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PLM's Vertical Challenge


When you're supporting a company that's growing 40% per year, there's no time to think, let alone squander months or years on an enterprise software deployment. So when Under Armour Inc., a leading brand of performance apparel and footwear, opted to replace a smattering of manual and outdated systems with an integrated product lifecycle management (PLM) platform, there was no question that the company would opt for a solution that was tailored specifically for apparel manufacturers' needs.

 

Sure, there were minor modifications to be made and some integration work to be done. Even so, Under Armour was up and running on Dassault Systemes' ENOVIA MatrixOne Apparel Accelerator in less than 20 weeks, far sooner than the year-to-18-month rollout schedule generally associated with most enterprise software deployments.

 

The ambitious timetable was critical, Under Armour officials say, to ensure that the PLM system would be in gear to generate efficiencies for the company's upcoming spring and fall 2009 seasons, which required planning to kick off in earnest in November 2007.

 

"We needed something that had an apparel maker's focus in mind. Otherwise we'd be spending too much time trying to tailor something else," says Rich Zielinski, Under Armour's vice president of technical services. "The more tailoring you do, the more a system doesn't work."

 

Companies in many industries are learning that lesson. Having lived through lengthy, expensive, and often fruitless enterprise software rollouts, especially in the areas of ERP and CRM, manufacturers are now reluctant to bankroll the deployment of generic PLM systems in need of major modifications for handling industry-specific requirements and company-specific business processes. They understand that, as the PLM market matures, much of the heavy lifting associated with mapping out critical business processes and industry requirements — for example, in the areas of regulatory compliance or quality management — has already been done by the vendors and early adopters in sectors such as automotive and aerospace and defense.

 

In lieu of starting from scratch, PLM newcomers want to capitalize on this wealth of best practice and industry domain expertise to jumpstart time-to-value. In addition, as companies in industries such as consumer packaged goods and retail and apparel step up to the PLM plate, they, too, are demanding out-of-the-box capabilities that lower total cost of ownership for the software.

 

"It helps companies deploy PLM faster if you can put it into the context of their industry," says Bill Boswell, senior director, Teamcenter product marketing, at Siemens PLM Solutions. "It helps if you can give users reports out of the box using the terms they're familiar with. It's all about lowering the cost of ownership, faster deployment, and faster time to value."

 

 

Security Blanket

 

Siemens PLM Solutions, like most PLM providers, has been busy over the past few years rounding out its vertical offering story. Initially, Siemens offered vertical versions of Teamcenter for aerospace and defense and the automotive industry — its traditional core markets — which essentially wrapped up many of the templates, workflows, reports, and domain expertise mapped out by marquee clients in these sectors and made them available to the PLM-buying public.

 

Because of growing demand for these industry-specific versions, Siemens branched out in 2005 with a packaged Teamcenter edition for Federal Drug Administration compliance, following up in the past year with packages for medical device makers and retail and apparel manufacturers.

 

A packaged version of Teamcenter tuned to the needs of small and mid-sized (SMB) companies has been another big area of focus via the Velocity Series.

And, thanks in part to Teamcenter's open data model and services-oriented architecture in the 2007 release, Siemens and potential partners can readily integrate industry-specific functionality into the core PLM platform as new sectors emerge, Boswell says.

 

Siemens addresses the vertical challenge via extensions to Teamcenter's business logic and data model layers. For instance, in the new Teamcenter for Medical Devices package, developed via a partnership with Tata Consultancy Services, the software's data model has been extended to handle industry-specific requirements, such as capturing the device master record or tracking revisions required by FDA Title 21 CFR Part 11, a federal regulation governing the accepted use of electronic records and signatures.

 

The vertical versions also have been modified with pull-down menus, templates, and reports that are specific to the language and tasks of a given industry as opposed to a generic workflow that doesn't look or feel familiar to a user.

 

"We're not building these vertical applications in a silo," Boswell says. "We're building extensions onto the data model and business logic with overlays on top, which provides any capabilities you might need for a particular industry."

 

For Wright Medical Technology, Inc., a global orthopedic medical device company, having a PLM platform that could handle very specific regulatory requirements out of the gate provided a huge comfort level, according to Amy Cooper, quality documentation manager for Wright, which makes reconstructive joint devices and biologics. Without major modifications, Cooper's group was able to leverage Teamcenter to maintain audit trails, automate the requisite parent/child relationships for change management, and validate the system for overall compliance.

 

"When you start to change and monkey with a system, you open up a hole," Cooper says. "The fact that we didn't have to modify the system was like a security blanket, knowing we'd be compliant. They did their homework. A lot of what's out of the box is usable in most medical situations."

 

Just as medical device manufacturers have their own lingo and compliance requirements, so do companies in industries as diverse as apparel and semiconductors. In emerging markets for PLM, such as retail and apparel and consumer packaged goods, the product launch process poses a particularly thorny problem. In consumer packaged goods, for example, a portfolio dashboard capability is critical for understanding and managing a multitude of product lines. Many of the newer packaged vertical editions, such as those from Siemens and Oracle/Agile, incorporate that functionality into the base PLM offering.

 

Through tailored dashboards, calendaring, and line planning templates, companies in industries that may be new to PLM can get a better sense of what products are in the launch queue and how each is performing once it is launched, says Jeff Hoilo, research analyst for AMR Research Inc.

 

"It's helping accelerate the maturation of PLM as a product innovation platform," Hoilo says. "CAD data management and collaborative engineering are just one aspect of PLM, and as newer industries come into the fold, they have multiple seasons to deal with through the year, and they need a portfolio dashboard capability to understand their different product lines."

 

 

Talk the Talk

 

The retail and apparel industry, in particular, has shown great interest in PLM, in part because of the complexity of product lines and outsourced manufacturing relationships in that vertical. However, a generic PLM platform designed to manage parts and bills of materials wouldn't necessarily work for apparel makers.

 

"They don't manage parts and components and hardware; they manage styles through seasons and calendars," says Kurt Andersen, vice president of strategy and industry solutions for ENOVIA at PLM software provider Dassault. By tailoring the ENOVIA data model, Dassault, via its MatrixOne acquisition, created the Apparel Accelerator, which uses terminology and workflows that are familiar to manufacturers in this environment. The product features a "style change request" rather than an "engineering change request," for instance, and refers to items as "styles," "fabrics," and "lines," rather than "parts" and "components."

"When a company deploys this kind of vertical PLM application to the end user, they look at their screen and see their business, their terminology, and the reports they need to see for the role they do in their industry," Andersen says. "We put ourselves in the chair of the users and uncover the things they need to do their job across a global organization."

 

Consumer products goods manufacturers and life sciences companies are also looking for vertical-specific PLM capabilities and terminology beyond the core product development and product data management (PDM) functions. Building out vertical functionality to address supply chain functions and to tie quality assurance back to engineering and manufacturing is a big deal in those industries. That's why vendors like Oracle have built vertical applications for dealing with such processes as corrective and preventive actions (CAPA), says Chris Farinacci, vice president of applications marketing for Oracle. Oracle, via its acquisition last year of Agile Software Corp., got a jumpstart on the trend to create vertical versions of PLM for such markets as high tech and electronics and life sciences.

 

In addition to those targeted segments, Oracle has expanded its core capabilities around recipe and specification management to appeal to food and beverage companies. Those capabilities came to Oracle via Agile's 2006 acquisition of Prodika. Moving forward, Oracle plans to expand its vertical PLM reach to such sectors as private label retail and semiconductors, according to Farinacci.

 

Private label retail companies have many of the same design and manufacturing problems as electronics manufacturers, especially when it comes to the packaging and labeling component and keeping product features in sync with customer requirements.

 

The retail and apparel vertical, however, isn't on Oracle's docket for now, Farinacci says, as that domain expertise is outside of Oracle/Agile's traditional core competencies.

 

Farinacci believes there's a lesson for customers looking to take the vertical PLM route. Given the level of activity among PLM vendors introducing new vertical solutions, he cautions customers to consider how well the vendor knows the particular industry in order to derive the most benefit from a packaged solution.

 

"It really comes down to proof," Farinacci says. "How have other customers in my industry vertical solved the problem? What was their time to market, and what's the risk? How long it takes to get to ROI from the solution has everything to do with how well the vendor understands the particular industry and problems, and how well they can bake that knowledge into the core PLM product."

Source:  Editorial from the January 2008 issue of Managing Automation, PLM's Vertical Challenge, by Beth Stackpole, Contributing Editor
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