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PLM and ERP's- Merging of Technology and How it's Changing Implementations

By John M Hoover, SAP PLM -PPM Practice Director, GyanSys

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John M Hoover, SAP PLM -PPM Practice Director, GyanSys

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software has been about document management in the past. Very recently, providers of PLM, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software are changing their technology and strategy for implementations beyond typical Product Data Management (PDM) and CAD integration. This exciting push forward was driven by good competition between PLM, ERP providers and user demand for quicker implementation results. PDM and CAD software is now reaching into the arena of ERP, and ERP providers, especially SAP, are not sitting still and are pushing heavily into the PDM and CAD visual management spaces. In turn this greatly changes how IT, PMO, and engineering teams can implement this software for greater benefit across many discreet, process, and repetitive industries. Implementation methods have been improved such as road mapping, deployment methodology, design, and data conversion to benefit from the technology integration.

“Today PLM crosses all industry segments, including growing in recipe and process development where this industry segment was often on custom developed applications”

First let’s understand what PLM is. PLM is a large umbrella that contains many sub areas of functions and covers business processes from product concept (idea), new product development (NPD) portfolio management, engineering change management, bills of material, recipes, service data, and support through product end of life. In just the last decade PLM was dependent upon CAD and PDM software suppliers; this is no longer the case. Each supplier has moved to span the bridge between CAD, PDM and ERP to provide the full PLM functionality. Data in PLM is comprised of documents both structured and unstructured, part/material masters, eBOMs and classification data for documents and materials which may at present be stored in the CAD or legacy PDM system.

How can one benefit from the software integration and lessons of others in this PLM technology journey? Let’s walk through how implementations with new technology can provide faster and more successful implementations.

As with any journey, a roadmap is the starting point. This contains each functional area and a high-level timeline for the implementation tied to each area of software, functionality, and processes. Most successful implementations depend upon this first step to organize what comes first, especially without a big bang implementation. A roadmap will give the foresight to deploy software, processes in bundles that are now possible given the new bridge between ERP, CAD and PDM software. This approach is not agile, though it can take a multiyear big bang project and break it up into manageable pieces. Moreover, this shows progress to stakeholders throughout the implementation.

Project methodology, deployment and communication is key for PLM implementations. Here are a few tips that help tie the technology and methodology together for success. Dedicate a project team and champion; if a team member is too valuable to miss their daily job duties, that is the person you want assigned to the project. PLM projects are large and part time teams can increase design decision lead-time. Decisions cannot take more than 2-3 days or this could extend implementation of full PLM by years. Remember, the second best decision is better than no decision. Do not plan to run parallel production systems, as this puts strain on the business team and risks having bad data in two systems. Fight through the bumps and do not be tempted to run parallel or you will never move forward from a legacy system. Communicate to end users, not only the new technology functions for PLM, but how will they access it, FAT client or via browser.

In addition, decide how to best integrate the PLM environment design, physically on premises or a cloud solution or mix of both. This can depend on a lot of factors including number of engineering and manufacturing locations. How will structured and unstructured documents be best stored and accessed? One option could be Microsoft SharePoint, it’s a popular link location for unstructured documents, which can easily integrate with any PDM and ERP solution. From a process design prospective, beware of the technology trap. Technology today has many advanced workflow and notification features and what looks like a perfect process can quickly become a morass. Avoid nested workflows and logic, as these can become too complex; keep it simple. Clean up burdensome processes for approvals, for instance if it takes 10 approvals to make a R&D part production ready and 7 approvals for a $5,000,000 purchase order, look at those types of approval levels and lean it out.

Regardless of software selected, the data conversion/migration effort should start before the project kicks off. Some canned tools from various providers can ease this though the next steps remain true. Data conversion of in-flight documents, BOMs, NPD projects should not be underestimated; many implementations hit this as a major roadblock. To conquer this, start data cleansing ASAP by deleting or marking obsolete any attributes no longer required in legacy systems. Plan to load data in several logical sets prior to go-live, migrating this non-WIP data early. Ensure a good delta process is maintained and tracked in the legacy system for new documents, BOMs, and others. Archive old data if possible, start by agreeing to the aging of the product/documents to be migrated; map the documents and attributes to the new software fields. Create a data conversion plan, including a mock go-live and dry runs in a quality or test system and capture the timings. This system should match the production system in size and processing power to reduce risk of timings and other errors not represented correctly.

Today PLM crosses all industry segments, including growing in recipe and process development where this industry segment was often on custom developed applications. This new PLM and ERP Integration allows faster more successfully implementations.

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