Today I would like to discuss PLM integrations. I see PLM as a business software that heavily relies on integration. You need to integrate PLM with multiple design, manufacturing and business systems. Manufacturing companies are using a huge set of multiple systems as a result of their operational history, acquisitions and product preferences for specific solutions.
In my opinion, as soon as you decide to get into the PLM story, you will find yourself in the business of Integration Services. Even after many years of implementation, I don’t think we have a consistent agreement about PLM integration eco-systems and tools that you need for integration. So, where do you start? How do you avoid typical mistakes in such complex topics as PLM Integration? Let’s define the following areas of Product Lifecycle Management where integration is required today. In my view, there are three areas where PLM product (or project) can face different integration use cases: (1) User Interactive Integrations; (2) Process Integrations.
User Interactive Integrations
These are integrations that span the scope of CAD (design) and CAE systems. Traditionally, these integrations mostly rely on API systems. Additional usage of standard formats for data exchange can simplify integration efforts (3DXML, JT, STEP etc.). More advanced integration in this space can use Mashup technologies to allow mixing data from multiple systems on client and component based integration with portals and other tools. Capturing of data from multiple desktop systems is a significant part of the integration effort. Usage of XML based data mixing and transformation tools can simplify overall integration costs.
These are integration tools that focus on the integration of multiple transactional systems. In addition, business process management is also part of this process integration game. In this area, you can find potential for heavy usage of integration middleware and ESB (Enterprise Service Buses). Some of the integration techniques are based on proprietary tools developed inside of PDM products. Additionally, you have the potential to use an integration solution from large IT vendors (Microsoft SharePoint, BizTalk Server, IBM WebSphere etc.). You will need to optimize your organization and system usage in order not to fall into complex integrations and expensive implementation in these areas.
Peer-to-Peer vs. Middleware/SOA based integrations:
This is a very known trade-off in the integration business. You can connect a system directly by custom developed bridges and you can use mediation software for the integration. You need to use a rule of thumb. I don’t think there is “one-size decision” in this case. On one hand, middleware solutions are naturally more expensive to introduce and support. On the other hand, a number of local bridges can result in a spaghetti-integration mess .
Promising Integration Technologies:
There are a few interesting integration technologies in the horizon that, in my view, are undervalued by PLM products. Mashup technologies can be used to mix information from different data sources and reuse this information for multiple purposes. There are different flavors of Mashups- (1) client/browser and (2) data (or sometime called enterprise) Mashups. There are a few interesting products that have been introduced in this space (i.e. JackBe, PopFly, Denodo and others)
Out-of-the-Box and Integration Services
You can achieve a pretty good out-of-the-box desktop integration, especially if you can standardize specific data formats and scenarios. Excellent examples are multi-CAD and other engineering systems. At the same time, process and more complex business integration are hard to achieve with out-of-the-box solutions and require implementation in the context of specific customers and scenarios.
Since the integration business depends heavily on services and customer-oriented implementation, I see a potential for integration based on open source products. Advantages of open source products for customer are that they can modify it in any time because they fully own them. These integration solutions have a long life span, which can be a significant advantage in the total cost of the solution.
Integration as a Service
This class of new and emerging solutions allows you to use integration products available online from the Web. In my opinion, these solutions are mostly focused on the growing SaaS space. This is a very new zone in which I think needs to be watched more in the future.
The bottom line in this discussion is that PLM integrations have many faces and aspects. The optimization and future development of technologies in this space can bring significant competitive advantages and more integration solutions to customers.
What’s your opinion?