The Many Faces of PLM Part Two: The Future of the PLM Suite

  • Written By: Jim Brown
  • Published: December 30 2003

The Future of the PLM Suite

The future of the PLM Suite will include more applications that cover product-related functionality and further expand the benefits available. As the PLM Suite matures, companies will benefit from increased functionality and increased integration between business processes. The ultimate expression of this more mature solution will result in a broad suite of focused, integrated applications that leverage a core of unified, structured product data the PLM Platform.

In order to understand the future of the PLM Suite, it is important to understand how suites become suites. If we take what we now call ERP as an example, it has evolved over time. The suite started with Inventory Control systems, then became Material Requirements Planning (MRP), then evolved to MRPII which included extensions to MRP including order management, then transitioned to ERP which firmly included non-manufacturing concerns such as Financials and Human Resources.

What happened with ERP is that the definition of the core system extended as complementary functionality was combined with it. As the footprint expanded, it deserved a new name. This is similar to what has happened with Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) suites. In the final analysis, PDM will probably be to PLM the same thing that Sales Force Automation (SFA) was to CRM. SFA is still a core component within the overall suite of CRM products, and it also served as the catalyst that got the market moving.

PLM seems to be following the same pattern. Software suites naturally grow as suite providers add new products to their offerings, and specialty vendors with complementary value propositions look to take advantage of the marketing awareness that the suite offers. As suites expand, the level of pre-packaged integration typically grows making more functionality available to users. There is a lot of room to grow in the PLM footprint, and as a suite of solutions PLM will probably be as broad as CRM or SCM are today. PLM will continue to expand, as we have seen from the growth strategy of companies like Agile Software. Agile has aggressively expanded their product suite through acquisition, with more than 5 acquisitions announced in less than two years, see "Has Consolidation Made The PLM Market More Agile?"

This is Part Two of a two-part article.

Part One discussed the current state of the PLM Suite and provided insight into how application suites develop.

New Additions to the PLM Suite

What new application areas belong in the PLM footprint? There are many valid opinions, and time will tell which functional areas will be most rewarding to the companies that adopt PLM systems. Today, PLM is being leveraged as the source of consolidated, uniform product information. This provides a platform to serve many other purposes. One such area is the publication, or syndication, of product catalogs and product data. Several leading consumer goods companies, for example, have used solutions from MatrixOne and Prodika to link with exchanges such as Transora and become UCCnet compliant.

Another area that has been regularly included in PLM conversations, that again leverages the single source of focused product data, is Regulatory and Compliance. Vendors such as Advanced Software Design (ASD), a sponsor at the PDMA conference, and Atrion provide regulatory focus in the process industries, for example. Sopheon highlighted the need for regulatory compliance by introducing their capabilities to support FDA 21 CFR Part 11, an important requirement in the Life Sciences industry. This focus is increasingly important as new regulations are being unfurled, such as WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) and the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation), whose requirements span large segments of the product lifecycle. PLM focus on regulatory and compliance issues is not entirely new, as SAP has long included Environmental Health and Safety in the definition of their PLM offerings and vendors like Formation Systems support many regulatory requirements for the process industries.

There are additional areas that are moving into the PLM footprint as well. Component Event Management, for example, focuses on managing the disruption that component obsolescence and change place on products that rely on electronic components. This application, from vendors such as PCNalert, provides complementary value in the product lifecycle. Another area that overlaps considerably with PLM is product configuration. While Configuration Management has clearly been included in the PLM footprint, product configurators are just beginning to be looked at as PLM. As more product-related information is included in the PLM application, configuration information in PLM will likely expand from the current design-centric solutions such as PTC's Dynamic Design Link and RuleStream, to include more sales-related information like what is found in solutions from BigMachines, Cincom, Firepond, TDCI and Trilogy. For more information see "Customization Drives Complexity Why It's Hard to Design, Sell and Produce Simple' Products."

Another area that seems destined to collide is Computer Aided Process Planning, or CAPP. CAPP manages and captures the processes by which complex assemblies are produced and maintained. This product-related information is currently addressed by applications from companies like HMS Software and iBASEt, and is more tightly aligned with Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) than with PLM.

Where is the logical end to the expansion of the footprint and the consolidation of markets into PLM? One could argue that there will be continuous innovation in the software industry and that new solution areas will continue to be identified. The inevitable result will, of course, be an overlap with other solution areas in the same way the CRM and SCM collide with functionality in ERP suites today. This natural evolution will continue to provide more pre-integrated functionality, and will make the trade-offs between integration and best of breed functionality more important, requiring more detailed and overlapping product selection criteria. For more information on the tradeoff between PLM functionality and integration, see "Can ERP Speak PLM?"

The PLM Platform

Is every software application that focuses on products really a part of PLM? If you take a broad definition of PLM, such as "a suite of applications that focus on leveraging product information to improve product profitability", the answer is yes. More important than a simple answer to this question is recognition that application "spaces" are artificial boundaries, and that PLM is still a relatively immature market (see" The Different Evolutionary Stages of ERP And PLM"). The most valuable reason to expand an application suite is when integration between business processes spans applications in a way that a lack of integration makes the overall process less effective. Advances in integration technology have greatly improved the ability to pull together disparate applications into coherent processes, (see What's Wrong With Application Software? Business Processes Cross Application Boundaries), but companies still value pre-defined integration and business processes when they are available. Companies would ideally prefer an approach that builds off of a common architecture and data model that can support the related business processes of PLM. This integrated view of the PLM Suite is sometimes referred to as a "PLM Platform".

The PLM Platform provides a central location for product related information and processes. This approach provides for consolidation of product information and processes into a common system. The common system promotes higher levels of data cleanliness because it is focused solely on being the source of product information, as opposed to simply providing enough product information to fulfill a particular function. By naming one system as the core system of record, companies will have a much clearer answer to where they should source product information for other activities and other applications. The common platform also promotes integrated business processes and provides for greater product intelligence and analysis.

Companies that are developing a long-term strategy will need to weigh a vendor's vision to provide an integrated PLM Platform vs. best of breed functionality, and may need to make short-term tradeoffs between integration and functionality. Companies that have stated a strong direction towards a PLM Platform are Agile, PTC, and MatrixOne. The architecture of the PLM Platform must be very flexible to support varying types of information and processes and must provide strong capabilities for information visibility and collaboration.

Don't Forget The PLM Program

More important than what applications belong in the PLM application suite, is what applications can provide increased value for the companies that use them. Manufacturers today are facing a dilemma with PLM. They understand and need the benefits that the PLM value proposition offers, but are also confused about which part of PLM will provide the benefits. There is no single answer to that question that works for every company. There is not even a single answer for every company within a particular industry, although industry does play a critical role in identifying PLM needs and potential solutions. For more information on the impact of industry on the requirements for a PLM solution, see "PLM is an Industry Affair Or Is It".

In order to achieve the value of PLM, manufacturers must carefully prioritize their needs and implement a series of initiatives that not only lead to the long-term value of PLM, but also provide tangible short-term ROI that pays for the program incrementally along the path. The priorities identified will lead to a series of inter-related requirements that should be considered in selecting the appropriate software partner, or partners, for the manufacturer. For more information on selecting the appropriate software partners, see "Selecting a PLM Vendor".

Adding to the confusion for manufacturers is that the same benefits are often touted for different aspects of PLM. For example, faster new product introduction is a common strategic goal for companies starting a PLM initiative. There are multiple paths to improving time to market, all of which may be valid. In fact, the best answer may be a combination of approaches. For example, better project management and the introduction of stage gate processes might help to speed projects along. Reducing the clutter of competing projects through better project selection and portfolio management techniques could help. Design related approaches such as design reuse, parametric search tools and design collaboration can compress the development time. If time to production volume is as important as time to market, then speeding up the handoffs between R&D and manufacturing might help, particularly if outsourced manufacturers are involved. The following table highlights some typical goals in PLM programs, some different approaches to attaining the value, and then some of the tools or solutions that can be used to help. This is not an exhaustive list, but a quick example of how the PLM value proposition overlaps.

Goal / Value Approach Solution Area
Faster New Product Introduction Concurrent Engineering PDM, Business Process Management
Stage-Gate Processes Project / Process Management
Improve R&D to Production Handoff PDM, Technology Transfer, Design Collaboration
Reduce Project Clutter Product Portfolio Management, Resource Management,
Design Reuse PDM, Parametric Search
Reduced Product Cost Design for Manufacturability PDM, Design Tools
Least Cost Design PDM, Design Tools
Lower Component Costs PDM, Strategic Sourcing, Specification Management, Design Collaboration
Design Reuse PDM, Parametric Search
Improved Quality PDM, Design Tools, Requirements Management / QFD
Better New Product Success Rate More Customer Input Requirements Management, Design Collaboration
Better Product Selection Product Portfolio Management
Improved Project Management Project / Process Management, Resource Management
Reduce Engineering Change Cycle Time Supplier and Manufacturing Involvement Product Data Management, Technology Transfer
Better Visibility and Communication Business Process Management, PDM, ECO


Clearly, Product Lifecycle Management is a broad suite of applications that is still developing in terms of footprint. The PDMA Conference provided an excellent overview of a number of the solution areas that contribute to the PLM value proposition. The PLM footprint will grow, and continue to provide deeper and broader functionality. Manufacturers will be the beneficiaries of this continued growth because of enhanced integration of technology and business processes.

The value of PLM to each company may come from different approaches and tools, so each company must focus on defining their PLM Program in a strategic way, providing them a roadmap that offers incremental value along the way. Throughout the PLM Program, PLM applications of many different types will contribute to the ultimate value proposition achievable with PLM. Ultimately, an integrated approach will be available that will provide companies with a unified PLM Platform that integrates all product related information and processes, but at this time companies must prioritize their needs and choose from a selection of different kinds of tools that will help to deliver the value they desire.

This concludes Part Two of a two-part article.

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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