Towards a digital future: the evolving role of PLM in the future digital world

Xlifecycle Ltd joined forces with the Professional PLM Initiative on an industry survey and White-Paper

Survey findings

The rush of enthusiasm for the possibilities of 'Digital Everything' has drawn attention away from the some of the core aims and principles of PLM.  Some people feel that PLM is the platform on which new digital improvements should be constructed—whereas for others, PLM is now just a component part of a more important Digital Revolution.

From Industry 4.0 to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), the Digital Thread, the Digital Twins and digital transformations offer ways to enhance PLM; they have also captured the attention of senior management and business executives in a way that PLM never has.

The purpose of this initiative is to put forward a neutral picture of the role of PLM in the ever-changing digital landscape, and of how Digital is transforming PLM. The questions covered how PLM as a discipline intersect with digitalization, how they differ and whether they would converge; whether there is an adequate forward view and vision of the future.

Challenging the status-quo and making sense of the Digital hype

This White-Paper is intended to be the starting point for a widespread and open debate that will eventually establish how PLM and digital transformations relate to each other.

The aim of the Professional PLM Initiative is to generate neutral, agreed answers to these questions, so that the role of a future PLM professional in the digital future can be defined. 

The process of clarifying and defining this is likely to enable product-oriented companies to establish their own PLM-Digital roadmap that integrates the best opportunities of each discipline.

Download the survey overview

PLM and the digital future: survey findings

Discussion points

Concluding remarks

The overwhelming picture is that we are starting from a point of confusion. People are keen to explore the subject, but talk about it in different ways. There is no clear or consistent view of what the relationship between PLM and Digital should be, and no clear vision for either.

No-one felt that the disciplines would remain discrete and separate, but there were almost random predictions about the degree of future overlap or merging. Many good ideas are proposed for how this could be expedited and optimised, but they are varied and will need a co-ordinated approach to apply them effectively.

The findings are similar for the two main "common factors", the Digital Twins and the Digital Thread. Most respondents suggested that these can help bring clarity and interest into PLM, especially with non-technical experts and executives: but there was then an almost random range of views about how this should come about.

The authors note also that this picture is viewed entirely from the PLM perspective—it seems unlikely that many purely 'Digital' practitioners will know what PLM is, let alone how to blend with it or leverage it.

It seems, therefore, that any advance in this area has to come from the PLM side, and this survey has shown that there is a lot of good material to work with. As yet, no-one has devised any agreed definitions or standards in this area, and much of the publicity and marketing material around Digital is either ill-defined or inaccurate.

The next step should therefore be to build on the results of the survey, and formulate the findings into a clear, neutral, written PLM-Digital position that everyone can refer to. Wider dissemination may also serve to highlight the important role of PLM amongst the Digital hype.

This survey overview is freely available for feedback via the Professional PLM and Xlifecycle web sites. It is hoped that PLM practitioners in general will be able to learn from and make use of the ideas, and that the feedback may lead to an industry-wide Position Paper that can be used as a general point of reference.

Debating the place of PLM in the Digital future

Enterprise digital platforms have perhaps diluted their specific “purpose” by aiming at integrating all operations under a holistic umbrella—this is perhaps the vision for a fully connected digital future; vendors are also keen to continue to grab new digital 'real-estate' and markets.

This should not be an excuse to dilute the meaning of PLM, ERP, MES, etc. but perhaps on the contrary, time has come to clarify (and simplify) these disciplines and their respective roles in the digital future.

Though the May-June 2020 survey is closed, the debate and the quest for clarification / simplification carries on...

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