There are an increasing number of tools available to help companies manage the lifecycle of their products. With recently released versions or new to the market manufacturing software products, some come equipped to manage larger gaps of the Supply Chain than others. These products often offer new functionality which is rolled out in each new version casting an even larger net over the product lifecycle process.

If we agree that there is not one software product that can effectively manage the complete Supply Chain from the design, all the way to the final customer’s delivery destination, then we agree that companies will need to rely on more than one tool. We would also agree that these disparate software products should ideally integrate or work in their respective space in parallel to each other.

Who decides where the line is drawn separating these spaces?

As account executives representing PLM we are often competing for the time, budget and overall bandwidth that ERP demands. There has to be detailed consideration as to how and where we should focus our efforts while undergoing projects related to Supply Chain software; all the while keeping the floor operating at capacity and maintaining quality.

In many cases the PLM was purchased in the same transaction as the ERP product, either as an essential piece of the Supply Chain or as an add-on to help win the business. In other cases the PLM product is purchased during the implementation of the ERP; or at the tail end.

If the ERP and PLM are being purchased from the same software company then ideally within the sales process the value of both tools should be carefully highlighted to the customers understanding and desire for both products. In this case the expense for both ERP and PLM should be built into the budget beforehand and into the project schedule out of the gate. The PLM should be demonstrated in addition to ERP in an effort to offer the customer a complete solution.

In other cases during the ERP sales process, the value of PLM can be acknowledged and spoken of as a helpful add-on to one day compliment the ERP functionality and be implemented in a later phase. In this case the core PLM functions are discussed generally. Some main line ERP products offer a level of PLM within their functionality which will need to be licensed separately, or simply turned on. Experience has shown best in class is not commonly found across 2 major enterprise applications in one product. The sheer scale of the upcoming ERP project may overshadow the key roll PLM has to play and can undermine the effort and amount of attention an appropriate PLM implementation requires.

We are often asked to implement, upgrade or begin the PLM to ERP integration at the end; or in the middle of a resource demanding ERP project. After working through resource constraints (financial & personnel related) and completing the PLM sales effort we are often met with a busy, tired and sometimes frustrated team. The project management presence needs to be increased while offering options to bridge any bandwidth gaps that the customer is experiencing if this is the case.

The risk when purchasing and planning to bring these systems online at the same time is the customer’s potential lack of understanding as they differentiate between the functionality overlap between ERP and PLM tools which will vary from product to product. Depending on what tools the customer’s team has used in the past, and their overall experience, there can be confusion as new business processes are defined. The customer can be subjected to the understanding and preference of the contracted implementer in both ERP and PLM projects. Projects can drag on; deadlines can be missed. Often the customer will make concessions during the implementation in an effort to complete the project. Assumptions can be made and complacency can set in. After the dust settles and the systems are live questions can start to surface from the user base regarding their day-to-day use of the new system. The new system might not meet the expectations that were set in the demos. Users look forward to leaving the workarounds they have been juggling as their respective future system was being implemented.

There is no way for customers to understand exactly what their manufacturing products will look like until after they are in use every day. If an ERP product claims to come equipped with a built in “ready-made” PLM, or if the ERP and PLM are purchased separately one thing is for sure; these two implementations must be compartmentalized. If not; there can be duplicate effort post-go-live increasing risk and in many cases the full functionality in one or both systems is not fully leveraged.

Whether the customer has scaled and outgrown their Supply Chain products or want to leave their homegrown systems there has to be a complete plan in place. If a system is being evaluated and the intention is to someday integrate this system then there should be an understanding of what the downstream transfer will look like.

Supply Chain Management starts with Product Lifecycle Management, then moves to production; enterprise planning, procurement, distribution, then support and maintenance.

Understanding this is a simplified offering of the supply chain; then we agree that the essential software tools leveraged in this process are CAD-PLM-ERP. Using this example it would make sense to also purchase these products in this order.

Of course it’s not that easy. The company has been profitable. They have had systems in place that have successfully led them through this process in the past. A customer may invest in a new system in an effort to scale while refining their processes. Existing systems could have been introduced through acquisition; or by building upon homegrown systems, etc. A customer may need a better system that offers more functionality to manage a new product line or new projects. Manufacturing systems are outgrown for any number of reasons which are typically a result of positive growth and expansion.

Whatever the reason that is driving a company to evaluate and buy more than one Supply Chain system at once; there is often more visibility and collective interest in a new ERP product due to the size and reach of the product. PLM being a crucial link in the supply chain is often minimized by ERP. When this is the case there will be a negative downstream impact which will affect the overall process and ERP.

One reason to pass on a discounted PLM/ERP bundle would be because the discounted product does not meet the requirements that were laid out in the plan. There are too many unknowns pre-implementation, to make concessions based on a one-time discount. Ideally each product should be evaluated based on its individual merits, then also evaluated on its ability to integrate or work effectively in parallel with other products.

There is more implementation success then failures in our markets. The challenge I’ve outlined seems to be somewhat reoccurring in my experience and I feel parallels can be drawn from this specific example and related to many different markets.

Either way; relying on your teams past experience is important when selecting any system. Implementation partner selection must be done carefully. Ideally companies will be using these enterprise systems years from now and that likelihood increases as these products are appropriately vetted and implemented after careful planning.