Usually, we speak about how PLM systems help to manage the lifecycle of products. Let’s turn things upside down today and discuss the lifecycle of PLM systems themselves? Manufacturing and industrial companies are looking for systems to support their product lifecycle including all stages from early development to maintenance, recycling, and repurposing. The goal of the majority of manufacturing companies is to stay in business for a long time and therefore, the question about the sustainability of PLM software is very critical. Together with sustainability, there is always a question about how PLM software can be improved, enhanced, and adapted to the new business requirements as the company and the business will be growing and changing.
The reality of PLM software development and the lifecycle of PLM tools and platforms are very mixed. On one side, PLM mindshare leaders and large companies in CAD/PLM business have remained the same for the last 15-20 years. Over time, these leading brands have been developing and acquiring multiple technologies and products. Which led to the merger of technologies, products, and retirement of some of these PLM products. It created interesting situations with products that were great one day, but stopped to be developed and sometimes stopped to be supported as well.
Here is a shortlist of products that were very popular back in the day, but placed by vendors near retirement (SOLIDWORKS PDM Workgroup, Eigner PLM, Agile PLM, Dassault Systemes SMARTEAM, and maybe a few others). At the same time, many of these products despite their obsolescence and partial lack of support from vendors are actively used by the customers, which are not running fast to replace them with new products. The main reason is the large investment in business logic developed on top of these products. My former SmarTeam colleague, Alex Bruskin, shared some user stories and his thoughts about what customers can do if they are using these slightly obsolete PLM systems.
PLM System Development, Maintenance, and Obsolescence Lessons
The old joke about PLM software is that it starts getting better over time when the vendor stops developing it. The joke is bittersweet and basically says that if the platform (PLM) is good, stopping the development will stop introducing new bugs in the software, which makes it stable and useful for a manufacturing company, which usually doesn’t like maintenance patches and upgrades. Old school, on-premise PLM must be maintained by IT and upgraded when the new release goes out. Because of these reasons, most large PLM vendors were not releasing their PLM platforms very often to prevent an excessive maintenance cost. It creates an opportunity for some other PLM companies to provide a free upgrade service.
The reality of legacy on-premise PLM systems is to be slow developed and eventually die or to be transformed as new products and technologies will be coming. If you run these systems in your company, you should be prepared to freeze the environment and invest in researching how the data from the PLM database used by this system can be extracted and used without the product itself.
Moving To Subscriptions and Cloud Services
Most PLM vendors are getting into a subscription business, which gives hope to all customers that the PLM system lifecycle will become more agile and resilient as new technologies will be coming and new business requirements will be introduced. While the subscription is a financial foundation of the business, technology unfortunately matters. Here is why you should pay attention to the technologies.
First Generation of SaaS – Hosted Systems
Hosted Systems was the first option for PLM vendors to introduce SaaS options. The vendors took their existing platforms and hosted them in a variety of forms and functions using IaaS platforms or private hosting services. This is a good start to take over IT jobs, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem – hosted systems are as dead as legacy on-premise software. The difference is that this system is hosted by a vendor and maintained and upgraded by the same vendor. The development lifecycle of these systems is the same and they will die in the same way as systems you installed in your data center.
Online Multi-Tenant SaaS Platforms
The second generation of SaaS systems learned from many mistakes made by their predecessors and introduced a better way – an online platform. While terminology here can be a bit fuzzy and not stable (I prefer to avoid terminology like “true SaaS”), here is a way to think about these platforms. Think about multiple online services you’re using these days. Google and Facebook can be probably the obvious examples, but there are many others. Among them are CRM and sales platforms, various marketing and business applications. These systems are available online, they provide their service and they are continuously developed by the vendor. The last is the key. These systems not only provide frequent updates, bug fixes, and new functions, but they are also capable of self-improvement based on the analysis of usage and also to provide unique intelligent functions as a result of vendors learning from customer usage patterns and data.