The Challenge of Scaling Product Lifecycle Management

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems have proven to be a highly valuable tool for designing and developing new products and systems. Together with systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), PLM has become a critical IT system supporting the product development process in manufacturing organizations.

The Inflection Point of PLM Functionality

When a system provides high value delivering on their core functionality, there can be a tendency to start using these systems for tasks which they were not intended to do. This is like the Peter Principle for systems.

For those who are not familiar with the Peter Principle, it states that a person who shows high competence in their job will be continuously promoted until they reach the level of their own incompetence. When applied to systems, it means that systems that provide high value will be continuously tasked with solving new problems until they reach a level of ineffectiveness.

In other words, we invest in a system to complete a task that it does well, but then ask it to complete tasks for which it was not designed.

For example, PLM systems were originally designed to assist engineers in developing products and systems one project at a time. While PLM could be used to both manage the engineering process of designing and developing a new product or system and be used as a source of information on the product or system developed, the focus was on one project and one product or system at a time.

This worked fine, as long as the manufacturing organization dictated what would be made and when, allowing projects to be planned and organized appropriately. But when customers began asking for more and more customization, the PLM system started having difficulties.

While PLM systems were already supporting variant management as well as configuration rules, these capabilities were designed in the context of supporting a limited number of variants and a few configuration rules. In the face of mass customization, these capabilities quickly become challenged.

For example, it is not uncommon today for complex configurable products, like automobiles, to have millions of potential feature combinations to meet customization needs and regulations in countries around the globe. This leads to a vast number of variants that need to be managed and maintained.

Challenges of Scaling PLM

The variant management and configuration capabilities in PLM systems were not designed to scale to these kinds of numbers. Placing this extra load on PLM systems requires expensive storage infrastructure to support repositories of variant and configuration information across multiple products and generations.

Once a storage solution is found, the next issue is how to quickly and easily access this information. Databases this size take time to query, frustrating users expecting near-immediate response times. This can be especially troublesome for sales teams trying to close sales in a timely manner.

Even if users are patient through the sluggish response time, the information they receive may not be in the format or language they understand. Each function of an organization has unique terms, naming conventions and nomenclature that is typically only understood by others in their field. And PLM systems are engineering focused, using language that engineering understands. Employees in other departments, such as manufacturing, marketing, sales and support must translate this information to their needs, which often leads to misinterpretations and errors.


Duplicated Configuration Data Cross Systems Leads to Errors

This translated information is often stored again in systems that are relevant to each department, such as ERP and CRM systems. With this information now duplicated across systems that also need to scale to maintain all potential product variants and combinations, coupled with the need to be regularly synchronized with the PLM system, the potential for errors escalates dramatically.

The result is the PLM system inadvertently becoming a support system for the entire manufacturing organization, something it was never designed for.

So, What is the Alternative?

A Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) platform is specifically designed to address the issues of an overburdened PLM system. By extracting all relevant product configuration data from each enterprise system (ERP, CRM, PLM and CPQ), Configuration Lifecycle Management creates a single-source-of-truth on product configuration information across all products, systems, and variants across generations.

Powered by multi-patented Virtual Tabulation® technology, the Configit Configuration Lifecycle Management platform enables you to calculate every possible configuration, compressing it into a quickly-accessible file available to all departments. Designed to scale to millions of feature combinations supporting thousands of products and systems, the Configuration Lifecycle Management platform is designed for fast query and response despite the large amounts of information stored. The full integration with PLM systems means that you can decide to keep maintaining the engineering information in the PLM system.

Configuration Lifecycle Management solutions take the burden of managing the complexity of configuration data away from other systems like PLM so that they can focus on what they were designed to do, freeing up existing resources to accelerate product innovation, increase sales and improve operational efficiency. Learn more about Configuration Lifecycle Management by visiting our CLM solution page.