Is PDM Disruption Ready?
Chad Jackson posted on April 24, 2012 |
What’s it take to get some love?

At one time, PDM was the bleeding edge of the software industry for product development. After trying to manually manage the complex interrelationships between CAD files and documents, people were ecstatic to have a system that would just do it. Initially, it was seen as a miraculous boon. But over time, however, the attention in the industry turned to other things. Slowly but surely, PDM was buried under wave after wave of new PLM technologies. At this point, PDM is relegated to a quiet little corner of the industry.

For me, though, it all strikes me as a little interesting. If you look out at the broader scope of technology, there are other things that look, feel and act a lot like PDM. And in some instances, those other things not only undergoing some dramatic changes but offering some really cool and impactful capabilities. So with that in mind, this post is dedicated to what PDM could be. But in addition to that, let’s also talk about the potential for change and who could take advantage of it.

The Reality of PDM

Before we jump into the tech, let’s level set. How many organizations do you think are completely done with the PDM deployment?

Well, I had an interesting discussion with an executive who had recently left a PLM software provider. I asked them why they left. After a moment of silence, they said “we always talk about the new capabilities of these PLM systems, but you go out and talk to customers, you know, actually see what they are doing, and you know what they are deploying? Global PDM.”

That, in a nutshell, summarizes a good bit of my experience as well. And let’s be honest. Global PDM is a terribly complex deployment to complete. On this blog, we’ve talked about managing the artifacts related to mechanical, electrical, software and system aspects of the product. On top of that, there’s many different layers of PDM that need to be deployed as well. It may not be the most exciting thing, but that doesn’t make it easy.

Four Areas for Potential Improvements

Now this is where the discussion gets interesting. What could be done to improve PDM and make it more effective? If we look at some other technologies, I think there are some hints worth considering.

  1. Hands-Free PDM: Have you used modern backup software? Take a look at Mozy or Carbonite? Have you ever looked at Apple’s Time Machine? For all intents and purposes, it’s practically an invisible application. You define some settings up front and almost forget about it. The initial backup is lengthy, perhaps even in numbers of days. But once the baseline is set, then it only grabs incremental changes. Whenever a software provider talks about embedding PDM within CAD, they always talk about a minimalist UI. Well, maybe it’s time to take it to a no-UI state?
  2. Visual PDM: Have you seen how new apps work on OS X Lion? Well, when I went to go perform a ‘save as’, I was a little shocked. Why? Because it wasn’t there. It’s replaced by ‘save a version’. Basically, instead of saving a separate file, you save a version inside the same file. Once you do that, you can revert back to a prior version. You can select one of these versions by visually browsing the different versions so you have an idea of which is which. So alongside so ever-running background backup PDM, you could browse through visual versions of your CAD model.
  3. Streaming Changes: In a number of different applications, you’ll find this concept. We’ve talked about this in the industry before. When a number of users are working on different parts of the same assembly, those changes could be pushed back out. What you would get is a real time morphing and updating assembly. Match that up with social technologies like chatting or webcams for discussions, and you have a powerful collaboration tool.
  4. Self Organizing Data: PDM could learn a lot from Business Intelligence. Analytics? What? I know. I know. At first glance, this doesn’t seem applicable in any way, shape or form. But the enabling capability of this type of software that is intriguing is the ability to extract structure out of data when there is no explicit data structure. Essentially, the data that needs to be managed by PDM needs to be associated with the ‘right stuff.’ All that is done manually today. But with a little smarter software, there might be no need for the user to do that explicitly at all.

The Business of PDM

I don’t think I’ve surprised anyone with the discussion above, either in specific suggestions nor with the concept that PDM could be improved. I’m sure many PLM software providers know a large number of their customers are still working on rolling out global PDM. They employ incredibly creative product managers and developers too, so I’m sure they have better ideas and concepts that the ones I propose above. Actually, most of that is fairly moot. Because here’s the key question: would it pay for the PLM software provider to improve PDM?

You see, most in the industry, including many PLM software providers, consider PDM a commodity set of capabilities. Many of them manage CAD data from multiple applications. They all provide revision control to a minute level of detail. And most importantly, most of their customers already own it. Translated, that means there’s little revenue opportunity to entice them to make dramatic, bold and sweeping moves forward in terms of technical functionality. Let’s be frank: that’s the nature of the software business. What results is a set of capabilities that almost seem to be frozen in time, despite the advances of similar software tools in parallel industries.

So who will drive new innovation in this space? Well, right now, it seems like no one will. However, there are opportunities for new software startups. And there have actually been new entries into the field of PLM fairly recently including Autodesk, Kenesto and Nuage. Ultimately, this point comes fill circle back to the title: is PDM disruption ready?

I believe there is an opportunity to develop and deliver better PDM. I believe the advances in other types of software offer a glimpse of what form a new PDM system might take. I believe the traditional PLM software providers have little financial incentive to invest heavily to revamp their PDM offerings. All of that looks like a ripe opportunity for a software startup to me.

Summary and Questions

Let’s look at the recap.

  • Most PLM customers are actually deploying global PDM. Most probably want to be deploying a different aspect of PLM, but as a foundational element, they need to get global PDM going first.
  • Advancements in other software applications offer some hints as to where PDM could be improved. This includes hands-free PDM, visual PDM, streaming changes and self organizing data.
  • Traditional PLM providers have little financial incentives to dramatically change or improve their PDM offerings as most of their customers already own it.
  • This combination of factors makes for an environment ripe for disruption by new software startups.

Alright. Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen any recent innovations in the PDM space? What other similar technologies do you think represent some other opportunities to improve PDM? Sound off and let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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