The end of debates about out-of-the-box PLM?

September 8, 2014

plm-out-of-the-box

PLM implementation discussions are usually brings lots of controversy. Vendors, analysts, advisers, service companies, customers are all involved into implementations. It brings different and, sometimes, conflicting interests. In my view, one of the most debated topic in PLM implementations is related to so called ability to implement “PLM Out-of-the-box”. I’m not sure who first used that term. I think, it came out of PLM vendor marketing trying to demonstrate how easy and quick PLM implementation can be done. However, since then, the debates about “PLM Out of the box” had never ended.

Two other related topics are customization and configuration. For long period of time, I didn’t differentiate much between these two terms. However, modern enterprise software lexicon (and PLM vendors are in a full compliance with that) will define “configuration” (opposite to customization) a process that doesn’t require to write a software code for PLM implementation, but only use some elements of PLM user interface to configure a system. It probably turns all PLM implementation into “customization”, since writing programming scripts (using VB scripts or JS) is a widely used practice during all PLM configurations.

But let me get back to OOTB topic. I covered PLM OOTB few times in my blog. You can navigate your browser and read PLM Out-of-the-Box: Misleading or Focusing? published almost four years ago. From my latest posts, I can recommend you to take a read of the following article – Why My PLM won’t work for you? My attention was caught by an article that looks like trying to end all debates about PLM OOTB.

Aras Corp. published an interview with Dr. Martin Eigner who recently joined Aras’ board of advisors. In a very short published interview Dr. Eigner dots the i’s and crosses the t’s in the debates about out-of-the-box PLM and customization. Here is a main passage I captured. It has a strong Aras marketing flavor, but to quote it is important to bring a full message:

Dr. Martin Eigner: The kernel PLM functions are very similar from all competing PDM / PLM solution providers and from functionality it’s not a big criteria to differentiate each other. The user interface, performance and customization is important. Customization is very important because I do not believe even for small customers that you can buy PLM solution out of the box. That is a dream. You have to customize it. The real differentiator of existing PDM systems is the amount of money and capacity to customize a PLM solution. So I think usability, performance, upgrade capability and how easy it is to customize and maintain the customized solution are the most important points. They have the strongest impact on the total cost of ownership. I think in all these topics [performance, usability, upgrades, and customizations] Aras is leading. There are independent tests which show the system’s performance. We did internal tests at my university and found Aras to be the easiest to customize and upgrade. That is a big difference to the competitors. Customization is the most important aspect of PLM. Out-of-the-box works for no one.

I’m not in full agreement with Dr. Eigner about the fact you have to customize every PLM implementation. However, there is one point, which I think it is very important and I liked how Dr. Eigner emphasized that. It is related to the ability to maintain a customized PLM solution. This is one of the key differentiators of something I call a sustainable PLM platform. Customized legacy PLM is data management titanic in many implementations. Companies have to spend resources to maintain the solution, which is in most situation cannot support latest version of PLM platform provided by vendor.

What is my conclusion? Sustainable PLM platform. This is should be an important element of every PLM strategy these days. Modern business environment is very dynamic. Customer are looking for an agile way to implement business solution, adopt it to a new requirements as well as to maintain existing configuration. In my view, the concept of OOTB PLM should be revised with modern open architecture approach, which can simplify configuration, customization and sustainability of existing solutions. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Cloud Customization and Online Code Editors

May 8, 2014

cloud-code-plm

One size doesn’t fit all. It very true especially when it comes down to PLM implementations. Once released as a toolkit, PDM / PLM systems did a long way from a system that requires special software compilation to be done for every customers to the current system with flexible data models and tools allowing to configure and customize almost everything. Flexibility (in data model and code) is one of the most demanded characteristics of modern PLM systems.

Customization is also special territory in PLM business. It brings complexity and requires special attention. PLM vendors spent lots of effort to reduce the amount customization required for PLM deployments. However, after all, every PLM implementation requires services. Part of these services is related to customer requests to develop special functionality.

Cloud brings some advantages and complexity to PLM customization-ability. Specific aspects of cloud technology and customization can be different for public and private cloud deployment. Multi-tenant architecture can apply some additional level of complexity. One of the aspects of complexity can be usage of development tools on the cloud.

TechCrunch Disrupt NY presentation by Codeanywhere caught my attention. Navigate your browser to read more Codeanywhere, The Google Docs For Developers, Rocks Startup Alley At Disrupt NY. The idea of Codeanywhere to serve as universal coding environment available on any device is compelling. Look here for more features. I specially liked the ability to manage and store code in different repositories. You can connect to your favorite 3rd party services like Dropbox, Github, Google Drive as well as move files and folders between services.

codeanywhereeditor_large

I have to say that Codeanywhere is not the only provider of coding environment in the cloud. Navigate here to see more tools available. My attention caught service called Runnable. Note, the broad support of languages and tools – C++, Java, Rails, Node.js, JQuery, PHP and more.

runnable-editor-options

Cloud code environments made me think about the opportunity integration (or even embedding) of such type of development environment into cloud PLM platforms. It can provide unmatchable capability to customize PLM systems regardless on location from both sides (customer and developer). The result – low development cost, flexibility to chose the location of service providers and lower customization expenses for customers.

What is my conclusion? Cloud puts some constraints on PLM system customization. To choose special and effective tools can be a game changer for efficient customization. Risk of broad errors and complex multi-tenant constraints raises the need to create a special customization environment. At the same time, cloud is an excellent opportunity to lower the cost of PLM customization by optimizing the overall customization process and, as a result of that, lower expenses. PLM service providers can work from remote locations as well as have much simpler way to re-use customization. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

pic credit – codeanywhere.com and runnable


Six dimensions to customize PLM

April 24, 2014

plm-customization-six-dims

Ask two engineers about how to make stuff and you get at least three opinions about possible ways to do so. To find consensus in engineering, product development and manufacturing is hard. From my experience engineers and software developers is the group with largest diversity of opinions and custom requirements. I’ve learned it hard way implementing and developing PDM / PLM software. Large manufacturing companies are better organized and leaning towards well-established business processes and polices. PLM vendors are using so-called "business transformation" approach to implement PLM for large manufacturers. It proved to be efficient for many companies (not only largest OEMs, but also smaller companies). However, the TCO of existing solutions is still too high. It is very hard to convince small company to implement PLM. In addition to that, smaller companies are less influenced by corporate hierarchy, business processes and IT system governance. I put some of my thoughts about that here – Why PLM stuck to provide solutions for SME?

Software vendors and service providers are facing the problem how to customize PLM for large and diverse set of requirements. Software toolkit was the first way to solve customization problem. Only very large customers accepted toolkit approach. It was complicated and costly. The next answer provided by PDM / PLM vendors was flexible data modeling and configuration. Most of modern PDM / PLM software suites are providing set of configuration tools to do that. Nevertheless, PLM implementation is still long process taking weeks or months. In many situations, it still requires some customization to be done.

Vendors need to find another way to customize PLM system. Current customization approach is mostly focused on a company – industry, size, processes. It made me think about another way to customize the system by focusing on a specific user in a company. I can see some of these ideas in role-based and out-of-the-box approach in developing of enterprise systems. However, I can see it different by stepping down from holistic company-wide customization towards specific user-oriented goals. In other words, company was the customer before. Now, it is about individual users.

Below, I summarized six dimensions of customization that can help to identify customization directions.

1- Who. This is very similar to role-based approach. It can help to identify specific key people and their everyday needs. List their functions and pains. What is specifically different for each of them. How to personalize apps / service for every individual.

2- What. This dimension speaks about specific function. How to customize the system to a very specific operation. What do customers do differently with the system. Go to the level of person (not department)

3- Where. This is a dimension that helps you think about customized locations. How is your system different for every place. How customer can do the work everywhere and how is that different. How to provide system wherever customer wants.

4- When. There are two major aspects here – how to make system available 24×7 and how to make system available instantly (by eliminating long implementation cycles and preparation).

5- Why. One of the most critical customization factors. Why user needs your system? How to provide ROI and make system stick? How to add more value for every specific user and not "in general" for the company.

6- How. This dimension is about customization factors responsible for how to delivery the product to different customers. What delivery forms to use. How my customers are different and how to satisfy customers in every way.

What is my conclusion? Today, company policies, business practices and organizational structure are factors that impact the way PLM vendors are customizing their software. Nothing wrong with that approach. Future customization can move from holistic "company" wide customization towards specific "customer" (read – user) needs. PLM software should be more personal and, by doing that, to attach to specific user functions in a very unique way – to provide value, be available everywhere, anytime and in any form. This is a future for truly customizable PLM software. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to eliminate PLM customization problems?

March 28, 2014

plm-customization

I’m following strategic visions of the major PLM vendors 2014+ publication by Jim Brown – well known analyst and my blogging buddy for last few years. It started as a publication covering Autodesk, Dassault, PTC, Siemens (vendors listed alphabetically). Last week, Jim expanded his PLM vision publications by adding Aras Innovator to the list. Navigate here to read about Aras 2014+ vision. Aras is well known by their Enterprise Open Source strategy. One of the interesting differentiation I captured in Jim’s article is related to Aras’ strategy to break rules of PLM customization. Here is the passage:

Aras has decided to break the rules [of PLM customization]. They aim to become the PLM company that defies the conundrum, allowing manufacturers to customize their software and still upgrade to future releases without major disruption. They can do this because customers can update the data schema, business rules, workflows, and forms without jeopardizing the integrity of the system. How does this work? Aras’ XML-based, model-oriented approach coupled with their willingness to provide customers with the business flexibility and tools to make it feasible. Aras has effectively morphed themselves into a PLM Platform with solid core functionality with a built in ability to be extended by customers and partners. To put this strategy into action, they have told me they are “putting their money where their mouth is.” They now include upgrade services as a part of their subscription service. I haven’t seen that from anyone else anywhere, particularly while encouraging people to enhance and modify the package. This is a clear differentiator and makes Aras unique in the PLM market.

PLM customization is a tricky deal. Honestly, nobody is dreaming to make PLM implementation with zero customization effort. It all starts from flexible data modeling, which imply certain level of data customization. Time ago, I posted – Is PLM customization a data management Titanic? Earlier this year, I’ve been discussing options and reasons on How to de-customize PLM? The story of PLM customization is tightly related to PLM system flexibility data modeling. Typically, every PLM implementation contains some portion of customization that usually done by service organization and/or internal IT department. Lifecycle rules, data import, workflows, integration with other enterprise systems – this is only a very short list of customizations done during PLM deployment. Another huge aspect of customization is related to system upgrades. That one is actually mentioned by Jim Brown in his Aras’ review.

So, is there a way to solve customization problem? In my view, the answer is – it depends. In my view, you cannot eliminate specific implementation activities. Adding of new features and infrastructure technologies (eg. RDBMS) will require certain upgrade activity to happen. However, if you are selling services, the interest will be to optimize this work. Cloud vendors have similar incentive to optimize infrastructure upgrades and maintenance, otherwise operational cost will go up. So, smart technology can optimize cost and customization efforts.

What is my conclusion? Business and technology are going together. To have good business incentive to optimize technologies is always helpful and can put pressure on development organization to optimize cost of infrastructure upgrades. Service based offering (open source and cloud) are two great examples where business interests of vendors and customers are going at the same direction. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to Decustomize PLM?

December 24, 2013

plm-decustomize-easy

Customization is one of the most favorite topics in PLM. Back 20-30 years ago, product data management (PDM) was born as a toolkit. Earlier PDM implementations took months and required deep changes in PDM system code and behaviors. It was leading to a growing complexity of implementation, highly sophisticated implementation skills and time. What is even more important and dangerous it was a reason many PDM/PLM implementations stuck in the back and failed to upgrade to newer versions of PLM software. I expressed it in one of my old articles – Is PLM Customization a Data Management Titanic? My guess back in 2010 was that future flexibility of data management technologies should make future customization and updates easier.

Customization problem exists in other domains of enterprise software. I found an interesting example of how extensive customization can damage enterprise software deployment and implementations. CMSWire article 6 Predictions for SharePoint, Office 365 in 2014 speaks about adoption of SharePoint 2013. One of the prediction speaks about SharePoint customization or actually… decustomization. I found this passage interesting:

We’ve heard Microsoft strongly suggest not to customize SharePoint, that branding doesn’t improve user experience or make processes better. That migration to new versions is easier without a lot of customization. The new SharePoint 2013 app model is also a strong pointer from Microsoft to keep SharePoint as out of the box as possible and focus on using Apps for additional customizations.

I think this is a good thing. Many of the challenges we see with migration projects are the result of branding and customizations — some of which may not have been necessary. Part of the reason SharePoint has been customized in the past is that developers are learning to use the platform and trying new things. The new App model reduces much of this, putting the testing and learning outside of SharePoint directly.

It made me think again about PLM implementation and customization projects. For the last decade, PLM vendors put a lot of efforts in developing of out-of-the-box offerings and strategies. Marketing used different names for this activity – from "express solutions" to "industry offerings". In my view, the result was somewhat mixed – it simplified PDM implementations and some smaller PLM deployment. At the same time, many even relatively smaller PLM implementations are still far from go simple way. In my view, the best confirmation to that is growing interest in acquiring service and consulting companies by PLM vendors. The last one was Siemens PLM acquiring TESIS PLMWare focuses on PLM integrations.

What is my conclusion? Decustomization of PLM will be one of the most important elements in the future PLM infrastructure improvements. To make implementation cost effective and to support future cloud deployments, PLM vendors will have to invest in technologies and methods to simplify deployment, flexibility and speed of implementations. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


The role of PLM in mass customization

August 21, 2013

Product customization is one of the trends that changing the manufacturing landscape these days. Mass production was a mainstream for many manufacturing companies and industries. The appearance of configurable products and manufactured end items was limited. One of the most visible examples of customization in production was Dell. However, even Dell had a very limited ability to configure products. Cost advantage was clear and customers dragged by affordable prices of predefined configurations.

However, business is getting different these days. The demand of customers for customization is getting higher. Technological changes, internet, cloud solutions, supply chain and many other factors are re-shaping manufacturing landscape. Earlier today, I was reading Mashable article – Why Large-Scale Product Customization Is Finally Viable for Business. The writeup presents an interesting perspective of why mass customization is finally getting affordable and desirable. Here is my favorite quote explaining customer demand for mass customization:

Consumers’ expectations are being shaped by their lives online. Customization plays a large and growing role in digital experiences, from Facebook to Pandora Internet radio to mobile applications like location-aware Google Maps.

One of the elements solutions for mass customization is customer facing product configurator. Here is another interesting passage from the article:

Today’s customer-facing technologies are cheaper and easier to deploy than ever. The price (and time requirement) for developing customer-facing configurators has dropped significantly in the past few years. It’s a fraction of the cost even compared to a few years ago (think $50,000, down from $1 million). And new uses –- like embedding configurators within Facebook — make configurators more accessible (and more social).

Mass customization and product configurator topic made me think about what is the role of PLM in manufacturing of configurable products. Traditional PLM was dealing with customization via heavy loaded engineering to order processes. For most of the cases PLM companies were partnering with companies making product configurators or used ERP-based products. The most complicated part was to integrate multiple systems in a single solution, which required lost of code “hard-wire” and data transformations. The integrated software product line of product configurator – ERP – PLM – ERP and back to the shopfloor and shipping was hardly achievable by most of the manufacturing companies and PLM software vendors.

What is my conclusion? I think customization is the future for many manufacturers these days. The percentage of “configurable” and flexible manufacturing facilities will be growing. It will include online configurators, flexible configuration platforms and integration with production and supply chain. In my view, PLM should play a role in this modernization. It is a huge opportunity and the way to re-shape the future of manufacturing. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why do you need to ask PLM vendor about JavaScript?

August 10, 2013

Customization is a great deal in every enterprise software deployment. Despite all efforts of vendors to invent out of the box (OOTB) enterprise software deployment, most of systems are requiring significant customization and coding. This is not a healthy situations, but with absence of better choices, manufacturing companies need to look for systems that can be flexible enough and supporting easy customization. In one of my previous blogs – PLM customization is Data Management titanic, I’ve been talking about challenges of customization as well as mentioned example of customers migrating between heavy customized PLM systems.

A typical PLM customization includes variety of tasks including changes in data models, tailoring of user interface and integration with other enterprise systems. To make your hands dirty and write some custom code is almost unavoidable task in this situation. If you long enough, you probably remember, VB and/or VB script were king of the road in all implementations and customization for many years. You practically had no choice to make any changes and customization without knowing this language.

I have to say that situation changed since the last decade. Intensive development of web and mobile application made VB/VBScript usage going down. JavaScript becomes a new king on the road. The following ReadWrite Web article caught my attention earlier today – Why Javascript will become the dominant programming language of the enterprise? Read the article and make your opinion. I found the following passage interesting:

There are strong odds in favor of JavaScript becoming the dominant language ofthe enterprise. This isn’t to say every other language will atrophy overnight (they won’t; too many legacy systems count on them) nor that JavaScript is free of issues (no language is). But the gigantic efficiencies to be gained by having a lingua franca for the enterprise, especially when that lingua is easily learned and already in wide adoption, makes the case for JavaScript very strong. Even Microsoft has warmed to the JavaScript movement, promoting it to first-class citizenship in Windows 8.

All of this is good news for the enterprise. A simple, open language, equally adapted to building both client and server-side apps? There’s no such thing as technology utopia, but JavaScript looks like the next best thing.

I often use Google Trend to capture dynamics of people interest. The following chart presents some dynamics between VBscripts and JS.

What is my conclusion? The landscape of software development is changing dramatically these days. Cloud, web and mobile development are main driving forces together with open source software. It will impact enterprise tools and introduce new requirements for integrating PLM products (and not only) in the enterprise and beyond. Important. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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