The Third Age of PLM (With apologies to Tolkien and JMS)

OneDoesNotSimplyIt is the dawn of the Third Age of PLM.    PLM is at a crossroads, and perhaps more alarmingly a precipice.  Long enough have we stood upon the accomplishments of the First and Second Ages – if nothing new is to come, then PLM stands to be forgotten in the land of IT, where the shadows lie.

The First Age of PLM began with its very creation, or perhaps more correctly with the creation of PDM (Product Data Management).  With the birth of PLM/PDM, forged in the very fires of Mount Doom, came the important understanding that  keeping files in directories just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  Document and part model changes needed robust revision control to make sense of the chaos inherent with the development of any product.  The concept of product structure, which related constituent elements of a complex product to each other, was a key innovation among many others.

The Second Age of PLM arrived with the realization  that PDM managing engineering-created data and then serially communicated across the business was only the first step in a grander objective.  That rather all disciplines across the enterprise should be involved with the PLM stream, to form a single source of truth for all the information surrounding a product throughout its lifecycle.  The effort involved serious moves into manufacturing, marketing, quality, and others.  Unbeknownst to our heroes, however, the foundations of PLM began to erode, due to the dire cost and difficulty of implementing such an increasingly complex system.  Not to mention the dark lord, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) a long established suite of technologies firmly entrenched in the transactional manufacturing space had some unclear overlapping capabilities with PLM… and so battle lines were carefully drawn.

And so we have arrived, perilously to the The Third Age of PLM.  But despite all the battles and victories of the prior two ages, there’s still more than a few orcs in the way.

“Your quest still stands upon the edge of knife – stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all.”

The tenets of PLM are sound for the development of any product, large or small.  But in this rapidly transforming technological era, PLM is struggling to find its stride and identity.  Attempting to be all things to everyone and burdened by antiquated and languishing software architectures and interfaces, the PLM “value proposition” is narrowing to only the largest and most dedicated implementations.   Combined with integration of an equally unwieldy ERP installation, this quickly becomes an endeavor for only the hardiest customer.  The battle at Helm’s Deep is a cakewalk in comparison.

“Yet hope remains while all the company is true.”

And so the Third Age is a time of strife.  PLM has to innovate, not only to clearly establish PLM as a concept in the simplest terms, but also to dramatically increase its accessibility and affordability for all potential users.  And if that does not come to pass, then no amount of Legolas shield surfing will help.