I want to finish my ‘back to basics’ set of posts with the topic of PLM and ERP integration. Staying in CAD/PDM/PLM related market for while, I have to say that this topic always was one heavily discussed during PLM implementation. First, I want to distance from discussion about benefits of PLM vs. ERP and how can ERP do PLM or opposite. Let assume we do have both PLM and ERP systems in place. What are options to integrate these systems we have and what is the efficiency of the proposed option.
1. No integration. Manual. People do it. This is a very simple option. Full stop. You think PLM+ERP is too complex or too expensive. You think people are cheap, and they can move data between two systems by hands. Not a bad one, until your designers are waiting for new Part Number from ERP for a couple of days or your manufacturing planning people getting EBOM once in a while.
2. Batch integration. This is in my view the most widely used type of integration. You understand that type information twice (or even more) in all systems is beyond of what you are ready to do in 21st century. So, your decision is to push information between both systems. It may happen in both directions, but for the most cases, I’ve seen a push BOM from PDM/PLM to ERP is the option company implement the most.
3. Direct integration. Next stop after “Batch integration”. Sometimes it comes after your experience with batch processes. You discovered that some business logic around batch processes is a good idea. Sometimes you need to make some validation or prompt user for a question. This is a time when you hire programmers or service company to develop this integration between “your PLM” and “your ERP”. Some PLM vendors offer “pre-packaged” integration. Despite claims of pre-packaged and out-of-the-box, these integrations never work without tuning, configuration and some additional customization. For many of the customers, this option is a compromise between “no integration” or “batch integration” and something they perceive as a more expensive option. For short term, this type of solution can be pretty good, and if you successfully manage complexity of integration, this will be, probably, your “final stop”. However, I see this type of solution as a problem with timer. In the end of the day, cost of this solution adjustment to your “next problem” will be too high.
4. Middleware based integration. Very popular option for end of 90s and beginning of 2000s. Why do you need to implement n-complete number of integration for your enterprise? You can just implement integration of your PLM (and other systems) to something called “middleware” (various TLA used and continue used for this – EAI, ESB…) and you are done. Integration middleware (such as BizTalk, WebSphere or others) can help you to map data and provide tools for business logic development. In addition to generic middleware/EAI/ESB, there are some vendors in the market that tuned their integration solution for PLM and ERP. In my view, these companies are getting premium price for their experience with PLM and ERP packages. You can consider it as a valid option too. My conclusion is that you need to go to various types of middleware and more complicated integration solution only if you understand what value your organization will get due to this significant investment. This option is robust, however, be prepared to pay the cost of middleware as well as keep experienced people or consulting company to deal with this complicated animal. Don’t believe in magic and out-of-the-box solutions and your integration will be just fine.
5. Mashups and other Web-like technologies. This is not widely used option. Speaking precisely, this is even not “integration” in our traditional understanding. Mashup automatically will not provide you support for transferring of data between both systems. However, with growing amount of Web -related development, mashups become an interesting example of lean approach in data integration. Most of the mashups are web-client application that extracts data from a different web-sites (in our case it can be the web interface of your PLM and ERP systems) and present combined view on data. Originally developed for internet space, this option is getting some initial traction in enterprise too, but this is a topic for separate post. If you feel very innovative and your staff is experienced in Web technologies, you can try to experiment with mashups in your organization. Be prepared to be misunderstood by customers and management…
Note. I have to say that efficient PLM integration with ERP can affect your company decision with regards to deployment of PLM-related functions and in the end of the day, PLM system at all. So, choosing the right option to integrate you PLM with ERP can improve your decision with regards to PLM and sometime even with ERP implementation roadmap.