Manage people and processes first

If PLM software is so wonderful, why don't we get to hear about all the success stories? Dean Palmer talks to EDS' John Hurley about issues hindering PLM adoption

"While PLM [product lifecycle management] software is often seen as the domain of the engineering department, manufacturers now want to extend the influence and subsequent value of their PLM initiatives across the entire organisation through integration to their core backbone ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems," commented John Hurley, president of EDS PLM Solutions UK. "So deciding which CAD/CAM software to purchase is becoming much more than just a tactical decision these days," he added. "What's changed is that manufacturing companies are now thinking on an enterprise level rather than treating elements of their business as separate entities." Hurley said that a firm's product definition software should "dictate to the rest of the organisation so that PLM feeds CRM, ERP, supply chain management and other enterprise level systems." Software vendors such as EDS, IBM/Dassault, MatrixOne, PTC and SAP are touting PLM as a 'cradle-to-grave' suite of applications designed to solve manufacturers' problems by centralising their product definition data, then sharing this with other departments, from design and development through to manufacturing, process management, assembly, test and after-sales service. But if the software is so wonderful, why aren't we hearing about all the manufacturing success stories then? The answer is there are barriers that need to be overcome by users first. First, managing change and cultural issues are a major problem. As Hurley explained to Eureka, "The Board often sees PLM as a golden opportunity to define a consistent set of rules and processes that the company can work to. We work with executives and operational people to try to define it all. What you have to be careful about is that the operational people don't slip back into old ways and continue to use the original processes and systems." Other sources agree with Hurley. A survey in Spring this year of UK manufacturing PLM users, conducted by industry analyst firm ARC entitled 'Growth and adoption of PLM", suggested there are three factors hindering adoption. As the report stated: "More than 40% of respondents pointed to existing internal processes as one of the primary reasons why their PLM initiatives did not meet expectations… The biggest hurdle was not the technology but changing internal processes and leading employees to adopt these changes." The report went on to say that, "users were using such a wide range of applications to enable their PLM strategy that integration issues were getting in the way." The survey found that, despite enormous investments that respondents had made in PLM, the majority said their PLM initiatives had yet to meet expectations. Only 17% said their PLM initiative had actually met or exceeded expectations. But the good news for PLM software vendors is that all the respondents said that the progress made to date justified further investment in PLM. Users agreed that companies implementing PLM needed to, "spend as much time as possible up front defining business objectives and future process changes prior to implementation, as this will provide significant benefits long term in the form of lower costs and higher adoption rates." The report also concluded that users should look to standardise on one product data model, or as one user put it, "a Shell BOM", that is, maintained by one PDM (product data management) solution. This becomes the master data repository for all information associated with a given product throughout its lifecycle, containing as-designed, as-built and as-maintained data for that product. Having such a record provides clear, traceable product documentation that can be leveraged across the enterprise." According to EDS' Hurley, "You need a senior steering group, with people involved at all levels. Many chief executives get involved at the implementation stage, then wash their hands of it as soon as this stage is completed. You need sustained sponsorship from executives if PLM is to succeed." He gave an example of a European missile manufacturer that's currently trying to implement PLM (EDS' Teamcenter software): "The company is a merged organisation with British, French and Italian design engineering teams. Trying to get three very different cultures working to the same common business rules and design processes isn't easy. But we've got them using a common PDM core system with workflow and document management." To learn more about PLM and whether it's right for your business, the University of Warwick is staging a one-day seminar on 30th October where companies can listen to the views of impartial experts (not vendors!) on the merits and demerits of PLM. To register and for more information, go to