PLM selection for the not-so-large organization

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There's good news: Almost any broad-based PLM solution that can support your small or medium business (SMB) will be better than the manual process you have now. To simplify your selection process, consider these as necessary (and perhaps sufficient) points to start your examination.

Focus on your needs, not the supplier's capabilities

Make sure that you align your PLM supplier's capabilities to your goals. With all of the choices available, it's easy to get distracted. But there's not much return on investment (ROI) in buying a CAD file management system if you're mostly looking to accelerate your change process or reduce your bill of materials errors.

Protect yourself from fatal commitments

Your organization will be living with your decision for awhile. A low upfront cost may be essential to get the project funded, but it's the on-going cost of day-to-day operation, user productivity, training, administration, and support and maintenance that will determine success in the long run. 

However, don't worry that your PLM decision is forever. Once your data is in any modern PLM database, shifting to another PLM system ought to be easy provided that:

  • your PLM license vendor uses a well-known database server (SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, etc.); or 

  • your PLM ASP provides a written guarantee that all data they manage for you can be extracted easily, and will demonstrate this capability whenever you request it. 

Generic user interfaces are, well, generic

Many PLM systems offer both browser-based Java clients and OS-specific (typically Microsoft Windows) clients. Where you have a choice, align the client software with the types of users you'll be supporting. 

For example, compared to a dedicated Windows client, web browsers still have relatively slow and weak user interfaces. Enabling complex PLM UIs in a web browser requires heavy-duty Java and custom plug-ins, which burden the web client while compromising the run-anywhere thin-client advantage. 

Most users will prefer the higher performance, information-rich OS-optimized interface if they have the choice. 

However, web clients are appropriate for casual or guest users (such as supply chain partners) who just need to browse data, for less-popular operating systems (e.g., Mac OS X), and for mobile users who must look up data or approve a change while out of the office.

PLM is great, but don't get in over your head

Surprisingly, for smaller companies, CAD and ERP integrations are often "nice to have", not essential. Why? Because there's a lot of ROI available in just data and file management, bill of materials construction, automated change control, and workflow/email notification. In smaller companies, integrating PLM with CAD/ERP may only represent 10% of total PLM financial benefits, yet cost 40% or more of the total project budget. Projects that require custom integrations can be time-consuming and can delay project payback by months (or worse). Quick PLM implementations rely on simple data exports for loading the ERP BOM tables; your CAD and ERP processes will be no worse than they are now, and you'll see the PLM benefits much sooner. Only after you've extracted all other PLM benefits should you then examine system integrations.