February, 2017

 (Part 1 of 3)

A common question we hear from industry attendees at conferences and workshops is “why can’t I just use our Product Data Management PDM software to satisfy all of our Configuration Management CM needs.” The answer we at CMstat typically respond with is an honest “yes you can try” hedged with a cautious “but it may not work out as you expect for what your company truly needs.”

Those working in product engineering typically view configuration management as a must-have core capability of any engineering-centric PDM solution that helps to manage product data, especially CAD data, and engineering workflows. For these use cases, CM ranks high on the list of PDM solution requirements, right along with CAD file management, BOM management, change control, and release management. In fact, CM is often featured more prominently than these other functions in the financial justification of PDM, even though it might not be implemented until further down the deployment road map.

The reason that CM receives so much visibility is that the benefits and value of CM – along with the pains, risks, and costs from not having a CM plan with supporting tools – accrue to so many other functions outside of engineering. And if you want something new in engineering, well, it’s much easier to justify the investment by saying it is being acquired to improve what the manufacturing, quality, logistics, procurement, supply chain, services and customer support organizations have to work with as an internal deliverable of engineering.

Few will dispute that many of the benefits of CM amass to those outside of engineering. However, what is less appreciated is that when CM is properly implemented many if not most of the consumers of CM data and users of CM software are also outside of engineering. Read more about this in our recent CMsights article at Dec. 2016 CMsights. As this post discusses, there are numerous industries CM practitioners and CM software that are far removed, both physically and digitally, from the OEM’s engineering PDM CAD vault.

A prominent example of this use is the in-service configuration management of long-life assets deployed in operational use for years and occasionally decades at a time. This application of CM is routinely performed by the supply and service partners of the aviation, transportation, A&D, industrial machinery, energy, mining, marine, medical device, and AEC/infrastructure industries. These CM users located in the field are quite often not engineers, designers, CAD experts, or PDM users, and they and their managers don’t want to perform these jobs either!

The aforementioned is just one reason why engineering-centric PDM solutions which have CM capabilities may NOT be the best choice for the entire business, including the support and service chain. Examining the user requirements for CM-related capabilities, workflow processes, and best practices should not be an engineering initiative, but one performed at a company-wide level. When these requirements are fully dissected and prioritized, it becomes clear that most PDM solutions do not deliver what is truly needed by CM professionals without an obesity of extra capabilities and cost that get in the way of both the casual and expert user outside of engineering.

In Part 2 of this 3-part series we will explore the shift that occurs when users and their managers view CM through the broader lens of company-wide requirements. The requirements of the desired CM solution – including functionality, usability, interoperability, deployability, adaptability, scalability, security, and affordability – will change in both small and big ways. In the discussion of CM on our website at What is CM? we recite the five tenets of CM which are: configuration planning, configuration identification, configuration control, configuration status accounting, and configuration audits. Diving down into each of these functions exposes a set of required capabilities that are rarely satisfied by PDM, especially for a diverse range of users found in industries that often have their own best practices and standards.  In Part 2 we will inspect several of these capabilities to contrast the differences between PDM solutions with some CM capability versus PDM solutions plus full CM capability, like CMstat’s PDMplus.

In our final Part 3 we will discuss what some are most challenged by – and occasionally paralyzed by – once they understand that their current engineering PDM software will struggle to meet their enterprise requirements for CM, and thus a different solution strategy is in order. They can first try to extend their existing PDM software with bolt-on modules or customizations to support applications and users outside of engineering. Secondly, they can deploy an enterprise-wide PLM system, typically from a single monolithic solution, in an expensive big bang or disappointing long whimper which often necessitates a painful rip-and-tear of their current PDM software.

The third CM strategy also to be reviewed in Part 3 is evolving at your own comfortable pace into the use of rapidly-deployable industry-specific solutions that interoperate with each other in an inherently more robust federated PLM system of best-in-class applications. These applications may include CAD, PDM, PPM, EDM, CAM and of course CM, among dozens of other digital tools that comprise PLM. This latter vision – which many are now calling the Product Innovation Platform (PIP) – confronts head-on the reality that no one software provider can be expected to satisfy all the complex technical requirements of manufacturing industries. Nor is it likely that any massive single PLM software product will offer the resiliency to adapt to the dynamic needs of users that frequently shift with ever-changing business requirements.

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