Honeycomb Solutions managing director, Gavin Quinlan, looks at everything you need to know to make an informed decision about Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).

In this current economic climate businesses around the globe are struggling to find ways to compete more effectively to survive and thrive. Companies, no matter the size, are seeking ways to better utilise information technologies and the processes that they enable to successfully address their challenges. PLM delivers an optimal product development process for any company and is one of the most significant initiatives being pursued in almost all major industrial sectors throughout the world.

However, evaluating and selecting a PLM solution supplier to become a long-term strategic partner can be a difficult and time-consuming process. PLM is not just an information technology (IT) application. While most PLM environments are enabled using technology, improved business processes and integration with other business systems are also fundamental components of a successful PLM program. As a result, evaluating and ultimately selecting a PLM solution supplier is more than just comparing software features and functions. Customers need to understand how well a supplier’s solution can fit into, support, and enhance their business processes and culture. The PLM working environment interacts with other business processes and many different users need to work with PLM-managed product definition information captured in a Bill of Materials (BOM) and other product related areas. Ultimately, asking the right questions can help companies better understand both their needs and a solution supplier’s ability to meet them.

A recent research paper, produced by CIMdata, gives 10 critical questions that I believe every company should ask their potential PLM solution supplier. Identified below are these essential questions with comment as to what sort of answer you might expect.

• How do you support multi-­mechanical CAD design and change management across distributed environments? You want to understand how your PLM solution supplier will help you work in a multi-MCAD environment – some that your company uses and perhaps some that your suppliers and/or customers use.

• How do you support integrated MCAD, ECAD, software design, and configuration management (i.e., how do you support mechatronics)? You need to know what level of mechanical, electronic, and software design and development is supported. What design systems are supported and how are they integrated within the overall processes.

• How can your solution enable the standardisation of our business processes, as well as the replacement and/or consolidation of our business and IT applications? The supplier should explain how their solution could be used to standardise processes, including which ones are supported and the changes that they would recommend.

• How can your solution grow with our business from a basic PLM implementation to enable more advanced PLM capabilities? You need to know what interdependencies exist and/or must be satisfied in order to deploy new capabilities so that you can fully evaluate the cost and impact of deploying them, e.g., additional software or solution modules, additional licenses and the cost of those licenses and maintenance, additional tailoring, or customisation, etc.

• What best practices are supported within your out-of-the-box solution that helps meet our specific business needs? Seek a detailed explanation of the best practices the supplier recommends and why they are recommended for you. Are they tailored for your industry and more importantly, your business model?

• How do you support secure collaboration within our enterprise and across our supply chain? How does the proposed PLM solution support external collaboration? What is the scope of collaboration supported e.g. inside and outside the firewall? What security protocols are supported? How can you configure and set up your PLM environment for collaboration, e.g., inside the firewall, DMZ, outside the firewall, hybrid solutions, etc.?

• Are all of your PLM applications on the same architecture, data model, and standards (and which are they)? Does your PLM solution supplier provide a single unified or integral architecture? You need to know if the data model is consistent and used across all functional applications. You want to know if any proposed functionality and/or modules use a different database, data model, or architecture? What technology standards are used and supported, and how do they fit with your enterprise standards?

• What tools are available and/or needed to configure and extend your solutions’ data model, user interface, capabilities, workflow, etc.? You need to understand what level of tailoring and customisation the PLM supplier supports and in which areas. It is important to know any limitations that exist that may cause you to perform custom development.

• How can the proposed PLM solution be integrated within our current business systems and processes? Does the PLM solution supplier have defined and published APIs for all their applications and capabilities? What functions are not available? Do they provide the full suite of APIs as part of their solution? Are there any restrictions on what you can do to integrate with or tailor your environment?

• How does your architecture scale to meet changing business needs? You need to ask the PLM solution supplier for examples of how they would architect your solution for use in a distributed environment to accommodate increased capabilities and performance. You need to understand if product information and data will be distributed, federated, or downloaded to make it accessible to remote users.

Read CIMData’s research paper at connectingindustry.com/honeycombwp

Information within this editorial was sourced through CIMData.