Customization is a topic in Product Lifecycle Management that always raises discussions. There are multiple aspects related to customization of PLM systems, and I decided to explore them. In my view, the nature of PLM system customization is deeply related to engineering and product development aspects that in most of the manufacturing organizations are related to their core competencies and touch many processes in the organization. To be able to support them PLM systems are providing various customization capabilities. On the other side, the total cost of PLM systems and especially cost of changes becomes crucial for many companies and implementations. When it comes to implementation cost, need to customize PLM system becomes a negative factor.
In the early beginning, PDM started as a completely customizable toolkit-oriented systems. In order to implementation and customize them, the significant amount of work needs to be done. For most of the early cases, vendors provided unique production builds of the systems dedicated to a particular customer. PDM was considered as 1M dollars project.
Flexible Data Models and API
Since demand on PDM/PLM systems started to grow, vendors looked how possible to deliver PDM system that will not require a significant effort in order to be customized and tailored to customer needs. The concept of “a flexible data model” was born and few very innovative systems were introduced to the market in late 80s and early 90’s. They provided set of customization tools to modify data schema and additional parameters as well as advanced APIs to support customer-oriented environment. Later in the mid of 90s, more PDM systems were created under significant influence of Microsoft Windows environment.
Next step in the PDM customization story was so called “out-of-the-box” system, yet fully customizable. Most of these systems were born as a modification of “a toolkit”-oriented implementations and providing their configuration tuned with a specific parameters and data schema. In my view, it was a beginning of “PLM industrialization” bubble. When systems still provided all options to be flexible configured and customized, the marketing story always emphasized their ability to be ready-to-implementation AS IS. Unfortunately, because of a significant emphasizing of out-of-the-box, technological and development focus shifted from innovation in providing of flexible, customizable systems towards “packaging” and selling of boxed PLM for industries.
Cloud and PLM
Customization is considered as one of the most significant risks and problems related to PDM/PLM systems in what called ASP model in the beginning and later became OnDeman/Cloud systems. I don’t think, there is a Cloud/SaaS PDM/PLM system today that can provide the same level of customization as a system-on-premise. I think, an effort need to be made to learn Salesforce.com environment and specifically their Force.com platform in order to understand the “secret sauce” of their success story.
What Is Next?
I have a feeling, we are in the middle of debates about flexibility and customization vs. out-of-the-box flavors of PLM. When it became clear, out-of-the-box systems cannot provide what customers need, industry is still continuing to promote ready-to-go solutions, industrial verticals and other sales and marketing oriented speeches. Nevertheless, I can hear strong voices to revise experience of the past 4-6 years and focus on technological development that can provide a platform for the future flexible and customization PDM/PLM system.
What is my conclusion today? Product Lifecycle Management is in the critical situation. It started as a complete customizable environment and, since 1990s moved towards out-of-the-box packages and non-customizable solution. The last happened based on the strong message about making implementation faster and cost reducing. It seems to me that out-of-the-box PLM is a marketing and sales dreams. Engineering and product development cannot be done “out-of-the-box” and even so, companies are doing similar things, their strong believe in the uniqueness and benefits of the engineering and manufacturing environments. The key word for me in PLM customization today is a granularity. To make it work is hard. How to bring it up remains a completely technical topic.
Just my thoughts…