The Illusion of Choice

BoughtTheSoftwareThe Product Lifecycle Market (PLM) market is ripe with choice – or at least the illusion of it.  The ever-expanding range of products and sub products, resellers, and various consultancy options associated with PLM has created what I would consider to be a rather perplexing and intimidating marketplace for all but the most tenacious, meticulous, and savvy of buyers.  It’s easier to deal with bouncing a graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish.  Whatever the circumstance, the complexity has created a barrier that I firmly believe keeps PLM from truly expanding beyond traditional PDM strongholds.  It’s definitely a seller dominated market.

I was thinking about this particular challenge, while reading a recent post by Oleg Shilovitsky about the importance of executive support within any PLM Project.  Somewhere near the end of that article he mentions:

“However, I’d like to put some controversy in this PLM journey nirvana. It would be great for business to have time to choose their PLM journey road with enough time for discussing, planning and implementing.” 

Regardless of how sound that little piece of wisdom is, the problem is that such a luxury seems to be an elusive improbability given the current state in how PLM is adopted.  Now why is that?  Researching and evaluating PLM products objectively is too time-consuming, and unfortunately the process is likely to be short-circuited by decidedly old-school sales pressures.

From a research standpoint, there are few de facto sources of comparison with enough detail to be useful.  There are plenty of industry publications and coalitions, but they are careful not to take controversial positions; after all revenue is drawn either from direct vendor sponsorship or indirectly via consulting services on the same products.  The result is products highlights are featured, and shortcomings are mostly glossed over.  I don’t bemoan the business model, but the market could certainly use the equivalent of a Consumer Reports for PLM – complete with comprehensive customer feedback vetted for quality.  But there’s just not enough traction to make such a thing independently viable without creating a lot of noise….yet.  Ventures like G2 Crowd are trying to make progress in this arena and I applaud them for it.  Huzzah.

Review and comparative data can help narrow the field but can only get you so far.  Each business is unique and must accurately evaluate the products based on real world experience relevant to the implementation.  A business really needs to understand the inner workings of a product at a rather granular level to know how effective it might be for their specific uses.  They need to do this quickly and with minimum effort.  Just like buying a car, you need to kick the tires, look under the hood, and tell the salesman to shut up and go away for while.  (The “shut up” part is the most fun, incidentally).  And this is where things really tend to go south.

The trouble is that setting up most PLM systems to evaluate quickly is about as easy as orchestrating your own Mars landing.  I hope you have plenty of money, hardware, and rocket scientists.  Quick, someone call Elon.  Consulting services can certainly help with this – but in many cases money is not allocated for such an exercise, or in the case of smaller business it’d an unaffordable luxury anyway.

In theory, you should just be able to log into a cloud instance, start configuring and just get after that.  Make a workflow, revise some documents.  Just play.  It should be natural and it should be uninhibited.   But unfortunately few if any products offer that sort of immediacy.

Analysts also tend to recommend pilot programs – an excellent idea.  Regrettably  most implementations barely have time for a single pilot program much less multiple pilots.  If the pilot reveals the software is inadequate for the task, the project often ends up killed outright or ends up implemented as is anyway, because it’s too hard to return to square one.  Too many companies are still not comfortable with or ignorant of the “Falling Forward” concept.  Not a good deal either way.

The compounding of all these time and money barriers ends up devastating  even the most determined efforts at due diligence – and before you know it demo-driven hard selling has closed a deal at the C-level.  In many companies I have seen over the years, those charged with implementing the PLM system often had absolutely nothing to do with selecting it.  And worse still, those very same implementers sincerely wish they had been involved.

The short circuit is not necessarily a result of exceptionally poor judgment, unbridled stupidity, or cosmic radiation.  Instead it tends to be a command decision taken in a fire fight – realization that the costs incurred for a thorough valuation is simply too high, and yet offers no guarantee of success.  The compromise is to roll with a well known vendor, preferably a vendor that’s already in use to leverage the best contract prices and/or integrations.  After all:

“No one ever got fired for buying IBM”

The above quote is in reference to the mid 80’s PC market but the concept applies today in the PLM space.  No one is getting fired for going with any of the major vendors – even though implementations can and do languish or go south entirely.  Fault can be attributable to multiple complex factors, and it would be unreasonable to squarely blame the software package for an implementation failure.  So it’s just best to pull the trigger on what seems like the sure thing.  The demo was so… awesome…

Still I have to wonder sometimes.

I’d be interested to know – how many systems in place today do you think have been fairly and correctly evaluated?  How many millions have been wasted in poor choices?  Or is it just better to take the blue pill?

  • Mahesh Beri

    Great Post !
    More often than not we see ambitious PLM projects struggle to meet objectives .. but admission of “Why things went wrong?” is rarely done ..
    On Customer side .. Perhaps management does not want to admit ..
    I agree the vendor part as well.. somehow “Power of Suppliers” is strong force that kind of compells customers to carry on even when solution is not fullfilling.
    I hope distruptive solutions (techonolgy/process) will shape the industry better in future.
    Mahesh

    • Thanks for the comment, Mahesh. When it comes to lessons learned from
      an implementation gone wrong, I think most management is supportive.
      However, the typical failure mode is so ridden in complexity between people,
      decisions, and technology over time that only the best organizations can
      properly synthesize that complexity into appropriate conclusions of
      what went wrong.

      I think the fact that the failures occur and
      that the reasons why aren’t typically apparent is proof enough the simpler
      approaches are required.