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How to Choose a PLM Provider

March 12, 2009
Start with the process, not the product.

Who is the best PLM solution provider? That's how many businesses begin their discussion of selecting a product lifecycle management (PLM) technology provider, says Michel Vrinat, PLM research director for research firm Collaborative Product Development Associates. It's the wrong starting point, though, because it only begs additional questions, such as "best for what?" or "what are you trying to accomplish?" Indeed, it's easy to get excited about the prospect of purchasing a new product or technology, but when it comes to buying a PLM technology solution, a wealth of advance work should precede the selection of a vendor or vendors.

For a PLM project to be successful, you must have your product development process agreed upon, defined and "sufficiently documented so that you can apply your PLM environment to support it," says Vrinat. "Otherwise, you don't have much reason for investing in PLM. You can also use the opportunity of the PLM to make your development process better."

Run a PLM project just as you would a product development process, he urges, citing such components as requirements collection, specifications, system design, system performance simulation, detailed design, solution verification, deployment and support in service.

Michel VrinatThe most important of those steps -- as well as the hardest -- is requirements collection because in many instances there likely are many stakeholders, some with contradicting needs and objectives. "Many projects do not invest sufficient resources on that step," Vrinat says, "and very much like product development they fail because the solution was not designed to fit the requirements, or the requirements were not well-defined and did not represent the real needs and objectives of the project."

Also important, Vrinat notes, is to develop and maintain a strong, high-level vision that encompasses a holistic view of the PLM project. That means balancing a long-term view with quick wins, or else interest in the project may wane.

Finally, he notes, a successful PLM project requires commitment from many levels of an organization: high-level management who represent the company's overall interests; middle operational management who make sure that realistic situations are considered and real benefits identified; IT organizations who assure the technology is in line with the company's IT structure; and the engineers and other end users who provide practical points of view as well as the data and everyday task descriptions.

To get that commitment, be sure to engage these diverse stakeholders in the requirements gathering. "If you do the work outside of the stakeholders, nobody wants to use it," Vrinat says.

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