PLM: A Key Enabler of the Digital Transformation

Peter A. Bilello, President, CIMdata & Ann Arbor, Mich

Peter A. Bilello, President, CIMdata & Ann Arbor, MichPeter A. Bilello, President, CIMdata & Ann Arbor, Mich

Tangible things—physical goods, processes, systems—are being boiled down to the most elemental of expressions, nearly endless strings of 1s and 0s. This is digitization, analog-to-binary conversions that probably began with the invention of the abacus four millennia ago. From the 1950s onward, computers accelerated these conversions with automated scanning and digitizing; today very little information remains in “legacy” form, that is, only on paper. All new information is digital from the start or quickly converted.

"Product innovation platform helps define and manage better-than-ever products that disrupt competitors’ business models and transform marketplaces—in short, to help the enterprise thrive"

The logical next step in this development of human knowledge, this technology-driven revolution, is digitalization. Digitalization completes the transformation that digitization triggered so long ago. The most important aspect of digitalization, as every CIO knows, is its role as a medium of information exchange and common baseline process throughout the organization and up and down value chains and not just within IT.

Moreover, digitalization is (or ultimately will need to be) managed “holistically” throughout the enterprise and extended to suppliers and customers. Holistically means assembling and using the information in lifecycles from conception through production, ultimate usage, and final resting place, whatever these might be, with nothing relevant left out.

Digitalization and its transformations are a compelling story, a business strategy to extract real-world value from data anywhere in the lifecycle of anything that is tangible and of value. In other words, digitization is merely a point of departure. It has proceeded down through the ages as a force of nature, as if it were on autopilot. Digitalization is completely different.

Digitalization is a business strategy to maximize the value of information. Digitalization is not a foregone conclusion but countless moving parts always changing in themselves and in relation to all the other parts. As almost all of us believe, technology creates solutions to every problem it generates, and digitalization is at that point.

One of the many faces of digitalization is the product innovation platform, which is crucial to competitiveness and product-related innovation. Product innovation platforms are comprised of data, solutions, tools, processes, and the skill sets that underlie the enterprise’s competencies and knowledge domains. A product innovation platform helps define and manage better-than-ever products that disrupt competitors’ business models and transform marketplaces—in short, to help the enterprise thrive.

In turn, a product innovation platform enables an enterprise’s Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) environment, bringing forth the power of the platform to support lifecycles of an organization’s products, end to end. These are sweeping and holistic transformations in data and process management, as well as the optimization of product lifecycles across all the enterprise disciplines.

These transformations provide the visibility, connectivity, and traceability that are crucial to innovation, but striving toward them is almost always disruptive. This is because product innovation platforms also include new uses of information technology (IT) to update key, and often previously disconnected, digital enterprise structures. What’s most important is choosing sound PLM strategies to power up innovation. Without PLM, the opportunities inherent in full digitalization of the enterprise cannot and will not happen.

Digitalization is upending long-established enterprises, forcing changes to business units, and disrupting settled workplace cultures. In CIMdata’s consulting experience, many clients find that even their perception of technological change itself is altered by digitalization and PLM-enabling product innovation platforms.

PLM is essential to seizing digitalization’s opportunities. How do we know? Because in many ways, we, meaning PLM professionals—users, developers, consultants—were here first. The digital tools that originally enabled the product lifecycle constituted digitalization’s first wave.

To succeed with these strategies and the transformations they bring, we must think and act in new ways. For many enterprises, however, digitalization has bogged down. Restarting requires fostering a deeper understanding of PLM’s critical role in completing an enterprise’s digital transformation.

In the form of innovation platforms, digitalization will be at the heart of tomorrow’s economy. So, we need to figure out how to make the most out of the data. Workers’ and managers’ skills, the processes they use (and misuse), and their technology tools all need to transform.

Product innovation platforms can do much to fulfill the hoped-for opportunities in digitalization—but only if we continually rethink how we define and enable PLM. PLM positioning, platform strategies, solution offerings, and skill sets all have to change to some extent. Otherwise, the end-to-end visibility, connectivity, and traceability required to conceive and deliver innovative products and services in the rapidly evolving digital world will atrophy and other enterprises will thrive instead.

If information and its management are the heart of tomorrow’s enterprises, then congestive heart failure is a real risk. The march of technology, digital transformations included, is widely recognized as both unstoppable and incomprehensible. Today, we see only the beginnings of the holistic connectivity that will be required of us—and that will be imposed on us if we don’t adopt it willingly.

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