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The Democratization of PLM

Chad JacksonToday is a time of dramatic change for software solutions. Larger development organizations, including OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and suppliers, now have more flexibility than ever when it comes to these technologies. But it is also a time of unprecedented accessibility, with small organizations and startups now feasibly accessing the same technologies that were previously reserved for their larger peers. From top to bottom, it truly is a time of democratization.

Many of these technologies, such as CAD and CAE offer significant new advantages and benefits as part of this democratization revolution. Yet, no solution is undergoing as dramatic a change as product lifecycle management (PLM). Oft considered costly and difficult to deploy, a range of advances make this class of software widely available, for companies large and small.

Relaxing IT Requirements

To deploy a traditional PLM system, you needed to have some serious computer server hardware somewhere, either in a data center or in a dedicated IT room. On top of that, dedicated personnel were needed to monitor and tune the software and hardware to ensure it performed as expected and to avoid outages. The same personnel were also required to update the solution as new versions of the system became available. These facts alone often kept many organizations from pursuing PLM.

Cloud computing has dramatically changed how companies deploy and maintain software solutions — and PLM is no different. With the software system hosted in the cloud (sometimes even by the software developer) manufacturers are freed from much, if not all, of the responsibility for acquiring server hardware, maintenance and software updates. Eliminating these requirements frees companies to experience the advantages and benefits of PLM without paying the painful price to acquire it.

Easing Cost Challenges

Of course, there are other ongoing changes with PLM solutions. How a company compensates software providers for the system that is being overhauled is one in particular. In the past, manufacturers had to acquire licenses for their users to access the PLM system. These licenses were purchased upfront, often representing a significant capital expenditure for the company. Such costs required justification to earn purchase approval from executives. But just as importantly, the individuals championing such investments found their careers tied to the software’s success or failure to provide the expected return on investment. That’s a serious detriment to championing and justifying PLM solutions.

Instead of demanding that manufacturers purchase licenses to use their software, developers are now offering subscription-based access. This allows companies to pay a monthly charge per user, which translates into an operational expense instead of a capital one. Charges can be rolled into an ongoing IT budget instead of requiring cost justifications, executive approval and being personally associated with the success or failure of the solution.

Trading Customization in for Better Configuration

It is rare for any software solution to perfectly fit the requirements of every organization. PLM solutions are no different. There always will be a need to tweak it to supply capabilities to that enables the company to address problems.

For PLM systems, this has traditionally translated to modifying the underlying data model, which defines and describes things like parts, end items, change orders, specifications and more. To meet those needs, software specialists would hard code the modifications as customizations. Such changes were difficult to update and would often break when updating to new versions of the software solution, requiring more hard-coded modifications that could take days or even weeks to resolve. The potential for this sort of catastrophe often held manufacturers back from updating their solution — if they invested in PLM at all.

In the past five years, the capability to make such changes has morphed dramatically. PLM solutions now include highly functional, but also very accessible tools to configure existing and new aspects of the data model. These changes are now handled differently, in ways that make them far easier to adapt as the software system is updated. This is yet another advance that is ultimately making PLM more accessible to companies.

Realizing Democratization

The PLM solutions that are most accessible are hosted in the cloud, accessed via subscription and provide better configuration. The convergence of these capabilities has a real impact on the democratization of PLM solutions.

A range of software is undergoing dramatic changes, but none are transforming as much as PLM solutions. Democratization is finally feasible.

Chad Jackson is president of Lifecycle Insights. Send email about this commentary to DE-Editors@deskeng.com. 

About Chad Jackson

Chad Jackson is president of Lifecycle Insights (www.lifecycleinsights.com). Send email about this commentary to de-editors@digitaleng.news.