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PLM has the potential to help CIOs achieve total product-data integration.
Gartner Inc. Research Director Marc Halpern envisions a much more far-reaching value proposition for PLM in the future. "As companies such as Ping adopt PLM and build comprehensive databases of product information that are fully synchronized with one version of the truth, they'll be able to use that information more broadly." He expects that much more content, including images, will be visible to marketing, for example, for use in creating sales brochures. Depending on the industry and product category, companies can also integrate more accurate, detailed product information into service manuals and user manuals. At Ping, for instance, a care-and-use booklet for a golf club could be dynamically connected to a simplified image of the original CAD drawing, along with information about how to clean it. Any change made to the CAD drawing would intuitively change in the brochure as well.
Unfortunately, achieving that level of cross-functional and cross-company integration remains a huge challenge. Says Mark Deck, a director with Boston-based management consultancy PRTM, "the ultimate vision of PLM systems is to create a single source for product information, which encompasses an overwhelming wealth of data, and becomes a massive data-integration issue." Some data originates in PLM software, while component product information may come from suppliers, manufacturing configuration data comes from ERP systems, warranty data comes from CRM, and so on. New approaches to architecture (especially service-oriented architecture) as well as the development of standards for information exchange among PLM products will help companies cope with the integration issues over the long term.
While Deck believes that "the world is heading toward the integrated product-data record and an increasing ability to solve the integration issues," it can't get there fast enough to suit many product-focused companies. Competitive, fast-paced global markets, fickle consumers, and a slew of other market and company dynamics have made PLM a life or death issue when it comes to business health.
How much data exchange can we support today between our ERP and PLM systems?
Does our current IT architecture solve our PLM-related integration problems?