Product lifecycle management (PLM) software systems are not simply one piece of software, but a means by which enterprises can connect their various parts and functions (concept, detailed design, manufacturing, marketing, etc.) into one cohesive system. PLM is about connecting and sharing a company’s intellectual property throughout a product’s lifecycle, from concept until a product is serviced in the field and ultimately decommissioned.
PLM enables each function within the product development process to synchronize with each other, streamlining the development process in order to gain a competitive advantage. PLM tools can facilitate all phases of design, improving collaboration and communication between design participants. An effective implementation can cut time-to-market costs, reduce waste and rework, and facilitate design reuse.
As the benefits of PLM have been well documented and proven out, more and more small- to mid-size business (SMB) have investigated implementing PLM to improve their own bottom lines. Unfortunately in many cases these smaller companies have found the enterprise-wide systems to be beyond their scope—both in terms of price and functionality, much of which is irrelevant to their design process.
This disconnect has resulted from the fact that the early adapters of PLM technology were large enterprises—automotive and aerospace companies—with big budgets and very complex product development processes, extended supply chains, and often multiple product lines.
According to a study conducted by the Aberdeen Group, the most commonly cited PLM adoption challenges for SMBs are: cost of implementation; need to change business processes; and a lack of internal resources to support implementation and training. Some industry analysts feel that PLM systems for SMBs should be focused on basics of product development (product data management, design release, and change management) and should be delivered in an out-of-the-box or templated solution as opposed to a customized solution.
Let’s look closer at some of the specific issues SMBs face and how PLM systems can be tailored to help address these needs.
Smaller, more tailored systems. Smaller companies have smaller budgets, develop fewer products, and have a smaller customer base. As a result, PLM software must offer functionality that addresses a distinct market segment and doesn’t include modules or applications of no use to smaller organizations.
Shorter implementations. Larger, behemoth PLM systems often have very lengthy implementation processes that last more than six months. Smaller companies require quicker implementations and easy maintenance that doesn’t require long periods of support.
More user-friendly systems. In large organizations, a small team might be assigned to be trained in all the nuances of enterprise-level PLM. In smaller organizations, employees often wear many hats, so PLM needs to be user-friendly with a short learning curve to encourage use.
Several trends are happening in the PLM market that might make it easier for small and mid-size businesses to purchase, implement, and reap the benefits of PLM software. Several vendors are repackaging their large enterprise products for smaller companies at a lower cost. There are also smaller vendors who are developing PLM systems with lower IT overhead, faster implementation, and a modular structure (so companies can buy only the functionality they need.)