The Many Faces of PLM Part One: Event Summary

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Event Summary

The Product Development Managers Association (PDMA) is a professional organization dedicated to furthering the practice of product development. In October of 2003, PDMA held their annual conference with the theme "The Business of Product Development People, Process & Technology Across the Life Cycle". The conference was an excellent event for professionals with a common interest in better managing commercial products to share ideas and learn from each other. The meeting highlighted a series of industry companies that spoke on the value they had received from implementing best practices in developing products. What was rare about this conference is that under one roof an attendee could listen to the value of implementing effective Stage-Gate Processes to better execute product development programs, learn about how better Portfolio Management can improve the value of the choice of products a company chooses to take to market, and also explore how Design for Cost / Design for Manufacturability concepts can help to decrease product costs.

Seeing a collection of very different, but inter-related aspects of product development in one place provides an interesting parallel to PLM initiatives and PLM applications suites. The overriding observation from the presentations was that many of the solutions presented target the same value propositions faster time to market, more efficient new product development and introduction (NPDI) projects, decreased product cost, improved product quality and increased product revenue. However, despite sharing common objectives, the approaches to achieving the value varied widely. This points to the fact that better product management comes in many forms, and that in each of those forms it provides tangible, realizable value. Not surprisingly, this is also the case with software applications that aim to improve the processes which companies use to manage their products.

The software vendors that sponsored and exhibited at the PDMA conference represented a large cross-section of PLM software. The participating vendors included large ERP vendors, "pure-play" PLM suite providers, and niche application providers that handle very specialized areas within PLM. Each of these vendors highlighted how their particular solution contributed to the overlapping value propositions that are associated with PLM. SAP, for example, presented a new collaborative application for NPDI in addition to their mySAP PLM solution. The new application, known as SAP xPD, was developed to streamline the process of designing and developing consumer products.

Another large ERP vendor, Oracle, used the event to communicate the broad and significant effort they have put into providing PLM solutions to their customers. On the other end of the spectrum was a company named imaginatik. The imaginatik product focuses on a narrow, but extremely valuable aspect of PLM known as Ideation that aims to help companies improve their process for innovation and idea management. Other vendors, such as Sopheon and IDe, highlighted their value in helping to execute NPDI programs more effectively.

PLM Pure-Play vendors Agile Software, EDS PLM (now known as UGS), PTC and MatrixOne also exhibited at the show, displaying their approach to delivering the value of PLM. The diversity of the vendors and their application offerings further highlights the need for manufacturers to understand PLM as a whole, determine the areas that will provide the most value for their business, and then map out a strategy that includes incremental steps to achieve that value. For more information on this approach, see "The PLM Program An Incremental Approach to the Strategic Value of PLM."

This is Part One of a two-part article.

Part Two will provide insight into the future of the PLM Suite and discuss the value of the PLM Platform

PLM Just The New Name For PDM?

The discussion about diverse software offerings being labeled as PLM probably has some people asking whether "PLM" is the right name for all of these product-related solutions. Some would argue that PLM is really just then next evolution of Product Data Management (PDM) software packages. If this is the case, then the other applications without a PDM foundation should not be called PLM. Regardless of the name, there are a lot of applications that can help to improve the management of products - and therefore provide a path to the benefits that are currently associated with PLM. Perhaps a new term for the more diverse solution set is "Extended PLM". Whether this name is correct or not, it is clear that PDM is a major component in achieving value.

PDM has come a long way in the past few years. Collaborative processes and technologies have dramatically improved the value of these systems that help companies better manage product and engineering information. The truth is that many companies would benefit from implementing even basic PDM capabilities to help get control of their product information. Many companies today suffer from diminished innovation and product development capabilities because of fragmented, disjointed product data. In those companies, too much product information is still captured in poorly accessible spreadsheets, mismanaged CAD drawings and poorly integrated point systems.

The improved structure and visibility of product information available from PDM is the core of most PLM initiatives. PDM can help with everything from improving design efficiency to enabling syndication of product data to e-commerce exchanges, and is a very important part in achieving improved product management. But the PLM value proposition includes more than just improved management of product data.

PLM - Just A New Way To Categorize Old Applications?

PLM, or Extended PLM, encompasses many different software solutions that focus on improving the profitability of a product portfolio. Most companies in the PLM market today came from one of several categories of vendors. The first category of vendors that are now considered PLM includes the engineering-centric vendors. These vendors have strong roots in product design and typically evolved from companies that offered CAD and/or PDM solutions. A second category of vendors includes the commercialization-centric vendors. These vendors have strong roots in product marketing and commercialization and evolved from vendors offering Project Management, Stage Gate Automation and Portfolio Management. The final major category of vendors that are active in the PLM market are the enterprise suite providers. These vendors have strong history in implementing best practice business processes that are integrated across departmental and enterprise boundaries, and have developed PLM as an offering in conjunction with their ERP systems.

But PLM is not just a repackaging or a re-categorization of these existing software solutions. The PLM movement has placed increased emphasis on the value of products and the information and processes surrounding them. Vendors and manufacturers have joined forces to look for new and innovative ways to solve existing problems, and to achieve new levels of value. This has led to a significant amount of innovation in the software industry, resulting in valuable new applications to address everything from product requirements gathering and innovation to improved transfer of production instructions to the plant.

The existence of a common repository of product information within an enterprise has also provided an opportunity to solve product related business problems in a new way. Many initiatives that involve product data, like product catalog syndication and configuration management, have previously been forced to rely on ERP solutions for product information. This is a challenge because companies often have multiple ERP systems and the information is not always complete or organized in the right way. As companies are faced with new challenges such as RFID, new regulations, and other developing needs, the companies and their software vendors will leverage the PLM product repository by developing new applications to take advantage of the core of unified, structured product information. Far from a collection of disparate point applications, PLM is a vision that encompasses many different avenues to achieving the PLM value proposition. As PLM visions mature, the benefits will continue to expand into new areas.

This concludes Part One of a two-part article.

Part Two will provide insight into the future of the PLM Suite and discuss the value of the integrated PLM Platform.

About the Author

Jim Brown has over 15 years of experience in management consulting and application software focused on the manufacturing industries. Jim is a recognized expert in software solutions for manufacturing and has broad knowledge of applying Product Lifecycle Management, ERP, Supply Chain Planning, Supply Chain Execution, and e-business applications to improve business performance. Jim served as an executive for software companies specializing in PLM and other enterprise solutions before starting his consulting firm, Tech-Clarity Associates.

Jim can be reached at

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