Paul Atreides Meets a Consultant

Put Your PLM in the Box

As enterprise software vendor houses struggle with one another to maintain and expand their territories and influence, they fight across both philosophical and logistical boundaries. What’s to say where the boundaries falls between, we know these battle lines are long-contested, not a day goes by where there’s not another story about PLM bumping up against ERP. House PLM. House ERP. House CRM. House MDM. So many acronyms claiming holistic enterprise solutions all at once, it threatens to give you a headache worthy of a space fold. We’ll ignore for the moment that a strategic philosophy like PLM shouldn’t be exclusively characterized by the specific software that carries the name. Never mind that definitions for all of these things tend to be very liquid. And we’ll conveniently forget that the right solutions tend to involve one of everything, creating multi-headed dragons. There’s collateral damage from this turf war, and that’s the mass confusion with some customers who go off and try to implement something that has exactly zero chance of meeting their needs. Some have suggested that the solution is to put your PLM in the box. What’s in the box? Pain.

Andrew White of the Gartner Blog Network responds to that challenge with a declaration: Product Lifecycle Management does NOT manage customer-facing product information – true or false? In that post, he lays blame squarely on the vendors for allowing PLM solutions to escape the definitions of what PLM solutions can and/or should do:

“Why does this keep happening?  Because PLM vendors over step their capabilities without the knowledge, skills, and capabilities needed to satisfy the promise of their own sales person.”

For which he suggests a solution:

“Please, please, please keep and put PLM back into its box.  We did it CRM, and we did it with ERP.  Can we please do it again with PLM?”

So perhaps using the Benne Gesserit voice, we can demand: “Put PLM in the box.” Why? Well, because we said so and if you don’t we’ll stab you in the neck. Put your PLM in the box. Enterprise software vendors, however, don’t want to stay in a box. Why should they? Every potential customer who asks for something extra is an opportunity to make their current box bigger by taking away from someone else’s box. And of course everyone wants to be the largest box. He who controls the spice controls the universe.

Remember: enterprise solutions are still sold at the C-level. Imagine an executive asks the PLM sales team about managing product info for sales (let’s say a configurator for example), or providing strategic management of suppliers. “I’m willing to pay extra.” The sale engineer could answer one of two ways:

  • Answer 1: You know how we talked about a single source of truth across the entire enterprise for all your product information? Well, we really meant that in the context of product development only. We could refer you to an ERP and a DAM vendor that could handle those aspects, and you’ll have to setup a project on those systems to incorporate specifically what you’re asking for. Then in order to manage the information between each system you’ll need to setup some kind of MDM bridge to handle data traffic between the suites. So you’ll probably need a minimum of three extra teams and associated expertise to run those projects. So are you ready to sign up?
  • Answer 2: Yeah, we can do that.

Which answer will get the sale? In case you were asleep for the last five minutes, Answer 2 wins every time. Andrew continues in his post with the multi-headed dragon approach:

“The MDM hub should act as the traffic cop between all the major applications such as CRM, ERP and PLM.  Each local app or suite might even have its own local hub to share data used locally – that is where PIM came from originally – much as Customer Data Integration (CDI) emerged as the shared customer hub for CRM and other customer masters.”

This result is not the promise of the various strategic philosophies, but rather the reality of implementation based on the current software approach. Thanks to the confusion generated by the endless turf war between said solutions, few companies are sufficiently prepared to face this hard truth. Fewer still can properly afford it or have the mentat to manage it. But are there any other alternatives? Well, there’s the one-system-to-rule them all pipedream… OK, we can all stop laughing now. Anything else?

The current state of affairs has too much dependency on category defining suites, not enough flexibility, not enough resiliency, too much overlap, and little true optimization for specific tasks. Like major cities that depend on highways as the sole mode of transport between them, when the highway is out it’s bad news bears. It’s essentially a hub-and-spoke model.   The lines of the future enterprise aren’t so clearly drawn. New enterprise software innovations will be genre-defying, category busting, laser-focused point solutions. The explosion is driven by ever-lower barriers of entry for standing up business-class software solutions. Traditional PLM division, as well as ERP, MDM, and CRM division, amongst others stand to fall at the mercy of a swarm of focused solutions, some of which will exist in currently defined boxes and others which will reach across in unexpected ways. Individually they will be simpler, weaker, less complete than current suites but together they will be far more versatile and resilient. And also more accessible to smaller companies to boot.  Visually, it might look like this:


The left is what we have today. The right is the path forward. So don’t bother stuffing PLM in the box. Soon enough, there will be no box.