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Manufacturing companies put their PLM fate in the hands of software vendors

Sometimes, it feels like software and IT have a more powerful hype generator than most other industries. Often, there is a short distance between today’s inspired catchphrase and tomorrows’ tired cliché. One term that belongs to the latter category is Digital Transformation.

Everywhere I look these days, I see digital transformation-this, digital thread-that. Oh, and don’t forget the digital twin. Digital is all over the place, and while the evolution of digital technologies is real, digital transformation is just one of those concepts that easily result in hype and disappointment.

There have been too many IT initiatives described as being transformative when all they ever did was to provide people with tools to make them more productive or make certain processes more efficient.

 

Recently, I attended the ACE 2019 event in Arizona, where I heard this sentence:

 

“It’s easy to get excited about AI, AR, and the 3D visual experience. However, let’s be real. The first step is to get rid of your spreadsheets and paper documentation – to get an accurate product data baseline. We’re not just talking a digital CAD model, but data that includes access to performance data, as-built parts, and previous maintenance work history for everyone from technicians to product managers.”

 

Too often, I encounter this scenario for engineering teams at manufacturing companies, suppliers and contractors. Most of the teams at these companies are still using Excel or another variant of a spreadsheet solution. They love it for the flexibility, but they are at the point when the spreadsheet solution cannot be used as a reliable source of information.

Inspired by the sentence, let’s agree on the following things, once and for all!

1. A software upgrade or a supply chain improvement is not necessarily digital transformation!

Most “transformational” technology comes from tried-and-true operational technology like databases and strategic technologies like ERP or PDM/PLM software. It rarely comes from emerging or disruptive technology such as AR, AI or machine learning.

Decision makers at manufacturing companies should avoid the digital buzzwords or in any other way buy into the hype when entering an evaluation and selection process for a replacement for their spreadsheet solutions.

2. Companies often don’t know what they really need!

Speaking of selection processes. Why is it that manufacturing companies don’t take responsibility when entering a selection process for a new system?

Consider this metaphor: These companies want to compete in Formula One race series but have chosen their race car only by looking at the color, shape and from a short test drive on a straight road. There are several issues with this approach:

  • They haven’t had a look at the engine, which is a quite determining factor for winning a Formula One race.
  • They haven’t tested the pit crew for their ability to find a solution to possible race problems
  • They haven’t tried the car on different race tracks with different setups.

Many manufacturing companies don’t spend enough time on the details but only scratch the surface when defining their requirements and evaluating the available PLM solutions on the market.

My question to these companies is; how can they know (and understand) what they really need if they do not know what is possible?

The real problem is that companies put their (PLM) fate in the hands of the software vendor by shaping their requirements to fit a certain solution.

But that software vendor doesn’t know the DNA of the company, so the risk of choosing a solution that becomes a bad fit is significantly high.

3. Please make an informed decision this time!

Companies should remember that they are choosing a solution that they are going to live with for a very long time, so why is it that they are so careless in the selection process?

Are they interested in a solution that really solves their business issues or are they just looking for something that needs to be installed?

It is when companies understand – really understand – their own needs, requirements and what they really need in a solution that they are beginning to ask the right questions and define the right requirements.

But too often, it’s done too late. The solution has been chosen. And it is impossible to get out of that solution scenario again.

My recommendation is:

No matter which solution you end up buying, you need to take matters into your own hands!

  • Stop scratching the surface on the selection criteria.
  • Go deeper into the selection process and consider carefully which solution you select and must live with for the next 5-10 years.

About the author

Leon Lauritsen

Leon has worked with multiple IT systems from ERP to BI and PLM. His experience ranges all the way from programming to business consulting, project management and business development. Leon started his career in IT development and has further earned a diploma in IT and Economics at Copenhagen Business School and an Executive MBA at Henley Management College.  

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