PLM and ALM: How To Blend Disparate Systems?

June 2, 2010

I had chance to read an article in SD time – Organization works to blend application, product life-cycle management. Author discussing the need to integrate two separate domain – development of hardware and mechanical components and software. I think, the message is very timely made. There are lots of software in modern products. Author brings an example of OnStar in vehicle communication. However, it is possible to bring more examples, of course.

Integration between disparate application having completely different set of data, rules and behavior is always a very challenging use case. In this case, author discussing the future of common standard creation that will help to integration PLM components and components managing software lifecycle (i.e. Rational tools). This discussion made me think about potential pitfalls and opportunities on this way.

Heterogeneous Application Environment
In the real world, many applications used during the design, engineering and manufacturing process. Mechanical, Electrical and Software teams are normally separate and relation between them quite limited from the software sides. This is the reality. In my view, when it comes to software, the disconnection comes to the top level. What can be a system that controls software build level need to be placed in the particular vehicle or other mechanical product?

Does One Standard Fit All?
The author is discussing OLSC (Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration). I found the following video funny. The idea of community is going very much aligned with modern social approaches.

There are three key fundamental principles – URL, Minimal Schema and REST services proposed to make this solution work. I’m thinking how much time people will spend before they will agree about minimal schema that fit all. At in the end, as film states everybody wants to be a little different.

Don’t Integrate, Just Connect Dots
Here is my point. We don’t need to invent a minimal schema. It is enough to agree about to interlink different product representation- mechanical, electrical, software. Think about URL only. In my view, it will be enough to get job done. Global data identification similar to what we have in the internet can move us in the right direction. One of the examples of such technologies can be PURL. “A persistent uniform resource locator (PURL) is a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) (i.e. location-based Uniform Resource Identifier or URI) that does not directly describe the location of the resource to be retrieved but instead describes an intermediate (more persistent) location which, when retrieved, results in redirection (e.g. via a 302 HTTP status code) to the current location of the final resource.”

What is my conclusion? The landscape of application involved in this product development is very large. The number of applications is growing. The ability to absorb the requirements of all applications into one minimal single standards schema seems impossible. The new and more efficient way to interlink data need to be proposed. We don’t need to bring software build and engineering bill of materials to a single representation. However, we need to be able to interlink data related to different applications to maintain data integrity.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg

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5 Things To Know Before PLM-ERP Integration Project

May 4, 2010

Yesterday, I had chance to read the new paper by Jim Brown: Issue in Focus: The Integrated ERP-PLM Strategy. There are lots of things I agree with Jim. They are mostly in the area of strategic need for PLM-ERP as well as growing level of awareness about such need on the side of companies. However, the issue of integration cost is somewhat, I think, is a very critical. Unfortunately, because of complexity, manufacturers are facing the issue of PLM-ERP cost very late in the implementation process.

In my view PLM-ERP integration never comes as out-of-the-box product. The diversity of product development and manufacturing practices, product versions and many other factors are making PLM-ERP integration very complex and expensive project. I want to breakdown possible decision points related to PLM-ERP integration.

What data do you want to integrate?
It sounds obvious, but before you want to integrate systems, you need to understand what data you are going to integrate. It seems to me as an important topic is to break down data in both systems into very granular pieces and see how this data will be combined, transferred and integrated. Don’t move forward until you don’t understand what data assets do you have.

Where is data located and how it controlled?
The enterprise data management is a complex task. PLM and ERP systems are two the most complicated in the modern manufacturing. Data can be distributed in different locations, organization can use multiple ERP and, sometime, PLM systems. The ownership of enterprise systems and, in the end, control over the data assets can be very complicated. You need to see a full picture of data control by different people in the organization.

What processes influenced by integration?
There are lots of advantages in implementing PLM-ERP integration. However, such integration will introduce a change in the organization development and manufacturing process. As every change, it may bring some problems or simple additional cost in adjustment of work in the organization. You have to understand the influence from the different standpoint – people, software and processes. The cost of adjustment needs to be include into overall estimation related to your PLM-ERP integration project.

What API and development skills do you need?
It sounds like a completely technical. Nevertheless, it is very important. Your organizational systems can provide a different set of techniques and tools to develop integration. In most of the cases, enterprise systems are heavily customized. You need to understand and validate what tools and API you can use and how you PLM-ERP integration will be adjusted to all existing custom developments you have in place.

How to maintain your integration?
This one is last, but extremely important. Your PLM-ERP integration is not a single shot project you are doing once. Your organization becomes heavily dependent on this integration. PLM-ERP integrations are very often belonging to the class of “mission critical systems” in the organization. Therefore, you need to validate how you will be able to maintain this integration from all possible standpoints – people, technologies, system upgrades. The last one is also important. You obviously will manage upgrades of your ERP and PLM systems. You need to take into account that since you have PLM-ERP integration in place, this upgrade process will always be dependable on how you maintain your integration.

What is my conclusion today? PLM-ERP integration is a very expensive project. It can bring lots of benefits, but also drain a significant amount of resources. You need to understand how to make a right estimation of work and validate this project before it starts. I’m interested to discuss your experience and listen to your feedback.

Best, Oleg

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The Ugly Truth About PLM-ERP Monkey Volleyball

March 5, 2010

I had the chance to read Jim Brown’s post about SAP achievements in PLM. As usual, when PLM and ERP words come to the interplay, a very good discussion can be generated. And this is what I’ve seen this morning. I enjoyed discussion and very interesting comments. Take a look, first and read that. The discussion became hot and separate post was done by Vuuch Voice this morning -PLM Is The Monkey In The Middle.

These posts made me think about what is the fundamental nature of the discussion about PLM and ERP. I see this discussion as a natural part of the overall system development in the organization. Since early beginning of MRP and MRP-II, systems started to accumulate product data in the electronic form. So, data moved from spreadsheets to databases and Excel  spreadsheets. In parallel, design data started to move from paper to CAD and other design systems. Since then, all engineering and manufacturing systems are managing the very interesting interplay on where is data located and how you move this data from one place to another. Now what means this movement? This is something everybody present as a ‘ business process’. Yes, processes are the blood movement in the organizational body. However, the blood cells are actually pieces of data that processes moves around.

The ugly truth is that everybody wants to own the piece of cheesy product data! ERP, PLM, PDM, CAD… Everybody pretends on the part of the product data, but mostly interested how to control it. Everybody in this volleyball game is trying to catch the ball and steer it to their side. ERP is saying Item Master belongs to me! Every time you want to do something, ask me. CAD and CAD-based PLM pretends to be the best in managing product design, configuration and revisions. ERP vendors are trying to steer Bill of Materials by managing overall ECO process. Social software is trying to steer the ball, by saying let’s organize Facebook of design files. Before that time PDM was trying to organize dashboards of data. In parallel, social product development is trying to put data inside of SharePoint… There is an endless number of examples I can bring…

So, what is my conclusion today? There is nothing new in this enterprise data life, but attempt to control data and accumulate data-tolls from enterprise processes’ toll-road. If you are good in organizing this toll-road, the ride won’t be bumpy and data arrives easy and customers will love it. Some of the tolls are mandatory. Try not to pay for CAD system or accounting, for example… It seems to me PLM road is a bit more bumpy in comparison to the ERP one.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg

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PLM: Backward Evolution Into Lifelike 3D

February 11, 2010

Recent presentation on SolidWorks World 2010 about evolution of PLM drove me to think about what is the future of 3D and PLM in longer term. For those who haven’t had chance to see these materials, please take a look on the slide below. What we can see is the strategic move from the world of PLM to the world of (3D) Lifelike Experience


Does it mean PLM vendors is moving back to their 3D roots? Does it mean for PLM to be less involved into overall product lifecycle and processes? Maybe this move will allow better balancing between operational efficiency of ERP to manage corporate resources and combine it with the ability of PLM to manage a comprehensive set of product data?

Historically, PLM grew up from the ability to manage 2D and 3D geometry data. In the beginning, it was about CAD files. Ability to manage product data was the obvious strength of PLM in comparison to material-purchasing world of ERP. Unfortunately, PLM clashed with ERP on their interest to manage engineering product data and interest to drive processes in the organization. PLM made significant efforts to take over management of organizational processes around product design, planning, manufacturing and support. Nevertheless, “money talks” and PLM is still considered as a “step-child’ when you present this solution to CIO in comparison to ERP. In my view, by moving focus into Lifelike experience and Virtual 3D, PLM can become dominant in the overall product creation (from the requirement to material behavior) and leave ERP with operational responsibilities.

Does it mean PLM gave up? I don’t think so. In my view, move towards Lifelike experience, shows transformation from the process-focus into the end-to-end product-focus. PLM will be able to manage a complete set of product information. This is a very interesting move that can change enterprise system landscape. PLM (or 3D Lifelike Experience?) will be more focused on product engineering including all aspects of product requirement, design, manufacturing and user experience. ERP systems will be more focused on the processes and resources.

What is my conclusion? Move from PLM to advanced 3D can remove long term clash between ERP and PLM in the process management domain. ERP will expand into process management focus and PLM will be taking their position in the product engineering management with big emphasizing of 3D, Realistic Design and Manufacturing. Sounds like a rational decision to me.

Just my thoughts… What do you think about that?
Best, Oleg

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PLM vs. ERP: Weird or Different?

February 1, 2010

Discussion started last week with Jim Brown got me think more about ERP and PLM. I have to say, this is not a new topic, but thinking about it, I’m always finding new angles to see differences between ERP and PLM viewpoints. I want to make some breakdown on how things different in both systems, but before, I’d like to suggest you to watch the following video from TED.

Identification: Documents, Parts, Item Masters

When you think about identification systems, you can clearly see that PLM and ERP starts from different foundations. PLM (especially systems that got founded around CAD) think first about Documents and related Parts. Even for systems that taking Item centric approach, definition of Item is pretty much similar to Document. On the opposite side, ERP is all about Item Master, Bill of Materials and Dates (!). Everything starts and ends with “The Date”. Without the assumption about what date you are talking about, you won’t be able to get anything done in ERP.

Versions vs. Effectivitiy

The main identification mechanism in PLM systems is a version. Documents, Parts have versions on it. This is how work-in-progress environment works. Whatever you change, you put version on it. On the opposite side, everything is effectivity oriented. You have a date on everything you are going to change. This date will show when it is effective. It is pretty complicated to combine these two opposite sides to work together.

Changes

This is last in top three core different fundamentals of PLM and ERP, but for sure not least. When you think about changes in CAD and PLM, you can be pretty flexible. You can always get new version of almost everything you are doing. World of PLM structured information comply with your will to change, and you are getting to the next level. The previous one easy becomes obsolete. The life is absolutely different on ERP side of the world – everything you want to change – think dates. Your manufacturing system is up-to-date to manufacturing life. All your change may and will impact manufacturing production systems. All processes are formal, requires ECN/ECOs, signatures, confirmation, etc.

So, Where we can go from here?

These bits and bytes are, in my view, fundamentals of differences between two worlds of PLM and ERP. On the upper levels, buzzwords of execution and innovation are flying, but here inside Bill of Materials, Parts and Items are struggling to live together and magically represents the same product company is doing business on. I think it is very logical that everything PLM people like to see as normal, seems different (or weird) on ERP side. Opposite is also true. Now, my question is how to balance this system? There are few possible ways, and I will try to analyze them.

Data Exchange

This is the old and straightforward way to do PLM/ERP business. If you’re familiar with “drop over the wall” approach – here you go. Just drop Bill of Material from PLM to ERP and forget. But, I’m not sure this is the most efficient one.

Process Orchestration

The most complicated. You don’t care about data first – you think the process wise. This is the right way to do business in the organization. However, compare to the construction industry, if you build you house on the badly prepared foundation (enterprise data) you are in the high accident zone.

Mashups

This is the potential alternative. This option is not developed much these days. Instead of fighting about how to own data, let’s try to focus on how to consume data in the way that users will be less worry where information resides and more focused on decision making. However, this option is still requiring a lot of investigation and research.

What is my conclusion today? It is hard to say “where PLM stops and ERP begin”. Things are getting connected, weird and unbreakable if you want to insure your organizational processes are running smooth. And this is probably less about PLM, ERP and even other systems. This is about how your organization work. And connecting it to the video you had chance to see before, think about your product and not about how it represented in different siloed systems.

So, how do you see? Does it make sense? What are your experience and view on how things need to be connected?

Best, Oleg

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Innovation On The PLM-ERP Edge

January 30, 2010

This post was born as a consequence of on-going conversation with Jim Brown of TechClarity. Jim and I have a long history of discussions on different topics offline, and we are in agreement on many of them. However, in spirit of what Jim called “healthy debates”, I’d like to open our conversation online. I’m sure it will be beneficial for us, and I hope you will find it interesting and practical in the context of thinking about strategy for PLM and ERP implementation planning.

If you haven’t seen our previous posts, I’d recommend you to go and read them first in order to have a taste of context:

PLM vs. ERP – Don’t Manage Innovation!

Mythbusting PLM/ERP Integration

PDM/PLM and ERP are two topics and domains that continue to magnetize huge amount of the attention. In my view, it was true for the last 20 years, and it continues to be true these days too. In the spirit of getting away from three letter acronyms (TLA), I’d like to put below one of the best references on the way to present discrete (or manufacturing) concurrent engineering positioning from the David Ullman’s book: The Mechanical Design Process.

What I like in this process is that it clearly presents the level of the connections in manufacturing enterprise, including logical dependencies between three major domains – Design, Production and Business.

ERP and PLM Domain
In my view, PLM was born in the middle of the Design domain, in the beginning as a system to manage Product Form (CAD) and lately by systems and modules to manage materials (BOMs), functions and facilitate connection with outside domains. The best example I can bring here is the ability of PM to connect market requirements with business needs. If you will ever have a chance to see a successful integration between business/market models (i.e. Sales Configrator) and PLM, you can see how it can be beneficial. So, within the time PLM outgrows Design domain and spread out into some functions related to production and business. In parallel ERP, was “an accounting child”, born to calculate, forecast and provide clear answers on how health your business can operate. Started from Sales, Finance, Prices, Costs and Risk, followed by successful development of MRP and MRP-II topics and, finally, becomes ERP as we know it today.

Roles of PLM and ERP
As every healthy business systems, both ERP and PLM are trying to grow and Production Domain is an obvious common target for both PLM and ERP. Since PLM came from managing the form and materials in product design, the ability to manage product and work-in-process data are much better compared to ERP. At the same time, ERP holds very strong on the ability to mange operational environment. In the very competitive business environment, both domains failed to collaborate successfully and, instead of taking route to manage openness and process transparency moved to the “marketing excellence” by starting to invent slogans like innovation and execution. But, unfortunately, devil is in details and after agreeing about “roles” and “focuses”, you will get back to bits and bytes of design data, EBOMs, MBOMs and processes that span across the organization.

ERP Business in PLM
With the clear competition state of mind, ERP vendors are trying to push technical limits of ERP foundation to manage product design and work-in-progress design information. As much as they come to the business having fewer design roots design roots, the chances to successfully stretch ERP data models and infrastructures are more successful. When you almost cannot see automotive OEM or supplier that decides to manage design product configuration in SAP PLM, you probably will be more lucky to see high tech and telecom companies managing product engineering and manufacturing BOM in ERP. Also, companies tried to reduce the cost of “process management” by concentrating it inside ERP process infrastructure.

Border Between PLM and ERP
I think, to define the right border between PLM and ERP is a very complicated task. I’m almost sure, the results will be very different for various companies even in the same domain. There are lots of factors such as existing systems, implementation, history, legacy stuff, new projects. You can find companies pushing towards implementing CAD/PDM bundles and move process oriented environment towards ERP. You may see companies that put PLM as a global product development environment worldwide, while ERP is local and specific for business in the specific countries. So, I’m sure there are some patterns we can discover. However, try to establish this boarder will be heavily overused by marketing and competitive efforts and in the end will be disruptive for industry. I think PLM and ERP need to establish some common infrastructure and maybe be even open initiatives that can simplify the exchange of the information and process flowing between systems in the organization.

What is my conclusion today? PLM and ERP are a very complicated topic. There are multiple levels of influence starting from completely technical, moving to IT-related  and ending up with very emotional aspects. I hope Jim and I helped you to navigate and find your path in your future PLM/ERP projects.

Getting back to Jim’s post, there is one topic left- innovation. I want to touch it in separate discussion. I will call it my “Golden Eggs Innovation Strategy”. Stay tuned :)…

Best, Oleg

PS.

It was good to see the same day Joe Barkai (twitter @joebarkai) from IDC Insight joined our discussion with Jim on twitter and IDC blog: ERP vs. PLM: Debating The Wrong Question?

…So now we are debating PLM vs. ERP.  Some of these discussions have a very strong, and, in my opinion, incorrect undertone of IT architecture debate: who owns what data repository, where are the boundaries, what are the integration points, and so forth.  One blog discussion attempts to separate ERP as the “execution engine” from PLM, which is “innovation focused.”…

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PLM vs. ERP – Don’t Manage Innovation!

January 21, 2010

I was reading Tech Clarity insight “Evolving Role of ERP and PLM“. The topic of PLM and ERP is not new. However, I was always looking for detailed analyzes of PLM and ERP functions and roles in the organization, especially taking into account latest technological and social trends. You can find the report on this link. It provides 15 pages of analyzes, and, I think, this is the biggest publication from last time I had chance to see about PLM and ERP together.

Below my notes, emphasizing points of agreements and disagreements with Jim’s report:

Distinct roles of ERP and PLM
The roles of PLM and ERP are blurred in the organization. For the last years ERP companies successfully acquired and developed their PLM portfolio. So, their presentation of PLM as “Yet another app in ERP portfolio” was quite successful. PLM fights ERP heavily on their ability of manage product and engineering data. Unfortunately, instead of becomes an ultimate product and engineering data shop, PLM is running upstream by trying to establish themselves as “Innovation Management”… This is something that made me feel bad. Don’t try to manage innovation! You just cannot…

Design and product data management
The need for design and product data management one is clear for me.This is undervalued zone. What exist today as a mainstream PDM is only top of the big iceberg. I think PLM needs to get back to the roots and fix PDM topic. Otherwise future crash is the only question of time. PLM needs to define themselves as “product data unbreakable”. Not what happens today, in my view.

Cross functional processes.
There are no PLM or ERP processes. There are “organizational processes”. Therefore, the process’s problem cannot be resolved in PLM or ERP separately. The step toward BPMN can be good for PLM. It will set up openness to the right level and will establish a spot for process improvement in the organization.

PLM and ERP integrations
This is a hugely disappointing topic. The PLM/ERP integration reminds me ball in the air when both players are trying to keep him flying and not landing.  Demand for data integration is huge. I’d expect here some technological thinking and not process-organization. Until now, this is in complete ownership of services and smaller partners developing specific integration application.

Where does PLM stop and ERP begins?
Don’t even try to put this border. To establish this border is the same like to establish gatekeeper on the firewall between engineering and manufacturing. In my view, this is a huge mistake. We need to work toward removal of this wall by using appropriated technologies, methodology, collaboration and social application.

What is my conclusion after all? I can identify two PLM trends. (1) Cross organizational processes. By ability to connect and interplay different organizational process, PLM can be in unique role in the organization representing a product-oriented activities. (2) Future design excellence, 3D tools, consumer-oriented experience.

PLM and ERP need to stop fighting in the organization. As a first step, PLM needs to take the next level in the organization and embrace a cross-functional processes and organizational needs that cannot be served by any of existing systems.

Just my thoughts.
Best, Oleg


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