Redesign PLM, or Put the People in PLM?


What I learned this week … is based on a post in Vuuch Voice. The post, People Centric PLM – A New PLM Age Is Born, really made me think. I don’t know where Chris Williams got the picture, but I don’t think it looks like him at all. Well, maybe a little. After recovering from the shock of the picture, I really started thinking about whether social computing in PLM requires a reinvention of PLM, or whether we are talking about augmenting the capabilities that PLM already provides?

People Centric PLMHappy People

In Chris’ post, he discusses the approaches that PTC and Dassault Systemes are taking to support the more people-centric, creative process of design. One of the comments also includes Siemens PLM in the mix. The post points out efforts by the major PLM companies (ProductPoint and Blue Kiwi) that are intended to provide social computing capabilities in PLM. But the real question is whether these solutions replace PLM, or extend it.

There has been a lot of discussion recently, including in Oleg’s blog, on the need for easier to use PLM. Chris has blogged about this as well. But are we realistically thinking that simplifying PLM and adding social computing capabilities are one in the same? I wonder if there is some concern that the PLM community will throw the baby out with the bath water?

My Thoughts?

What do I think? I am glad you asked. I think we need to look at two important, distinct needs for the future of PLM:

  • PLM needs to be simpler to use
  • PLM need to incorporate social computing

Will both happen at the same time? Not likely. Should they? Probably not. The underlying technology in PLM (managing files, document control and generation, revisioning, search capabilities, etc.) are incredibly valuable and important. They could be easier to use, no doubt, but they are fundamentally important. But making PLM easier to use should not require a rewrite. The underlying logic and infrastructure are a huge asset. What is needed is the ability to access it using more tailored, simple, task-based interfaces. This is what things like SOA arthitecture and composite applications are designed for.

For social computing (see more of my thoughts in Is Social Product Development Viable without PLM, We are not Going to Build an Airplane on Facebook, and related posts) there are some really unique opportunities for companies to improve product development performance. Some are very tied to the underlying information and processes in PLM (such as improving design collaboration and knowledge management with messaging, wikis, blogs, presence detection, etc.) and need to be tightly integrated – if not a part of – PLM. There are also some are new processes like crowdsourcing for ideas and innovation challenges that – at least in the near term – are likely to be developed independently from PLM. At some point, these solutions may become a part of the PLM footprint as well, but they don’t have the same need for underlying data and integration to process as adding social computing to core PLM activities. So Chris is absolutely right when he says vendors are taking different people-centric directions. And they probably should. But they could also take both if they choose.

Implications for Manufacturers

Look for simpler PLM solutions, and look for social computing capabilities to help improve product innovation, product development, and engineering. But don’t expect them at the same time. Consider offerings from your PLM vendor that add social computing into the fabric of their solution, but don’t shy away from experimenting with integrated plugins and standalone solutions in the right scenario. And yes, continue to push for simpler PLM. But let’s not ignore the high value of what we have already developed over the last decade or more.

So that’s what I think about adding people to PLM, I hope you found it interesting. Who knew this would be such an interesting topic? I didn’t, if you did let us know about it.


  1. Jim, I think your underline technological believe is good :)… I think, we switched position and now it’s you saying – we have technologies and let us add social computing and simplify all together… :).. Funny.

    However, I do see conflict between PLM maturity and simplicity trend. (more about this – These two trends cannot co-exist in my view. The main reason – change is very expensive in our PLM environments today.
    Best, Oleg

  2. Jim, I fully agree with your statements.

    Having read Chris’s blog and many of Oleg’s balloons, I understand the vision where we believe PLM should be (or could be). As most of my work is in the area of implementation and working with customers in the mid-market, I see the huge gap between the 2.0 vision – social product communities etc and the day-to-day understanding and life of people in these companies.

    In one way, we dream that capturing and consolidating product knowledge will go with as little as possible effort, like we share information in emails, from the other side we demand for a complete information backbone, which is reliable and contains all information we need on demand and preferable without searching too much.

    In general PLM is dealing with the same challenges as knowledge management in every company. It is easy to capture explicit knowledge stored in files, metadata, models etc. The biggest challenge is to make this knowledge accessible by others with a different culture background, interpretation of data etc.

    I agree the SOA architecture allows us at the end to establish user environments which are:
    – tuned to be friendly enough,
    – flexible to be social.

    For sure these environments will contain principles of PLM, but also other disciplines – a kind or ERPLMES system. It was one of my dreams for 2050

    Best regards


  3. Oleg,
    Thanks as always for your comments. I think we are in agreement that PLM needs to be simplified, but I don’t see that in conflict with maturity. PLM is complicated because the business of product innovation, product development, and engineering is complicated. PLM maturity includes the incorporation of more people, a broader view of the product, more processes, and a larger portion of the product lifecycle. This PLM “complexity” is replacing countless other systems, documents, and spreadsheets that are running these processes. I don’t see the leading companies willing to turn back the clock and replace PLM with a less functional tool (although there are certainly places for it). What we need is the maturity of the functionality, but recast into an interface that allows them to expose/mask the functionality as they need it and present only the complexity to the user that they need. Maybe I am missing the point, but I like the graphic on your post. I would say the Mac is both a mature – and simpler – solution to computing. Isn’t that what we want from PLM?
    I had trouble with your link, it looks like it included an extra character in the URL. This one works:

  4. Jos,
    Thank you for grounding the conversation with the reality from your customer experience. Most companies don’t use all of the capabilities of their PLM solutions, as you rightly point out. But from my experience companies are implementing PLM for:

    a) An advantage today, typically coordinating product data to start (if they haven’t already done that).

    b) Put in place a foundation to build on for tomorrow, that fulfills a much bigger purpose.

    So some companies might choose a simpler solution to meet their short-term needs. But then if they want a fuller vision of PLM they need to start over. While others look at the longer term and want to set themselves on a path that can take them further into the promise of PLM. It is a very strategic decision for a company to decide between the two. Other than cost, the decision to go with a simpler tools is user adoption and speed of implementation. That is where templates, business processes, and (hopefully) composite applications that offer much simpler users interfaces can offer the best of both worlds (in my opinion).

    Following the analogy I used with Oleg above, if there wasn’t a “Mac” option with simplicity and capability, should we all start using net-books because they are simpler? For some of us, yes. But for many, we really need a lot more out of our computing hardware. So the best answer for many is the PC, and we try to ignore a lot of the complexity. So who will step up and build the “Mac” of PLM?

    Thanks for furthering the discussion,