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'Platformization' Closing Open Loops are Forcing Product Lifecycle Management to the Enterprise

By Peter A. Bilello, President, CIMdata


Peter A. Bilello, President, CIMdata

CIOs have a pair of new and interlocking opportunities as they stay on top of the many product lifecycle-related technologies known as end-to-end lifecycle management. These opportunities are the “platformization” of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and the closing the many open loops throughout the product lifecycle. Both can help the migration of product lifecycle management to the upper reaches of the enterprise.

“In business and in IT, lifecycles surround us. As with everything else of value in the enterprise, lifecycles are a resource to be managed”

Lifecycle management is the core enabler for product and process innovation. PLM is rapidly expanding outward from engineering and manufacturing, gaining credibility and traction in every phase and discipline across the product lifecycle. In other words, PLM is no longer constrained by organizational charts or departmental “silos of expertise.”

PLM’s enabling solutions create and manage field service, warranties, software and technology development, new processes, and better workflows throughout today’s extended enterprise. The use of extended here means business partners, key suppliers, employees and other stakeholders, lenders, and even regulators.

End-to-end lifecycle management enables new services for customers, smarter strategies for physical assets, and intellectual property creation and management. All three are fundamental to global competitiveness.

Today, however, disruptions of product development and its support processes are everywhere. Powerful trends such as social and mobile, the Cloud, and globalization are forcing the management of product lifecycles into the highest level of the enterprise. This is true as well for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Requirements Management (CRM), and Supply Chain Management (SCM).

The Platformization of PLM

The technologies of product development change constantly and grow in complexity.

Until fairly recently these challenges were left in the hands of those who best understood them—engineers and technical experts in the departments. Now, however, product development capabilities are rapidly converging with other large-scale solutions to provide true end-to-end lifecycle management and data connectivity.

To keep pace, PLM has become “boundaryless”—in use throughout the extended enterprise.

This evolution of personal productivity tools and their integration is often expressed as platformization, the re-architecting of PLM’s software-based solution suites and the links between them. Platformization enables new approaches to ongoing, repetitive tasks throughout the product lifecycle while sustaining the extended enterprise.

In addition, platformization makes CIOs increasingly responsible for the investment in, and support of, PLM’s many applications, solutions, workflows, best practices, databases, and strategies. For some CIOs, this is old news. For others PLM represents a Brave New World in IT, or at least a New Normal.

The leading PLM solution providers are building product data- and process-oriented frameworks that span the enterprise. In the past three years, they spent over a billion dollars in acquiring dozens of specialized software companies as elements of their expanding platforms.

These acquisitions have done much to help close loops. Individuals who work in the product lifecycle anywhere in the enterprise (or the world) are gaining unprecedented access to the data and information generated anywhere in the entire lifecycle.

Platformization is rapidly overcoming digital dissimilarities in formats, data models, and tool sets. For “engineering” software, this is unprecedented. In one form or another, PLM is now everywhere in the product lifecycle—in design creation; in simulation, analysis, and design optimization; in verification and validation; and in field support and maintenance.

Platformization also fosters greater use of model-based engineering, in systems engineering and, ultimately, multi-disciplinary lifecycle optimization.

There is another way to look at this. Upheavals in product lifecycle management and proliferating new technologies triggered by irresistible forces in the marketplace are now coming full circle. One can easily envision product development and other PLM domains such as service with no internal databases, no proprietary architectures and data formats, and no vendor-specific geometry kernels.

Moreover, there is a distinct possibility that product development (and lifecycle management in general) will someday be managed by a proliferation of services in the Cloud—ever-changing applications and toolsets that can be connected easily and dynamically.

Closing The Loops

PLM platformization has become synonymous with “closing the loops” but, unfortunately few CIOs recognize the opportunity.

Open loops are questions that go unanswered or, worse, unasked. These disconnects undermine collaboration— essential to effective lifecycle management—among the increasingly diverse teams that define, manufacture, and service new products in the extended enterprise.

A crucial role of PLM is finding and managing information while identifying and informing those who add to that information, use it, or question it. If access to the right data in the right format at the right time is not closing the loop, nothing is. The dynamics of the lifecycle, however, mean that for every open loop identified and closed, new ones appear.

To put this into its broadest context, it is hard to find a technology trend from anywhere (or any time) that isn’t a loop closer.

What Happens Next: Governance

Two axioms of IT and Big Data are relevant here. First, nearly all the digital information we collect so obsessively is useless. Second, hidden within that jumble of data are countless insights, trends and correlations. This is no less true in product data, which points to a new rationale for effective governance.

The digital systems that support an organization’s product lifecycle management strategy may in the future run entirely on shared computing resources—an IT cluster of High- Performance Computing (HPC) servers in a sub-basement or on someone else’s servers in the Cloud. Either path makes PLM a shared responsibility of CIOs, engineering management, product and service support, and everyone else in the extended enterprise.

This means CIOs will need to weigh in on which PLM capabilities to invest in and implement. Success with enterprise PLM is not guaranteed any more than any other promise unless effective information governance is established and maintained. That task will fall to the CIO—if it hasn’t already.

In business and in IT, lifecycles surround us. As with everything else of value in the enterprise, lifecycles are a resource to be managed. Because lifecycles are increasingly easy to identify, there is an imperative to manage them better and extract more value from them.

This is why PLM is being forced to the enterprise level.

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