I recently took a sailing trip from Ventura CA to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on a 35 foot sailboat. I had the late night/early morning watch from 3 am to 7 am. Besides dealing with a couple of visits from Mexican coast guard patrol boats hunting for suspected drug runners, I had time alone to think about my work in the PLM industry and specifically how people make decisions about what type of software system or systems they choose for managing product development information. Yes only a PLM "junkie" would think about PLM on a sailing trip and maybe this is why the Mexican coast guard was suspicious.
Here were my thoughts
- What's better; Point solutions for processes or a comprehensive solution for the complete product lifecyle? I think we have reached the maturity point where comprehensive is best.
- A good measurement in favor of point solutions is a 10x or greater productivity increase over what's offered in a comprehensive solution
- I believe that the only 10x er's left are in the user interface.
Back to the late night watch. One of the biggest challenges I see SME's ( small medium enterprises) faced with is this: As they grow or even as they start out, do they select point solutions for solving product development process issues or do they embrace a comprehensive solution that they implement over time? This dilemma is somewhat of an ideological discussion and to further muddy the issue, both ideologies can work. Not to get political, but in our current world environment, we are witnessing a communist China that has become a world economic power, and is challenging democracies in the European Union and the good ole USA. I am not comparing point solutions to communism or democracies, only illustrating the point that yes, you can make either choice work. Many companies choose the point solution route because;
- It's easier
- They can solve a current bottleneck or broken process that is causing delays or excess manual labor
- It's cheaper
- Someone in the organization used a point solution before and they take the lead on implementing what they already know
In my 23 years of being involved in product development technology, I was a point solution person for the first 10 because the existing ( 90's-2000) comprehensive tools did not embrace the paradigm shifts that enabled 10x plus productivity improvements. At this point in time, the only place I see a potential 10x productivity improvement is in the interfaces to the information. To be fair to point solutions, while navigating down the coast, I used an iPAD app that let me move and adjust waypoints with the touch screen. I completely abandoned the Garmin on the Navstation with the button and the cursor. Plus I did not have to the leave the helm. Sure the Garmin was connected to the sailing instruments- speed and course as well as the autopilot but being able to adjust the course on the Ipad was a 10x er and the GPS enabled iPAD gave me boat speed.
When I returned to Oregon, I took a trip to West Marine to check out the latest navigation systems and to praise the IPAD app to the store manager. Here is what I discovered. Raymarine, the comprehensive system vendor, had already incorporated the same app into their complete system with a hybrid touch screen! This was important because in more nasty sailing environments than the Baja, you may need to abandon touch and use the keyboard control. So much for my plans with the store manager.
In regards to PLM, now that good comprehensive PLM tools exist, and they can be purchased and implemented at a reasonable cost, point solutions are best served to be purchased by the PLM vendors and incorporated into their comprehensive tool sets.
It is simply more important for your business to flow accurate product development data into your ERP from a system your people trust, that gets the tasks done, and that your IT department supports. It has been my experience that point solutions lead to data silos and they ruin information flow across departments. Unless there is a 10x or more improvement in productivity, the loss of information flow hurts your business more than the potential point solution benefit. If you see a great point solution, go tell your PLM vendor to buy them, then everyone wins.
Promoting Collaboration and discussion
To put a framework around this, I believe a point versus comprehensive selection comes down to simple decision criteria that can be written down, discussed, and quantified. Here is my take on some key elements to a business focused, people focused and technology focused criteria – Point solution versus Comprehensive solution. Please use the comment section to add yours to the list as this list is meant to be enhanced by the community.
Business Focused Criteria
Can my business departments get their job done in a timely manner?
Does the solution minimize the time spent re-inputting information?
Does the solution provide visibility to management for making resource decisions?
Is the information trustworthy?
Does the product information flow to manufacturing (ERP) accurately?
How much does the system cost initially?
What is the cost of ownership?
Does the company providing the system have deep enough pockets to stay in business while you are in business?
Are the service providers knowledgeable and easy to work with?
Do the service providers take the time to understand your business model and your people's current skill set before recommending solutions?
Are the service providers flexible in their ability to phase in the implementation versus only suggesting a big bang approach?
People focused Criteria
Can normal human beings use the system effectively?
Can new employees be trained to follow system processes versus requiring constant verbal instruction?
Can different departments access information without having to call people?
Do people trust the information in the system?
Can people focus on the task and not the tool?
Does the system enable collaboration or does it create barriers to communication?
Does the system minimize user names and passwords? ( I would really only like one that was safe)
Is the community of existing users vibrant and growing?
Technology Focused Criteria
Is the system mature enough to already incorporate best practice configuration?
Can the IT department support the system with minimum effort?
Are the functional capabilities adequate to get the tasks done in a timely manner?
Is the technology based on standards that your people already know?
Is there an existing growth path after an initial implementation?
Is there some paradigm shifting functionality that increases people's productivity by 10x or more?
Can you use the "search" function for product information and get what you need?
I would love to see many comments with your ideas on good criteria with the outcome being a criteria list that companies interested in PLM can use as a base template. I will own the task of compiling the information received and publishing the criteria. If the Criteria list proves helpful, maybe we can all navigate down the Innovation coast and chart a course to best in class product development driving great products, profitability and shareholder value for the organization.