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13.07.2021

Digitalization for Midmarket Companies: CENIT Experts Report

You want to introduce PLM? Limited internal resources should not be an obstacle!

Digitalization comes with sophisticated IT projects. Managers of medium-size businesses say that such projects often push them to the very limits of their staff resources: Their technical units are unwilling to contribute extra staff for collaboration with the internal IT, which for its part also lacks the generous manpower resources of major corporations. As a result, many projects end up on the back burner and others are scaled down in scope. From a business perspective, neither of these options is a good idea. Ralf Hohmann, who advises decision-makers in implementing business strategies for a future-proof IT, tells us why.

As a decision-maker, I’m well aware that a PLM system will take my business forward. But I’ve also got my hands full with urgent system updates. Why do you believe that PLM is the thing that really can’t wait?

When we talk about digitalization as a competitive advantage, the key aspect for me is the need for end-to-end digital processes. And for that, a high-performance PLM system is both the vision and the beating heart!

Starting from the initial idea and continuing through to a product’s delivery, a PLM system is able to digitally map processes across the entire enterprise. Correctly designed and implemented, it creates a reliable foundation for stringent data.

If I can use the PLM system to control and adjust processes from end to end, my business will be able to cope with the increasing complexity in product development and manufacturing. I can (re)act faster, satisfy custom specifications and act innovatively at all times.

An important enabler for speed and agility is what we call front-loading. Instead of running through individual sequences all the way, I can use feedback loops for early validation and optimization of my decisions. This can be done by way of simulation – if and when the PLM system provides a software-supported integration of simulation and engineering.

From a business perspective, a PLM system must therefore be seen as a crucial investment. And my specific business requirements and my very own business strategy can be used directly to derive such a PLM system.

In some industries, PLM systems are also needed to address the growing demands of key customers. Automotive or aerospace clients are hugely demanding, for instance – just look at their requirements for data exchanges among their supplier networks.

So, we get it: If my company doesn’t invest in process and data continuity, we risk losing our competitive edge. But the fact remains that such a platform is a complex solution. Should our first move be to get our PDM system up to speed?

I believe that updating a legacy PDM or TDM system won’t really produce solutions to the problems we want to address.

The scope of such a PDM system is usually limited to the development division: on a PDM I can exchange data and organize collaboration, but unfortunately only within the engineering division.

But that per se doesn’t promise holistic processes, end-to-end digital data processing, or connectivity with the ERP and the manufacturing systems. Maybe you can do this or that, but your reach will be limited. After all, a PDM system isn’t made for the tasks you are after – they are beyond its scope by design.

Therefore, merely focusing on PDM updates is too simplistic a strategy for achieving truly consistent digitalization. In fact, I’m convinced that it’s not a way to attain end-to-end benefits for the business at all, because as I said the effects will be limited to the engineering division. The worst-case scenario is that I create a dead-end situation. The investment and effort might seem manageable at first, but the follow-up costs can be crippling.

It’s different if updating my PDM is part of my approach to achieving data and processes continuity along the entire value chain, i.e. if the PDM update is a step within an overall plan in which all steps are aligned – in strategy and technology terms!

So, from your perspective, what is a meaningful way to introduce a future-proof PLM system?

Introducing a PLM system is complicated, no doubt. But there are ways to make this complexity manageable, and it’s an approach that’s ideally suited to medium-scale businesses.

Before you set off, you must always be sure of where you want to go. What does it mean for your business to digitalize? Where do you want to exert influence? What areas will be affected?

From these cornerstones, you can derive a plan that subdivides the overall venture into segments on a timeline – a roadmap. Each milestone on this roadmap should generate added value in and of itself by resolving a sub-problem.

Defining sprints in this way has decisive advantages. In a business sense of course, because I reap rewards. And in organizational terms, because I can react flexibly to changing conditions. Perhaps a new business location will open up, or there’s a merger, or some other event that I want to be able to take into consideration when planning my next steps.

And finally, these sprints are enormously helpful in getting my employees on board and continually motivating them. This is particularly the case in medium-size businesses where a project like this usually comes on top of an already packed work schedule. To put it in sporting terms: If I’m not an experienced mountain biker, it makes a huge psychological difference whether I’m told “next week we have to cross the Alps” versus “tomorrow we’ll get to the first chalet and reward ourselves with lunch and a view. Then we’ll tackle the next stage”.

How can CENIT offer practical assistance in achieving this goal?

By making your project such a series of successful accomplishments! We have over three decades of experience in designing PLM for midsize businesses, and even before the digitalization wave we had developed systematic, standardized best-practice approaches to the topic. That means we can now offer a modular toolbox for building high-performance PLM systems – and it’s available at a fixed price!

In this toolbox, 80 percent of the IT is preconfigured. For the client, this offers the ideal combination of standardization and customization.

Each of the service packages gets the client ready to take on a specific challenge of the digitalized product engineering process. That’s why all out midsize business packages have “Ready to” labels: “Ready to Collaborate”, “Ready to Engineer”, “Ready to Integrate”, “Ready to Simulate”, and so on. The module “Ready to Collaborate”, by the way, covers precisely the functions of a PDM system we mentioned earlier, with all the necessary data exchange and team collaboration capabilities.

First, though, we offer support by way of a joint target definition process, an exercise that produces a single, documented vision: What describes the status quo, and what should the digital engineering process flow look like in future? The outcome of this Digital Process Assessment is a clearly defined roadmap for the client’s transformation into a business with end-to-end digital processes.

Many thanks for sharing your insights, Ralf*!

*Ralf Hohmann is VP Sales, 3DS PLM DACH RO at CENIT.

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