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Commentary: PLM for Flexible Enterprises

By Avichay Nissenbaum

For years, manufacturing companies have attempted to reduce delays and bottlenecksin their business processes through the use of e-mail and conventional productdata management (PDM) systems. These systems typically do little more than automateexisting manual procedures and fail to effectively manage business processes.They do not provide important information on the status of jobs and projects anddata is often incompatible with other systems such as enterprise resource planning.As a result, manufacturers remain saddled with delays, high costs, errors, andlack of process coordination.

Establishing dynamic business processes on an enterprise-wide basis demands astep beyond traditional PDM toward solutions that fully automate knowledge capture,processes, and collaborative efforts throughout the product lifecycle. Applicationsthat provide these capabilities, combined with company initiatives to continuallyassess and refine processes, help companies become more flexible and compete moreeffectively on future projects.

Many successful companies implementing such initiatives have based their solutionson technology and expertise from SmarTeam Corp. These solutions link people, information,and applications, so users can efficiently track and monitor processes and streamlinethe workflow throughout the enterprise.

Projects move faster because work is routed from one stage to the next automatically,while information about its status is instantly available. This is especiallybeneficial on complex projects with highly detailed workflow and multiple, interrelatedtasks being performed simultaneously. Work is easily tracked, so users can getan overview of what is being done by whom and for how long. Managers can trackdocuments and processes intelligently to resolve bottlenecks and improve efficiency,and they can make informed strategic decisions interactively throughout the process,instead of waiting until crippling problems occur and it’s too late.

Many conventional PDM systems impose themselves on the organization and havelengthy implementation times and static architectures that must be programmed(and reprogrammed) by experts for each implementation. Once installed, these solutionsgrind away at their tasks and are not readily changed. In contrast, SmarTeam usesa lighter, more flexible architecture so companies can quickly implement and reshapethe solution as needed.

Using such a PLM (product lifecycle management) solution as a foundation, buildingdeftness into an enterprise is done by evaluating every aspect of the process,modifying what doesn’t work, standardizing and automating what works best, andcontinuously revisiting procedures to ensure they still fit with company plansand objectives. In this manner, processes are not static but dynamic, reflectingnew directions and opportunities for the company.

PLM-enabled processes provide numerous ways for companies to get work done fasterand better than before. Automatically populating an electronic form from availableelectronic data is error-free and virtually instantaneous compared to the hoursor days often needed to research and manually transcribe information. Routingand tracking change orders electronically is not only faster but means managerscan be automatically notified of any delays.

Giving people access to the latest information in a central database throughan interface everyone can understand also saves significant amounts of time. Managingthe supply chain by exchanging quotes, prices, specifications, and other criticalinformation electronically in a formalized system is much more efficient thanfaxing, telephoning, or conventional e-mailing. Similarly, collaboration amongdispersed groups and facilities can be accomplished better through a Web-basedsystem.

In this way, PLM facilitates an enterprise-wide process flexibility that is aprerequisite for manufacturers to survive and thrive amid change.

Avichay Nissenbaum is executive vice president and co-founder of SmarTeam Corp. (smarteam.com),a Dassault Systèmes company that develops collaborative PLM solutions. Send yourthoughts on this commentary c/o Desktop Engineering Feedback.

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