Choosing an ERP to Fit PLM?


What I learned this week … came from a question in response to my post on The Evolving Roles of ERP and PLM in Manufacturing. The question came from a knowledgeable source, and I had to think hard before answering. ERP-PLM RecommendationsI thought I would share my thoughts here instead of responding via e-mail for two reasons. The first is I think there are other questions that should be asked first, and other readers might get some value out of the answer. The second is that some of you might be able to answer the initial question better than I can. It also caused me to go back and review a report from five years ago to refresh my memory on my recommendations, and I think they hold up pretty well today (sigh of relief).

The Question

The question as asked was “For a mid-size company that has a complex Bill of Materials, are there specific ERP systems that integrate well with CATIA and SmarTeam?” It was a good question, and I started developing a mental list of solutions that I thought might fit will with SmarTeam. Then, a red flag popped up in my head. What level of priority are we giving integration to PLM in making an ERP decision? As much as I firmly believe in the need to integrate ERP and PLM, making the right choice of each system overrides any ease of integration between the two. As I wrote in my first paper on this topic titled The Complementary Roles of ERP and PLMrelative capabilities should be based on analysis of products and references, as not all systems are alike” and “clearly a manufacturer can’t choose between product innovation and corporate execution – both are critical elements of the manufacturing business model.”

Implications for Manufacturers

For manufacturers that are looking for an ERP system, please put PLM integration on your list of priorities. But also consider where in the priority list it should really be. Having the wrong ERP system well integrated to PLM is far worse than having the right ERP system without integration to PLM. ERP is essential to running the modern manufacturing enterprise. And as much as everyone likes to call ERP a commodity and say they are all the same, they are not. If I was advising a company to look for an ERP system, here are some things I would put on the priority list before integration with PLM. If I thought about it harder, I might add some more, but these are off the top of my head. Part of this was included in the original question, and I am sure they would have taken these into consideration as well, but I thought it was worth sharing:

Industry – Does the ERP system work in my industry? How many references do they have like my company?

Manufacturing Model – Am I a make-to-stock, make-to-order, assemble-to-order, engineer-to-order, or project-based job shop manufacturer? ERP requirements for each are very different.

Sales Model – Do I sell directly or through a distribution network? Do I rent or lease products in addition to selling them? Does the ERP system address those? What about service?

Company Size – Does the solution fit the complexity of my business? If I am a small to midsize business (as many SmarTeam customers are) then do I really want a highly complex ERP system designed to support multi-nationals?

Geography – Particularly if the ERP is supporting financials, does it meet the regulatory and accounting needs of my country. Taxation? Human resources? Are they up to date?

Technology – Can I support the technology? Does it fit with my strategic IT infrastructure?

Support – This isn’t about the product itself, but about the whole solution (including training, hotline support, new releases, etc.) Is their support sufficient for my needs? Can I find local resources to help? As I said in the original paper, “For best results, the analysis of ERP and PLM should extend beyond the product into the software vendor’s capabilities for training, provision of best practice templates, business knowledge and solution implementation.”

After that, I would look for the ability to easily integrate with other solutions. If there was pre-integration with my existing PLM system that would be great. But first, I would make sure that I bought the right ERP system. By the way, this goes the other way as well. I would not buy a PLM system just because it came pre-integrated with my ERP solution, or even because it came from the same vendor. First it has to work to support it’s intended function. Then, and only then, is it worth integrating to other enterprise systems.

So that is how I feel about integrating ERP and PLM, I hope you found it interesting. I realize I jumped up on my soapbox a bit here, but I thought it was important that people understood that I wasn’t promoting integration over functionality. And as for the original question, please feel free to contribute your thoughts on which ERP fits well with SmarTeam and I will pass them along (with my above caveats that it should be checked first for other factors).