Greenfield vs Brownfield PLM Implementations

Greenfield PLM implementation for start-ups.

What is specific to start-ups when it comes to implementing PLM, and how greenfield implementations can be a completely different game compared to brownfield implementations? What are typical opportunities and challenges with either greenfield or brownfield PLM implementations? How to define the relevant PLM roadmaps in either cases, what are the similarities and differences? 

Start-ups are typically greenfield organizations when it comes to adopting and implementing PLM platforms; whereas long-standing industrial players can be seen as PLM brownfield organizations with established cultural inertia, legacy processes, complex data and system landscapes. Implementing PLM in one or the other field can require radically different approaches and brings unique sets of opportunities and challenges as businesses evolve through their respective lifecycle. 

Full-sized PLM implementations are not sprints; they are marathons—in the form of multi-year programs that require vision, leadership, a robust roadmap and delivery stamina. Understanding the business context in which they are deployed is equally important as understanding the technology aspects and technical transition scenario. Greenfield PLM implementations are likely to be more agile and swift than brownfield implementations where there is more inertia and resistance to change. Start-ups can also face a number of unique challenges when implementing PLM as their business and digital roadmaps (and cashflow) are concurrently maturing.  

Start-ups can leverage greenfield PLM implementations to stand out from the crowd 

Not all start-ups are “greenfield” from the perspective of their business value proposition or target market—however they are greenfields in terms of their PLM decisions and implementation, similar to a blank canvas for digital and technology solutions to be adopted. As such, many automotive EV start-ups have emerged in the past decade(s), disrupting their industry and how PLM solutions are deployed (e.g. Tesla, NIO, Byton, Lucid Motors, Canoo, Rivian, Lightyear, etc.—arguably, Tesla is not a start-up anymore).  

Based on the industry and profile of the start-up, technology vendors are likely to be willing to provide “low cost” (or even free of charge) access to their entire platform for the first operating year or below a number of users. Basically, this can be a way to softly “lock in” new customers with commercially attractive propositions and get them to adopt straight away the full platform capabilities; perhaps in exchange of marketing PR. It is important to align these “offers” to the long(er) term perspective; bearing in mind that 12 months can actually be perceived as ‘long term’ for a start-up, burning cash to set-up its operations and develop its first product with yet no sale revenues. 

Greenfield PLM roadmaps can bring a number of opportunities and challenges: PLM and wider digital strategies must closely align to business maturity, development vision and growth plans. 

Start-ups have double the challenge of building a new business, new product concepts, new operations, new manufacturing facilities, in parallel to developing and implementing new digital strategies. They make rapid decisions to get started, decisions which they might have to adjust or undo later as they transition to the next stage of their business lifecycle (and that can be done safely as soon as they understand most implications upfront). It is not unusual to see start-ups change their PLM digital strategies half-way through their implementations or after a few years of operations as they scale up their business or align to new strategies. 

This applies to PLM implementations as these contribute to joining the digital dots of their maturing operations, allowing for new business capabilities to be deployed as the company matures; for example: 

  • Tesla (founded in 2003) migrated from SmarTeam to 3DEXPERIENCE, ENOVIA V6 and CATIA V5 in a matter of months in 2011; this also provided a platform to introduce virtual build simulation with DELMIA V5 and later to upgrade to V6. 
  • NIO (previously NextEV, founded in 2014) implemented 3DEXPERIENCE in 2017 over 12 months, shortly after having previously deployed Teamcenter. 

Not only these examples illustrate start-ups’ ability to implement swift change, they also suggest that these decisions can be subjected to financial and political constraints in selecting one technology vendor over another, one PLM platform over another. Many executives and influencers joining start-ups had careers working for established players or consultancies; directly or indirectly, they are likely to carry-over personal platform experiences, lessons learned from brownfield PLM implementation challenges, and vendors relationships. Making PLM decisions out of context or trying to replicate these in another organization can hinder the start-up’s ability to create its own maturity development path.  

PLM for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is not to be confused with greenfield PLM for start-ups. The latter are focused on top-line revenue growth, launching their first flagship product, and scaling up their business as they mature. Start-ups drive towards full-sized PLM implementation roadmaps to support their growth plan as they venture from product development to supply chain integration and manufacturing assembly execution. They are characterized by their ability to change and make things happen—which aligns to the essence of greenfield PLM implementations. 

On the other hand, are established players “stuck” with brownfield PLM implementations? 

Mature organizations are likely to be risk-averse and operate in a more consultative approach to implement change—which can hinder their ability to experiment with PLM alternative scenarios. They face difficult decisions in defining credible PLM roadmaps (and investment business cases) to ensure that deployment steps are technically understood and validated early enough in the project. 

Brownfield PLM roadmaps bring a number of opportunities and challenges which can be at the very opposite of greenfields.  

Mature businesses move slowly as they carry more weight with everything they do and how they do things. Nevertheless, they can also arm themselves with agile deployment frameworks to create internal change incubators and create new paths toward experimentation. 

From greenfield to brownfield: how to remain on track towards effective operations and PLM capability integration? 

Maturing towards an established and performing business is by nature the goal of any start-up; transitioning from greenfield to brownfield PLM is not an inevitable evil. Is the transition to brownfield therefore inevitable as operations mature? Is there a path of least disruption to accommodate for complexity management? 

Per APQC’s definition, capability is the “how”; process is the “what” — capabilities are how work gets done and processes are what work gets done. As shown in the following figure, there are two typical paths (or trends) which support both business process maturity and business capability maturity development: 

1.   Focus on process maturity can provide a playground for experimentation with business-led change introduction, aiming at process clarity and completeness towards effective operations (do the right things—even if the right things might evolve as start-ups mature); ready-made industry process “best practices” can be rapidly experimented from this approach, pending that the business is able to make swift decision and has clear process and data owners. 

2.   Focus on business capability maturity can help rapid technical deployment towards the “vision”, at the expense of possible premature complexity and technical-led integration (do the things right for the long term—which can obviously compromise the short term). 

Another dimension to this is the PLM technology or platform is maturity itself—something that mostly concerns brownfield PLM implementation (and perhaps path 2 above) as they need to ensure that the business vision is supported by the technology vision. 

Start-ups need to adjust their “velocity” to set the pace of change that they need / can / want to accommodate in order to support their primary objective: deliver their new product or service on-quality, on-cost, on-time per their business plan. PLM implementation scale and size matters as user stories are likely to be implemented in steps: nowadays everyone considers implementing the minimum viable product (MVP) to reduce risk and deploy iteratively—this is a common trait between greenfield and brownfield PLM implementations, which however follows different approaches. 

Greenfield PLM implementations will mature alongside start-ups’ holistic business maturity. Therefore, they should aim to stay one or two steps ahead of the business lifecycle to leverage agility. Getting the foundation right is an important factor. Implementations often start with great agility; readiness timing is of the essence as start-ups have no legacy solution to mitigate PLM implementation challenges and potential delays. These are critical business factors to consider when building and implementing the PLM roadmap.