The Role of PLM in Hollow Corporations

plm-global-business-trend

Do you know what means "hollow corporation"? My readers from UK and Europe should be familiar with the term. This is a model for a company that outsource majority of their production activity. A compatible U.S. buzzword is "virtual business". There are few references defining what is "hollow corporation". Business glossary here defines it as a business in which "important elements are outsourced to subcontractors". Ten years old article brings the main two drivers behind the Hollow Corporations trend – globalization and technology. Here is the passage I liked:

Component tasks can be performed anywhere in the world. People in diverse parts of the globe working on common technology platforms provided by Microsoft and Google can now share work product seamlessly. They can communicate easily and cheaply across long distances due to undersea fiber optic cables. Through technology, distance between workers is no longer the limitation it was once.

However, I can see virtual corporation trend goes much beyond tech companies such as Google and Microsoft. Wikipedia link to "virtual business" brings another set of definitions I found useful. Among few of them "virtual enterprise" is the most interesting:

A virtual enterprise is a network of independent companies—suppliers, customers, competitors, linked by information technology to share skills, costs, and access to one another’s markets. Such organizations are usually formed on the basis of a cooperative agreement with little or no hierarchy or vertical integration. This flexible structure minimizes the impact of the agreement on the participants’ individual organizations and facilitates adding new participants with new skills and resources. Such arrangements are usually temporary and dissolve once a common goal is achieved. A virtual enterprise is rarely associated with an independent legal corporation or brick and mortar identity of its own.

The pioneers of virtual business came from internet space. You may think about Amazon and other virtual booksellers as an example of very successful virtual businesses connecting buyers and sellers only by using technologies and internet. However, I can see manufacturing companies are actively embracing virtual corporation space too. In my view, expression "hollow corporation" is getting new meaning these days in manufacturing world. Company like Nike took a new type of relationships with suppliers and created a new type of business. Many other manufacturers across the globe took the concept of delivering new innovative products combined with high efficiency of supply chain networks.

The last fact made me think about future role of PLM in such type of corporations. Typical vertically integrated manufacturing company is centralized around manufacturing planning control (MPC) system. This is a central place and main system in manufacturing universe. These days MPC functions are typically implemented as part of commercial ERP systems. The main purpose of vertical integration is to put manufactured products out of production lines. With new concept of virtual corporations, the manufacturing center of gravity is moving towards suppliers and outsource manufacturers. It puts product development in focus and makes a lot of sense to bring PLM system to manage design, product portfolios, configurations and coordinate it with customer demand and customer focus.

What is my conclusion? Industry landscape is changing these days and it brings new requirements for computer systems in engineering and manufacturing. Vertically integrated manufacturing model is changing towards more flexible networks that can react fast on customer demands. I can see a clear trend towards optimizing supply chain networks and outsource manufacturing facilities. Customers want more specialized products, lower cost and fast delivery. It brings new challenges for manufacturing and opportunities for PLM systems to establish new type of product development. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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