Covering the Entire Process

The most common approach to implementing product life-cycle management (PLM) begins in the research and development department, which implements functions that support the process of creating information to describe a product’s design. At the same time or somewhat later, the quality management department might start to implement the solution of choice. Word processing software for documentation must be integrated and data from laboratory instruments must be interfaced with the quality management system. The processes needed to support this special process area are implemented in the system chosen by the data creator. Other departments, development, production, and service among others, behave similarly when they begin to implement their system of choice to manage product-related information in a better and more automated manner.
With this approach, all parties involved in the life-cycle of the product improve the cycle-times of processes by implementing system support for the processes used to create and maintain all the information related to the product. This type of PLM implementation strategy is driven by data and those who create information. It is suitable for achieving an initial reduction in process cycle-times by improving the process of creating information. Accordingly, this strategy can bring about a shorter time to market.

Integrating departments, systems, and information

But it is only a matter of time until market conditions force companies once again to improve the entire product life-cycle in relation to time to market, quality, cost, and innovation. Improving only the processes used to create product information are insufficient preparation for the next major step. After all, the processes for consuming information offer the greatest opportunity for improvement. More and more frequently, process participants demand the right information at the right time.
For example, the production or service department might request more detailed design data at an early stage of development to uncover any problems in production or maintenance of the product – before the cost of the change increases significantly. If a company has chosen an approach that implements system support across the complete life-cycle of the product but isolates each process area, it will be forced to connect the islands (each area) with sophisticated technical integration to create an integrated PLM solution across the entire value chain.
Integration that simply transfers released data from one system to the next often proves insufficient because information flows between the departments are both unidirectional and bidirectional. For example, releasing a product from research and development to production does not mean that the product will not change during production. In such a case, information must flow between both departments – and in both directions. Another example would be an existing assembly that is to be reused in a new product. While it is being reused, it might be improved in relation to the new product, and the improvement might also apply to the existing product. How can all the changes to one assembly be interfaced and synchronized across system boundaries?

Bringing the pieces together seamlessly

What ultimately makes a difference? Improving the entire process, cost structure, and time to market for an innovative product – and at the right cost for production and service. Because this objective can be met only when all the parties involved work together, isolated systems or processes must be connected. However, the continuously increasing cost of integration negates the positive return on investment and in the end, even more new, more collaborative process designs across all the processes involved will be impossible to develop. The company will have a PLM initiative that succeeds in its details, but is unable to resolve the issues associated with a more collaborative process design across department boundaries at an acceptable cost. But how can those issues be resolved? Does a company always have to involve all parties at the same time? Is a PLM initiative always a big bang?

Implementation Tools
Implementation Tools

To solve this problem, companies should bring together all the parties involved to decide on the fundamentals of the PLM initiative, but separate the parties when they decide on the details that each process area is to cover. But one objective must be clear to all parties: the information they create must always be accessible in an efficient and timely manner to their colleagues in other departments. This approach ensures that the overall goal is not lost in one of the decisions about the details during implementation of the PLM system.
But doesn’t that mean that a PLM initiative will end up in an unmanageable big bang, in which all departments must change and improve their processes simultaneously, with no opportunity to learn from the previous steps? Not at all. By deciding on one PLM system that supports the complete product life-cycle, a company simply decides on one product definition that applies across the complete life-cycle. This decision ensures that all product-related information can easily be brought into the same context, and with the same semantics, by always using the same data definition. Once this decision has been made, the departments can begin to work on their own useful steps toward a valuable PLM implementation for their special needs.

An end-to-end PLM offering

A unique solution is available with mySAP PLM. In one system, it integrates the processes of all the parties involved across the product life-cycle. In today’s market, mySAP PLM offers the broadest range of functions needed for a true PLM initiative. Theoretically, a company can undertake a big bang approach with mySAP PLM because it includes all the needed functions. But this ability does not force a company to do everything in one step. It provides confidence that the overall return on investment for PLM is secured and that it will not be negated in the future by increasing integration efforts.

Toward a complete business suite

Besides providing savings in technical integration, a true end-to-end PLM solution like mySAP PLM offers significant enhancements to the entire process design. Having all product-related information available for all process participants just in time gives companies the ability to design processes by moving from a sequential approach to one that overlaps processes running in parallel. This ability allows companies to decrease a product’s time to market dramatically. A parallel approach means that a product’s business environment becomes a collaborative business network, based upon the same information and the same business context, a network that involves the right disciplines at the right time to make the right decision as early as possible. Mistakes are discovered earlier in the process and design definitions involve all disciplines, including design, production, and service. With a collaborative business network, the quality of the product increases and time to market decreases yet again.
Expanding the viewpoint, it is noticeable that a complete ecosystem of customers and partners is involved in making a product successful in the market. SAP therefore supports the complete business network that companies run: mySAP PLM is integrated into a complete business suite, mySAP Business Suite, with solutions for customer relationship management, supply chain management, supplier relationship management, and robust ERP.

Dirk Boessmann
Dirk Boessmann