate recognition of common problems that impact deadline-sensitive development activities.
  • Quality Management Module. Automates capturing and routing of data related to product issues and defects (e.g., corrective action request [CAR], nonconforming material request [NCMR], supplier corrective action request [SCAR], field complaints, etc.) in a closed-loop CAPA system. This ability provides a mechanism to identify, classify and resolve quality issues. The system's Resolution Tasks feature help manufacturers identify the resources and actions required for closure on issues.
  • Training Management Module. Tracks and documents all internal and external training, and provides a facility to associate required training or testing directly with events, such as new product launches, implementation of product changes, and internal process changes. The module assures regulatory compliance for manufacturers and, when combined with Quality Management, fulfills the specific needs of medical manufacturers required to meet the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 820, Quality System Regulation.

For more information, visit, http://www.omnifysoft.com/Omnify-PLM-Product-Brochure.pdf.

Additional enhancements included increased system performance, improved reporting, and extended vendor data and service objects management. A new Help Desk feature supports multiple formats including video, hypertext markup language (HTML), portable data files (PDFs), among others and allows users to incorporate their own help and guidance to ensure adherence to corporate guidelines.

As previously explained, a floating license model with concurrent user access licenses starts at an agreeable $1,000 (USD) in a tiered pricing manner, depending on the product offering. Term and perpetual licensing models are also available and will affect the price. In addition to the aforementioned OmniBOM product, the available PLM product offerings (see the product overview at http://www.omnifysoft.com/products/Default.aspx) start with the Engineering Suite that includes the Component Data Management, Document Management and Engineering Tools, and ERP/PLM Integration capabilities. Then comes the BOM Management Suite, a middle-range product that includes the Engineering Suite, plus the BOM Management module. Finally, the Enterprise Suite, logically, contains the BOM Management Suite, plus the Change/ECO Management module.

In summary, the upper range Enterprise PLM Suite offers Product Record Management, BOM Management, Documentation Management, Engineering Change Management, Project Management, Quality Management, Training Record Management, and Support for Quality Standards and Regulatory Requirements. From the aspect of automated business process flows, the suite enables new part requests (NPR), change or engineer change orders (ECO), routing, closed-loop CAPA, and ERP system uploads and updates.

Security and collaboration

It is, however, important to note that Omnify’s PLM product suite furnishes a single, secure environment for sharing product data among design groups and throughout the extended enterprise. Indeed, a customary concern about PLM is that many of the applications are inherently Web-based, which can then open the door to security breaches if these applications haven't been proofed for vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting, structured query language (SQL) injections, or cookie tampering.

Omnify’s Web-based architecture promotes secure collaboration with disparate design and manufacturing teams, whereby local area network (LAN) clients are intended for internal groups and users within the firewall (such as, engineering, operations, printed circuit board [PCB] design, etc.). On the other hand, via Web clients, the architecture provides a direct database connection for “external” (outside the firewall) team members, like design service bureaus, remote sites, and contract manufacturers. Based on authorization and authentication profiles, full user-level permissions control item views, BOMs, documents, and field data.

This enables a single environment for all parties to share information, so they are “on the same page” and for all team members to be automatically notified of new products, changes, revisions, configurations, etc. As a result, the all too common “built to the incorrect revision” issues can be eliminated.

Bridging the Integration Gap

Since its inception, Omnify’s philosophy has been to help customers create an integrated environment and make product data accessible to distributed product development teams. This is evident in its open integration technology platform and functionality that allows customers to associate all aspects of product development data to a single product record.

As this is absolutely necessary, Empower provides a single location for all members of the design and manufacturing teams to share essential information for designing, manufacturing, and supporting products. The system is designed to manage all product content information, such as BOMs, component attributes, design drawings, datasheets, and vendor (manufacturers and suppliers) information. It facilitates requests, tracking, and executes changes on product information and supplies electronic processing with new part requests and ECOs, with the aim of improving communication and eliminating redundant data entry.

Omnify uses a web-enabled technology designed to integrate with a customer's existing design and manufacturing systems, and with external design and manufacturing partners via the Internet. The idea here is to provide the benefits of PLM, while minimizing disruption to current processes and leveraging existing IT assets. For instance, Omnify provides direct connections to Mentor Graphics’ DXDataBook and Cadence’s OrCad Component Information System (CIS) for electrical engineering component search-and-selection tasks.

For a long time, Omnify integrated with existing enterprise tools via a flexible, language neutral programming environment with triggering and reporting capabilities that came standard with the product. However, the latest product release features industry standard communication protocols, multitiered technology options and, emerging technology focus. In other words, Omnify’s application programming interface (API) supports standard database protocols, such as open database connectivity (ODBC), Microsoft ActiveX Data Objects (ADO), and SQL views and procedures. There is also support for XML- and simple object access protocol (SOAP)-based .NET Web services (which can also be hosted, if necessary), and for standard programming languages like C++, Microsoft C#, Visual Basic (VB), and Java.

The platform enables integration with existing engineering and manufacturing systems via bi-directional data sharing and synchronization. Empower PLM integrates into an organization's existing environment offering bi-directional interfaces with a plethora of design (computer-aided design [CAD], computer-aided engineering [CAE], content management) and manufacturing (ERP or supply chain management [SCM]) systems, such as Mentor, Altium, Cadence, SolidWorks, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), Oracle, SAP, Consona, Sage Software, NetSuite, Infor, Epicor Software, Expandable Software, etc.

In that regard, Empower should house data, such as part data or specifications, BOMs, changes or ECOs, documentation, approved vendors list (AVL) or approved manufacturers list (AML), change history, where used, and so on. Engineering systems, on the other hand, provide data like schematics, attributes, printed circuit board (PCB) design, mechanical design, documents, datasheets, etc., while ERP systems cater the information on accounting, sales orders, inventory, purchase orders (PO), costs, lead times, status, suppliers, etc. While all these individual enterprise systems may bring unique value to their operations, only when combined do they provide a streamlined, collaborative environment that bridges the gap between manufacturing and engineering.

In late 2007, Consona ERP and Omnify announced a formal technology partnership. The companies, which were previously honored with a START-IT Power of Partnerships award based on the success of mutual customers, then solidified their relationship with a formal ERP-PLM alliance, as well as shared sales, services, and support for both existing and future customers. The partnership was seen as a natural fit due to the companies’ common technology platforms, target market, and success of mutual customers.

The integration between the Intuitive ERP and Omnify PLM solution allows small and midsize manufacturers to share and synchronize engineering and manufacturing data through an automated process. As part of the formal partnership, a PLM integration has also been developed for Consona ERP's other flagship software application, Made2Manage ERP, whose customer base is seeing the very same benefits that Intuitive users have seen, including reduced data duplication, faster product development life cycles, and an improved go-to-market process.

Generally speaking, potential benefits from Omnify’s open platform may come from providing multiple system integration options for any existing enterprise system (built to older or newer technology standards), while no third-party software or application program interface (API) and software development kit (SDK) licensing is required.

Listening to the Voice of Customers

In addition to the platform’s openness and direct data sharing with engineering and business systems (with no technology displacement required), Omnify believes that its technology is focused on the needs of mid-sized enterprises, thereby often competing with Agile Software (now part of Oracle), UGS (now part of Siemens), and MatrixOne (now part of Dassault Systemes). However, the appetizing price point and lower total cost of ownership (TCO) enables Omnify to work with small enterprises (and compete with Arena Solutions) on one hand, while the scalable technology allows it to provide solutions to large enterprises (and face off with PTC or Dasaualt Systemes’ Smarteam) on the other hand.

Given no venture capital (VC) and associated pressures, Omnify cites competitive advantages, including healthy organic growth and profitability since 2002, which allows the vendor to continue to let its customers drive the product direction rather than outside investors. Omnify prides itself on being a true partner with its customers, and for striving for the technology that addresses their needs “out of the box.” We could, in fact, say that Omnify has nearly 100 percent customer satisfaction, since the only time it has ever lost a customer was when the customer dissolved. The vendor even had a recent case of a customer not only keeping its PLM solution, but also upgrading to the new Empower system, even though the customer was purchased by a larger company whose multiple locations were all on another, better-known PLM system.

In late 2007, Omnify announced the results of its annual customer survey, which polled more than 100 Omnify customers, both new and legacy, in order to research and evaluate common product development challenges before and after their PLM implementation. The vendor reported that approximately 91 percent of respondents indicated they were able to overcome product development challenges using PLM software.

The following is an excerpt from Omnify’s press release:

Survey results showed that there is a significant need among manufacturers for more efficient engineering change, BOM, and component management, as well as ease when communicating product information to various departments. The survey confirmed that customers were able to resolve these product development challenges by implementing a PLM solution and were pleased with how they were able to streamline their operations and develop products much easier and faster.

Prior to implementing a PLM solution, the majority of respondents reported that managing product information in different locations and outgrowing Microsoft Excel or homegrown solutions were key issues. These practices could not support the growing amounts of data involved in designing and manufacturing a product. Employing PLM technology was a strategic initiative to create more efficient product design and development processes by managing product data in a single, secure location, and eliminating silos of information throughout the enterprise.

Ease of implementation and depth of capabilities, followed by ease of use, remain key factors when selecting a PLM system. According to the survey, customers selected Omnify over other PLM vendors mainly for the ease of implementation and use as well as its rich PLM feature set. The solution from Omnify allows customers to be trained and implemented within days due to its intuitive user interface (UI) and open technology platform.

(Source: PLM Survey Results Show a Need for More Efficient Engineering Change, Bill of Material, and Compliance Management.)

Indeed, Omnify is one of those rare software companies that quietly offers customers the best choice for functionality within a reasonable budget. Some customers are even gushing about how much they have been able to accomplish at a mere fraction of the cost of other PLM systems. They regard Omnify as accurate, reliable, dependable, and loyal to its customers, and genuine regarding the vendor claims ease of use (minimal customer resource requirements) and ease of implementation (rapid deployment, measured often in days).

Some customers tout achieving a rapid return on investment (ROI) in terms of a speedier time-to-market (product development times reduced by over 50 percent), increased product innovation (engineering cycle times reduced by over 50 percent) and improved product quality (product return rates cut in half). Now, other PLM vendors’ customers might cite similar stats and help with maintaining their competitive edge, but at much higher investment levels (such as, time, money, and human resources).

Compliance Savvy

The survey also uncovered that today, the most common market trend manufacturers are seeing the need to meet diverse compliance requirements such as Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and International Standards Organization (ISO). Respondents reported that they feel Omnify is in a strong position to support these trends with the system's ability to manage detailed product data, track change history, handle quality and CAPA information, and its strong reporting capabilities. Over 82 percent of customers stated that they are currently using or plan to use Omnify to manage their compliance processes.

In fact, Omnify has long been helping electronics manufacturing companies that do business globally, ensure their operations are RoHS compliant before and since the 2006 deadline imposed by European Union (EU) countries (see "Evergreen"—Environmental Regulations for High-tech and Electronics, Chemical, and Oil and Gas Industries). The RoHS directive applies to electrical and electronic products and their component parts and mandates a reduction in the amount of hazardous materials used in these products. It impacts the entire business strategy for manufacturers—from design and development to final output.

Omnify PLM supports companies with a solution that provides a means of identifying the complete material composition of a part. It can easily classify compliant and non-compliant parts, provide search and reporting features, and perform analysis at any level of a product's structure. The product also allows manufacturers to store all material declarations or certificates of compliance from suppliers. Among the companies that are using Omnify Software for compliance objectives are LuminentOIC (now Source Photonics), Crystal Technology, and Cognex.

In early 2006, EMA Design Automation, a full-service provider of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) solutions, integrated the Omnify product content and change management software into the EMA’s engineering data management (EDM) environment making its adherence to RoHS and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) compliance directives even easier. (For more information, see Off-loading Some Green Compliance Burdens: Can Enterprise Applications Meet the Challenge?)

Integrating Omnify into EMA’s EDM solution has provided the five key capabilities that bolstered the VAR’s compliance-by-design philosophy, which is described in the following excerpt from EMA’s press release:

  1. Configuration Management. OEMs need to manage data related to all aspects of their products including electrical, mechanical, and software or firmware items. Due to the level of change and product configurability associated with RoHS compliance, companies need to be able to access and control revisions to all items throughout the entire product structure. EMA's EDM solution now encompasses managing data and controlling revision levels on the customer's entire product.
  2. BOM Management. The RoHS and WEEE requirements affect the entire product. The BOM management function manages all revisions and understands the life cycle of a BOM. Since the BOM items link directly to active part data, customers can analyze and generate compliance reports from any level or from any version of their BOMs.
  3. Document Management. It is critical for both RoHS and WEEE initiatives that due diligence is exercised in the collection and storage of supporting documentation. Items such as the component datasheet, Certificate of Compliance, Material Declaration, and testing information need to be stored at an individual vendor part number level. In case of an audit, these documents must be quickly and reliably accessible for at least four years. EMA's EDM solution now provides document versioning and vaulting for all documents associated with the product or vendor records. Changes made to documents are performed under a user-defined and controlled process.
  4. Change Management. Changes made to product data usually require validation by all affected parties. EDM provides a controlled change management process that allows users to define product and documentation changes and allows them to vote on the suggested changes. The system handles the automatic routing to users (via e-mail) and updating of product records when changes are approved by all parties. RoHS and WEEE directives are causing many changes to products (part replacements, AVL changes, part number changes, availability, etc.). These changes must be captured and performed in an automated fashion.
  5. Enhanced Reporting. When delivering reports to satisfy RoHS and WEEE requirements, the entire product structure must be considered. Reports and analysis must be available at any point in the product development process. With EMA's EDM solution customers can generate reports from any level of the product structure. The system can also automate the generation and packaging of these reports. Since EDM captures data during product development, these reports can be generated, products can be analyzed, and adjustments can be made at design time. (Source: EMA Adds Five Key Capabilities to EMA Engineering Data ManagementTM [EDM] to Facilitate RoHS/WEEE Compliance; New Capabilities Powered by Omnify Software).

Challenges Exist Notwithstanding

Despite Omnify's apparent customer loyalty (owing to the vendor delivering outstanding training, development, and support with a team of experienced technology professionals), it is too naive to believe that the company is without some outstanding challenges. The most apparent ones are the vendor’s low brand recognition due to its size and quiet, privately-held nature, and limited global opportunity, due to its English-only support. Its privately funded status has its advantages, however, such as allowing Omnify to decide about its own destiny and directions, but the downside is that it has less visibility and noise compared to much larger and public competitors.

Ironically, Omnify’s other challenge is often to allay misperceptions of PLM software being an overkill for midsized prospective customers, a courtesy of the pricey upper-range PLM products implemented at the likes of Boeing. Yet, not all midsize manufacturers have simpler operations; their operations are sometimes actually more complicated than much larger enterprises, because so much of the complex design stuff gets outsourced to them through the supply chain. Thus, Omnify will have to further refine its message to prospects, explaining the misperception that PLM is expensive (because these companies will have heard about some multimillion-dollar PLM deployments). Also, many companies are challenged by imagining how to implement PLM, or are unaware of what a PLM solution can do for them and their manufacturing partners.

Proving a tangible payback or ROI for PLM can also be tricky, since it is more likely that an enterprise will avoid incurring unnecessary costs with a PLM suite in place rather than see cost cutting results. In fact, it can be difficult to quantify people's time, which is mostly what PLM systems do, by, for example, reducing time, errors, duplication of work, etc. It can also, in some instances, be hard to argue that PLM is a mission-critical application when companies have long gotten by with a mishmash of point products and spreadsheets. As the aforementioned survey indicated, it is only when companies reach that critical point of dealing (and feeling overwhelmed) with too many product lines, parts, and too many issues that they need to automate.

Therefore, instances where Omnify might lose are when a prospective company already has a more prominent PLM system in place at a parent or sister company or, on occasion, a company only wants a hosted or on-demand solution, which the model Omnify currently does not offer. At the low-cost end, there are on-demand providers, which offer remote hosting and charge as little as several hundred dollars per viewing user, annually (and a bit more for power users). Often, taking the on-demand or software as a service (SaaS) route (see What Is Software as a Service?) to PLM will cost only a fraction of what traditional, on-premises software does. Arena Solutions, with over 300 customers, proves that point—and we do think that the SaaS model will only continue to grow and attract more vendors and customers.

However, Omnify still finds that many manufacturers are still reluctant to use a hosted PLM solution because the system holds their products’ intellectual property and there is a concern about security and the control and protection of data. The vendor has not experienced a strong demand in the market for it to change its strategy and deliver a hosted or on-demand PLM solution. Some of the larger vendors that created on-demand versions of their product are now pulling back.

In addition, some companies cannot use a hosted solution, such as those in the defense industry, while FDA compliance requirements are causing medical manufacturers to shy away from hosted solutions. Namely, these regulations call for adherence to specific processes and data sets when using automated or electronic systems. They also have an impact on how customers need to test and validate the software they use to help build their products.

Unfortunately, these validation processes add yet another layer of complexity to SaaS systems since customers will need to go through a validation process before they are allowed to install or use the system for day-to-day operations. In other words, a system that gets frequently updated (software revision changes) and is automatically made available to its users (such is the case with most SaaS products) is not acceptable here. Now, some of this “interpretation” of regulations is left up to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), but Omnify claims to have had many cases where FDA regulated companies have told it that they simply cannot use SaaS applications since they need to validate all new revisions of software in a test environment (which could take days, weeks, or months) before rolling it out to their users. Again, with most SaaS systems, the software is updated and immediately made available to all users. Even if the SaaS provider maintains the old version of the code for customers, the fact that the new system is publicly available presents significant issues for validation.

Other PLM vendors have waded into the SaaS pool, but many have backed off simply due to insufficient demand and Arena’s first-to-market advantage. The typical concerns of customers are still valid: security, reliability (on both ends), ownership, usability, integrations with other systems, etc. With the maturity of the market and emergence of competition, the on-premise PLM price has been driven down to the point that the cost difference between traditional and SaaS systems are not enough of a factor for many customers. Still, the continued success of Arena and Oracle Agile PLM on-demand offerings might force Omnify to change its strategy later on, possibly when it becomes too late and too costly to do so.

User Recommendations

Small and midsize electronics and electro-mechanical device manufacturers in North America and English-speaking European countries in high-tech, medical devices, and defense sectors, with significant regulatory requirements, should evaluate Omnify Empower. This is especially true for companies that still rely on a combination of inflexible legacy systems and pesky spreadsheets for product design, but, they should rather opt for packaged applications to improve the timeliness, accuracy, and visibility of product data. The Omnify PLM solution is ideal for manufacturers with complex products that require a large number of changes, where the change management facility and workflow engine support efficient engineering change control processes and helps customers react quickly to product changes and maintain high quality products.

Generally speaking, prospective customers should vigorously demand contesting PLM vendors’ references that are their size and in their industry. Prospective customers are likely to demand a Web-based system, which is easy to integrate with the ERP and CAD system currently in place and is configured to serve their business (see PLM Is an Industry Affair—Or Is It?).

Also, the selected vendors have to demonstrate integration skills, and training and support for knowledge transfer to the user enterprise’s staff. While all functional departments should be involved in the product evaluation, the engineering, operations, and IT departments should equitably take charge. All too often, engineering or operations groups will leave IT out of the evaluation process, although it is the IT group that will knowledgeably challenge the vendor, ask tough technical questions, and drill into vendor strong and weak spots.

 
comments powered by Disqus

Recent Searches
Others A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

©2014 Technology Evaluation Centers Inc. All rights reserved.