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Sunday, 10 October 2010

PLM Perspective - The Fantastic Mr Fox and Product Lifecycle Management Systems

My son loves the movie "The Fantastic Mr. Fox". I mean he really loves it. We ended up having to buy it and so far he has watched it five times and quotes from it liberally. As I have watched this movie with him my mind tends to wander as it is prone to do to Product Lifecycle Management and what parallels can be illustrated from the movie. In the movie Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is forced to compromise his true nature and attempt to fit in to a role not suited for him. Originally he is a predator and is very happy pilfering farms and such to maintain his lifestyle but a female fox (isn't it always the case) persuades him to change his wild ways and settle down and raise his family. Mr. Fox ends up leading a life that is not quite right and he moves his family into a tree and ends up breaking his promise to his wife and getting cross ways with three farmers. Chaos ensues and eventually Mr. Fox realizes that he needs balance and pursues a life more suited to his nature. As usual you may be wondering what in the world this has to do with PLM software. I recently read an article by Jim Brown from Tech Clarity espousing the virtues of SAP's PLM Module and I have observed several other companies attempting to transform themselves from their base DNA and can't help but wonder if they like Mr. Fox are attempting to fit into a role not ideally suited for them. This blog will review the perils of trying to be something you are not.

From a corporate IT perspective and from certain vendor perspectives including Oracle and SAP having a single platform for product development is very appealing. Both SAP and Oracle have attempted to create their own PLM solutions as companion technology for their Enterprise Resource Planning systems. Eventually Oracle realized that they were not accomplishing their objectives with their own PLM initiatives and acquired Agile Software. I suspect at some point SAP may reach the same conclusion although they haven't been as aggressive from an acquisition perspective but then again who has? The discussion of the overlap has been handled thoroughly by Peter Strookman and Oleg Shilovistsky so there really isn't a point in rehashing this discussion. I think the point is that there is a fundamental difference between PLM and ERP and unless you have a deep understanding of the process and have architected your solution from the ground up to address it you will struggle. The struggles will be subtle but they will definitely put you at a disadvantage versus dedicated PLM solutions. Acquisition allows you to gain both technology and resources that are fully committed. I am still waiting to hear about a truly successful situation where a complex product development organization is using one platform to manage mechanical CAD, electrical cad, software, change management, quality and ERP all on the same system. Oracle has probably come the closest but as we have discussed in previous blogs managing CAD WIP and Configuration Management on the same system can be tough. It's getting better but for complex CAD environments it still can be tough.

I think the same thing can be said for CAD companies trying to change their DNA into Enterprise software companies. PTC has made some key acquisitions that have expanded their footprint. But their close tie to engineering can be both a blessing and a curse. There is still a debate about how much CAD information the rest of the enterprise really needs access to and the price that is paid in performance and complexity. As companies like PTC, Dassault, and Siemens compete with SAP and Oracle they will continue to try and extend their reach but is this in the best interest of their customers? Many of the clients of these companies are quite content with their current footprint. When companies like PTC and Dassault start to expand their reach it creates conflict with their customers. Many already have systems in place and struggle with the overlap. PTC is currently dealing with this issue as the attempt to phase out their old CAD data management platform Intralink and replace it with PDMlink. Even though they offer a CAD only version of the solution it is still their enterprise platform. Acquisition is not always the answer either. Dassault is still in a state of flux after their purchase of MatrixOne. They have designated E-Matrix as the PLM platform of the future but still do not have a clear upgrade path from current solutions. Siemens is wrestling with their own assimilation but from the sounds of Jim Brown's recent column they have made great strides. However the jury is still out on how this will roll out to their customer base and how difficult the upgrade process will be.

Ultimately like Mr. Fox we have companies struggling with their identity and the struggle affects others. In Mr. Fox's case his family and friends lives were thrown into turmoil. Customers for these companies struggle with upgrades, retraining and redundancy as their vendors try to grab more and more of the product development pie. Competitors try to make hay as their rivals decide which direction they should go and in the end the chaos cost everyone. The lesson we should learn is to understand your core competency and focus on it. Be true to yourself as a company and try to avoid overreaching. There is enough room for multiple vendors providing best in class solutions. Today's technology is built on platforms that can lend to integration if PLM, CAD and ERP vendors cooperate. As Mr. Fox learned trying to be something you're not has consequences. Hopefully we can all learn to play to our strengths and avoid the dangers of angry farmers or product developers.

Stephen Porter is Founder and CEO of Zero Wait-State. He is responsible for developing the corporate identity and all marketing and sales strategies for Zero Wait-State. He spearheaded the companies acceptance into the University of Texas' Austin Technology Incubator. He worked with technical resources at Zero Wait-State to develop technologies for the industry and has sold these solutions to clients including Goodyear, Dell, Raytheon, Paccar, Cisco, and Harris Corporation. He has developed strategic alliances with companies like Oracle, Dassault and Parametric Technology and resold substantial amounts of software to a customer base through the country. He has used his knowledge of the industry and interpersonal abilities to maintain and grow a viable organization through some very challenging economic trends. Read more from Stephen Porter at


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