Over the past several years, the word customization has taken on very negative connotations in the enterprise software implementation space. Horror stories of lengthy implementations and hard to maintain environments have permeated the space, and calls for “quick start” and “out-of-the-box” deployments have become the norm. Vendors have gravitated to this messaging because it drives down the services cost leaving more budget for software. Cloud based solutions promote quick time-to-value since they typically limit the amount of change that can be done to the application, forcing companies to compromise on needed capabilities. The net result is that many companies have been forced settle for less than optimal tools to meet their business requirements in the name of simplifying deployment of a tool that should be enhancing their ability to do their job rather than limit it. Certainly there were good reasons behind limiting customization and trying to speed up the time-to-value associated with enterprise software deployment, but it has gone too far and many companies are failing to realize the benefits associated with solutions like Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) applications.
In an upcoming article written by Nate Fleming from Forrester Research titled, “Digital Era PLM Implementations Seek to Democratize Product Development,” Fleming interviews several leading professional services companies. The article provides extensive information on a variety of topics related to deploying PLM software and should be very useful for companies looking to optimize their utilization of PLM software for product development. In the article Fleming quotes one of the partners as seeing numerous companies that have utilized quick start approaches with no customization that required extensive rework to get to a productive status with PLM. They key to avoiding this outcome is to minimize the drawbacks typically associated with customization. Customization and automation of PLM to meet specific business requirements can have dramatic effects on productivity and user adoption, and can ultimately save companies significant amounts of time and money. Automation can be used to improve data quality by eliminating manual entry of data thus removing the potential for missing or incorrect information in PLM. Customization can be the determining factor in whether or not a PLM system adds any value to product development.
Zero Wait-State recently conducted a webinar where the challenges of customization of PLM were discussed. If you would like to see a replay of the webinar CLICK HERE. Specifically, the presentation highlighted the proliferation of automation scripts, the cost of developing and maintaining automation and the difficulty upgrading to newer versions of PLM when you have extensive customization. All of these challenges are real and can be a deterrent to modifying a PLM solution. It is an expensive proposition to fund development activities, and dependencies on third parties or internal IT organization can hinder the ability to respond to user requirements to transform PLM into a valuable solution. The overhead associated with automation and customization can be daunting.
We experienced these same issues internally since we leverage PLM to deliver services and products to our clients. We struggled to keep up with all of the process extensions we had created for clients and the ones we used internally. We also discovered a lot of redundancy in our coding since many of the PX’s were similar. We struggled with adoption of PLM by our non-technical users and with getting information out of PLM in a useable format. Our solution was to create an automation framework that would allow us to quickly create and modify automation and customizations for PLM. Now we are able to use this approach to streamline management of these customizations and it allows us to easily modify existing customizations to adapt to changing business requirements or to generate new solutions. This approach eliminates the downside of customization since you now have a single point of maintenance and the creation of these solutions becomes much easier. We then realized our clients are having similar issues and have made the framework available to them with great success. Now these companies have the ability to create and maintain custom automation including user interface enhancements without the downside associated with customization that we have all experienced.
Customization and PLM deployments still must be approached cautiously. Matching PLM functionality with business needs can be tricky but it is definitely worth the effort. Using frameworks to generate and maintain customizations definitely minimize the downside of modifying your out-of-the-box PLM application and can enable significant productivity and cost savings. Please comment and let us know about your experience with PLM customizations.