Getting your data under control with a sophisticated product lifecycle management (PLM) system seems like a good idea when you hear about it in articles or conferences. Once deployed, the PLM system can help you manage CAD data, share files across engineering and with partners and suppliers, better meet project deadlines, and generally become more competitive.
But let’s face it, PLM isn’t just software and hardware. It’s an initiative. And as a small- or medium-sized business (SMB) looking at total cost of ownership, you would be smart to ask just how disruptive this particular endeavor is going to be to your day-to-day business.
To answer that question, I talked to Chris Bergquist, PLM Solutions Director at PTC. Bergquist has been working in PLM solutions for the past 20 years and can recall a time when only billion-dollar enterprises could put a full-blown PLM system into production. Fortunately for SMB’s, he says, times have changed.
Traditionally, what has prevented smaller businesses from adopting PLM systems?
Bergquist: The most common challenges were with the complexity of the deployment. There are a lot of pieces. A company needed a database server, a webserver, maybe a separate server for search, and so on. And even if they had all the software and hardware components, they had to worry about whether they had the correct versions of everything—sometimes there are very narrow requirements to maintain compatibility between components.
After all the pieces worked together, someone had to customize the system, creating processes and roles that reflected the company. Then there’s implementation, testing, and training. It can be a long and painful process with a lot of steps. And we haven’t even talked about what happens when a CAD version somewhere changes.
What’s available to a smaller company today?
Bergquist: Over the years, PLM has changed and matured to make it more accessible. PTC introduced PTC Windchill PDM Essentials, which focuses on smaller customers and can be easily deployed. It’s preconfigured and bundled with the database server. You still have the issues with hardware and software versions and upgrades, but if you work with an experienced PTC reseller or partner it can be painless and fast.
More recently we’ve introduced PTC PLM Cloud. For a small company with no budget for hardware and software components, the cloud is an easy way to get the benefits of PLM with none of the deployment effort. Everything is already set up, preconfigured, and hosted. They just sign a contract, identify their users, and sign on.
If PTC PLM Cloud is so effortless, when would PTC Windchill PDM Essentials ever be a good choice?
Bergquist: For a company that already has the hardware, employs a good IT infrastructure, and primarily needs to collaborate internally, PTC Windchill PDM Essentials can be a good choice. And for a company that doesn’t have a reliable connection to the Internet—which is the case in some countries—PTC Windchill PDM Essentials is often the best choice. Again, the secret to making this deployment as smooth as possible is to engage with a PTC partner. They can remotely manage the system, make sure back up is working, make sure there is enough space for file growth, and quickly address occasional problems you encounter.
Are smaller companies jumping on the PLM bandwagon now that it’s less of a headache to deploy?
Bergquist: Yes, but we estimate about 60% of SMBs still don’t use it.
They don’t see the value?
Bergquist: Some small businesses need a painful experience. For example, they might build a product using the wrong version of a design because they didn’t have careful version control. Let’s say they built a significant quantity that had to be scrapped or reworked. Once they’ve incurred costs from an experience like that, they’ll invest.
What are you hearing from SMBs who have deployed these more accessible PLM solutions?
Bergquist: For PTC Windchill PDM Essentials, customers are pleased with how fast the deployment went. They’ll tell us that they expected to take weeks to deploy the solutions, and instead it only took 3 days.
We’re also getting a lot of interest for our cloud solution from SMBs who wouldn’t consider PLM in the past because of the total cost of ownership. They like that they can pay as they go and effectively collaborate with suppliers and partners without long deployment times or costs.
Bergquist also says no matter how effortless your PLM deployment, you can always get the best value from your software by seeking out training. While web training offers a good complement to traditional training, he recommends anybody starting out engage with PTC University or their PTC partner for best results.
Chris Bergquist, PLM Solutions Director