The Legion of PLM Doom

LegionofDoomLet’s state the obvious: we need more Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) startups tackling the big problems in unique and unexpected ways. The enterprise software landscape desperately needs an infusion of innovation and entrepreneurship, especially in PLM. Most PLM thought leadership is unsurprisingly locked into a pattern of sustaining innovation, firmly entrenched in the technology choices of the last two decades. It’s a situation I have highlighted before in Why We Need more PLM Epic Fails. We need outright disruption. Oleg Shilovitsky has called attention to the same problem in two recent articles: A Potential Surge of CAD/PLM Startups and Traditional PLM Have Reached Their Limits. The good news is there has never been a better time for entrepreneurship, technology (especially the Amazon Cloud) has removed many traditional barriers to entry. We need more people in the pool. Jump on in, the water’s fine. It’s time to innovate or die.

Yet, somehow it feels like the majority of the PLM establishment lives on some far away planet. Case in point, Peter Bilello and James Roche of industry analyst CIMData make very astute observations in the realm of Aerospace and Defense:

“CIMdata’s A&D Value Gap Survey, reported on last year, provides ample evidence and insight into the declining return on PLM investment within A&D and the need to develop new strategies for fulfilling future needs…”


“PLM solution providers continually deliver new products, architectures, and solutions to market, while industrial customers must cope with previous product launches, attempting to realize the value from existing PLM investments. “

CIMdata has chosen to be proactive by assembling what they call “The Aerospace & Defense PLM Action Group” to rise to the challenge of tackling impending challenges and save the world, Justice League style. Sounds pretty awesome. Well, except:

“The Aerospace & Defense PLM Action Group will define and direct the research efforts on key areas needed to meet future challenges. Current experiences with PLM-related implementations, best practice research, and close examination of emerging technologies will help define what the PLM solution providers should be offering.”

Already, I cringe at the very mention of best practice. Even if best practice exists (which it doesn’t) innovation is certainly not best practice. Furthermore, this seems like a crude substitute for the build-measure-learn feedback loop that solution providers should already be using first hand. The fact that the they aren’t is classic Innovator’s Dilemma – they are catering specifically to their largest customers and drifting up-market, not because they are morons, but because it makes sound financial sense. Current solutions providers are answerable to stock holders and have revenue expectations to meet. As such, innovation is not going to come from the existing customers or the existing solution providers. They’re digging in the wrong place, Indy. It could be worse, I guess.

It’s worse.

“The Action Group is open to major aerospace and defense OEMs and selected tier 1 suppliers. Participation enables members to make more informed business decisions by providing timely and valuable information, insights, and advice, while networking with companies with similar PLM challenges.”

Justice League this isn’t; this feels much more like the Legion of Doom. It’s exactly backwards. All we need is an irritable Solomon Grundy outlining the lengthy requirements for yet another convoluted multiple BOM integration. Such a task force is neck deep in established perspectives, and wouldn’t know innovation if it fell from the sky. While customer feedback on any concept is critically important it is not self-deterministic, innovation requires equal parts raw vision to act on said feedback.

Imagine if an action group approach of this sort was leveraged in another industry: In order to solve future challenges with regard to on-demand car service, an action group of taxi solution providers and tier 1 city councils around the world have been assembled together by a transportation analyst firm to determine the future of car service based on industry best practice and emerging technologies.

You think Uber would come out of that? That’s what I thought. Do you think Uber worried about best practice? Did they cater to the airports and governments that have created the established regulation and expectation for taxi service? No, they innovated. In the process they have utterly peeved practically every taxi company and municipality on the planet. Regardless of the outcry and regulatory barriers, you can feel the world and that industry changing. That’s disruption. Oh, and they’re also valued at $17 billion or so. That ain’t no Bitcoin, neither.

Our theoretical taxi action group, meanwhile, might have concluded the future of taxis must be… orange. With black leopard spots! Subsidized by tax payers. Grrr… OK, Captain McSmartyPants, what do you suggest for PLM innovation?

Simple: we need a dedicated CAD/PLM accelerator/incubator.

Domain knowledge from existing customers is indeed valuable, but it should not be limited to mere OEMs and tier 1 suppliers. Domain experts across all potential usage of PLM should be commingled with entrepreneurial veterans, to provide a mentorship/advisory/resource framework for the entrepreneurial rebels looking to punch a hole in the PLM world. Bring in some ties to venture capital – even sponsored investment from the R&D budgets of established companies, but ensure there is no necessary allegiance to perpetuate current technologies, assumptions, or business models. Pull that off and you just might have something where PLM innovation can truly take hold and thrive.