Are You Still Using Outdated Manufacturing Software?

Recognize the Warning Signs of a Burning Platform and Learn How to Take Action

Over the last number of years, B2B manufacturers have made considerable investments in digital transformation initiatives. COVID-19 accelerated many of these initiatives, giving executives the confidence to embark on more ambitious transformation projects.

But not all digital transformation initiatives are created equal. Some are driven by company-wide, end-to-end improvement goals, typically related to increasing process efficiency or customer experience. Others are focused on specific pains or challenges that can benefit from a digital solution.

This leads to differences in how solutions are architected and implemented. A monolithic solution approach is often used for end-to-end process improvement initiatives. But even the most comprehensive monolithic solution has its limitations. Alternatively, a best-of-breed approach can be adopted by integrating multiple systems, but this often leads to greater complexity. Point solutions can be used to address specific pains or manufacturing industry challenges, but can result in multiple, disjointed solutions.

In all these cases, manufacturers run the risk of building multi-layered, volatile foundations that can quickly become burning platforms.

Burning Platform in Manufacturing Companies: The Integration Challenge

To understand the issue, consider manufacturers who want to offer their customers greater customization and personalization options with self-service product configuration. At first glance, this would seem to be an easily implementable solution; create a web-based portal providing customers with guided advice on the right product for them based on their choices. But with all things, the devil is in the details!

While it is possible to create a self-service product configuration portal using a point solution, it will soon become clear what the limitations are. For example, there are usually dependencies between the choices that a customer can make and constraints on the choices that should be offered. How can you ensure that the rules governing these choices are implemented properly? In addition, the choices being offered are related to the product design and available components in manufacturing. How do you ensure that the choice being offered is still available?

Clearly, the answer is to integrate the self-service product configuration portal with systems that can provide the necessary information and keep the portal updated. This would typically mean integration to the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. Now the solution is getting more complicated!

While integration to these systems can enable extraction of information on a regular basis to keep the portal updated, what happens when there are changes to the product design? How are these changes communicated to the portal and how should rules be updated? What about customers who have bought solutions based on the old product and old configuration options? How do we ensure that we maintain information on what they bought so we can adequately service and upgrade them?

The burning platform in manufacturing companies emerges when a single monolithic system can no longer handle the complexity or where multiple systems are no longer synchronized leading to delays, errors and ultimately dissatisfied customers. The situation can quickly become unmanageable leading to the burning platform that requires a radically new solution.

But where is the lifeboat that will save you when your platform is burning and how can the situation be rectified?

A Single Source of Truth Drives Success

First and foremost, it requires a single source of truth for critical data managed across the entire lifecycle of the product. Most manufacturing software claims this capability, but usually in a defined, often “siloed,” context. The PLM system, for example, is the single-source-of-truth for product design information, while the ERP system is the single-source-of-truth for manufacturing and logistics.

The burning platform in manufacturing arises when there are needs that cut across the siloes, such as product configuration. The PLM system can include some configuration information and rules, such as configurable BOM selection conditions, but this is usually confined to engineering needs. Commercial rules, for example, are rarely included in the configurable engineering BOM or engineering product model. Similarly, the ERP system can provide configurable manufacturing BOMs and selection conditions but might not include engineering needs and it might be difficult to convert these BOMs into sales BOMs for quotations.

In all these cases there can be duplication of both data and rules, but in different contexts and for different needs. This results in potential conflicts and inconsistencies that can be difficult to trace. While each system can claim to be a single-source-of-truth within their domain, they face challenges when needs run across domains.

How to Establish a Basis of Close Collaboration between Departments?

Today, there is greater focus on supporting the end-to-end process, whether that be for improving efficiency or customer experience, which requires solutions that are designed to be cross-domain. But these solutions do not need to be an alternative to PLM, ERP or CRM solutions. They should integrate and interoperate with these existing systems and underlying concepts in addressing the “gaps” between these systems as well as identifying and mitigating risks for duplication, inconsistency and errors.

This is where Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) adds value to existing processes and systems for manufacturers who want to enable their customers and partners to configure products themselves. Composable Product Configurator Platforms can be integrated with multiple systems through robust, web-based APIs to provide a single-source-of-truth for product configuration information from end-to-end.

If you are concerned that your product configuration solutions are a potential burning platform, then take a look at CLM and Composable Product Configurator Platforms as a potential lifeboat.

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About the Author

Holger Senn Configit

Holger Senn is a Principal Consultant and Industry Advisor at Configit. With 30 years industry experience, Holger is responsible for advancing the understanding of Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) for manufacturing companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.