Can You Customize SaaS PLM?

Written by: Mindy Hayes

Read Time: 3 min

What is PLM customization?

Customizing your PLM implementation is expected – despite the amount of risk and added work it can introduce. Customizations often satisfy an immediate or critical need, but if poorly implemented they accumulate technical debt that can derail digital transformation efforts across your enterprise.

In a perfect world, manufacturers would get all the functionality and flexibility they need from their PLM solution out of the box (OOTB) and without the need to customize. While this is increasingly the case with Windchill value-ready deployments there will always be users with niche requirements that necessitate customization. In those edge cases, software as a service (SaaS) PLM can provide the best of both worlds: a robust PLM solution that accommodates and supports good customizations while maintaining best practices and reducing the introduction of technical debt.

What’s the difference between PLM customization and configuration?

PLM customization and configuration are often used interchangeably but are distinctly different activities. Configurations modify existing features and settings of a PLM solution – according to rules and capabilities that are pre-defined in the software – to meet certain requirements. On the other hand, customizations are modifications to the PLM software to meet specific needs or requirements outside the scope of configurations, which can include certain changes to UI, data models, and server-side customizations.

PLM and customization

When considering the role that customizations play in PLM solutions, it’s important to consider why they exist in the first place, and their cumulative effects over time. Historically, custom code was written to achieve a new functionality. Those customizations become legacy code (usually unsupported by the software vendor) that IT teams either work around or cautiously tinker with for each upgrade, begetting more and more technical debt. Some customizations are introduced through acquisitions, mergers, or one-off projects, but all carry a little mystery regardless of their origin. How do they work? How often are they used? How robust are they within their environments? 

Technical debt is not a minor concern – it represents a major hurdle for digital transformation and a big part of the PLM customization story. The accumulation of technical debt, paired with high-maintenance customizations, can ultimately derail best practices and digital transformation efforts. To avoid this, companies should use OOTB functionalities in place of customizations whenever possible, and follow the software’s best-practice guidelines when resorting to writing custom code.

What is the impact of PLM customization?

PLM customizations can have both positive and negative impacts on an organization, depending on the solution and how it’s implemented. Deciding when and how to customize a PLM solution requires careful consideration as it can have an enterprise-wide effect.

Risk to future maintenance and upgrades

Customizing software of any kind introduces potential risk in the form of bugs, disruption to core features, invalidated vendor support, and challenges for future upgrades. However, companies can minimize these risks through strategic planning and partnership with the right vendor. Where some PLM users might overengineer customizations when standard PLM functionality is sufficient, the best PLM practitioners build customizations that are conducive to updates and scaling. That’s why a reputable PLM vendor is an important partner in streamlining operations. Their roadmap and future upgrades can address your functionality gaps and they can also provide prescriptive customization best-practices so you can strike a balance between tailoring a PLM solution and ensuring future maintenance and upgrades remain manageable.

Better optimization for organizational processes

When done right, PLM customizations can improve organizational process optimization by tailoring the PLM system to fit specific workflows and software environments. This enables streamlined processes and increased efficiency, as customizations automate tasks and data management. Integration with other systems breaks down data silos and boosts cross-functional collaboration. Custom features foster innovation, fast development, and better quality products.

How moving to SaaS reinforces PLM best practices

In PLM, processes are owned by different departments across the enterprise (engineering, quality assurance, production, etc.) and the creation of a digital thread requires these processes to work together. Typically, manufacturers have wanted to define their own processes, but they are finding that their customizations can lock in outdated practices and make it much more expensive to upgrade systems. Their technical debt comes due as they’re faced with de-customizing their processes so they can adopt modern practices and optimize their operations. 

Through SaaS, Windchill+ enables users to modernize their processes with OOTB functionality and value-ready deployments. Existing functionalities can be duplicated in their current environment, and best practices can be adopted in place of custom processes that live in the minds of your engineers. 

Our approach to custom SaaS and PLM

SaaS offers a scalable solution that assures customers will have the latest upgrades and shortened time-to-value because it is extensible (meaning customers can add customizations that won’t break or interfere with system updates). Extensibility is critical for PLM solutions as digital transformation introduces more software, more digital processes, and more integrations across systems and teams. Which is all the more reason to go with an OOTB solution that will reduce the technical debt and fragility of traditional customization, while ensuring continued extensibility.

Part of the reason Windchill+ can support customizations within a SaaS solution is because of the guardrails installed to standardize customizations. These guardrails ensure customizations don’t compromise the benefits of SaaS (zero-downtime upgrades, always on the latest version, etc.) They also ensure that your customizations are aligned with PLM best practices. In recognition of how vital customization can be, PTC built Windchill+ to be highly configurable – and with the intention of supporting more customization types as time goes on. 

Customize with confidence

With Windchill+, customers can quickly deploy a PLM solution with extensible, OOTB functionality that supports existing customizations. In fact, Windchill+ users will always have access to the latest and greatest functionalities without worrying about breaking customizations with every software update. And as PTC collects more feedback from their customers, they can widen the guardrails for customizations and focus on supporting the functionalities their customers need. 

Watch this 20-minute video to see how SaaS PLM can be customized to suit your needs while reinforcing industry-wide best practices:




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Tags: Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

About the Author

Mindy Hayes

Mindy Hayes is a Content Specialist working out of the PTC Portland, Maine office. She received a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maine, and has experience writing for several different industries throughout her career. When she is not working you can find Mindy reading, attempting various DIY projects, or spending time with friends and family.

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