Single version of truth is a mantra sold by most of enterprise software vendors. PLM is included. I think, PLM vendors went to extreme in the attempt to connect the value of PLM system and business ideas to the need to bring all the information under the roof of a single PLM databases. The idea started as CAD file expanded into PLM databases and was promoted by all CAD / PLM vendors. The basis of the idea is good – to have reliable source of information about product, its changes and to provide access to the information to all people involved into product development and value chain. However, modern reality is different. Information is a company is siloed. Also manufacturing companies are transforming from a single entity located in one place to a network of contractors and suppliers. To support single version of truth PLM mantra is complex and to make it work for a network of companies without forcing their centralization into a single system is mission impossible.
One of the technologies that inspiring new thinking are distributed database systems and blockchain. You can find lot of writing these days about both. Check some of my previous articles – Blockchain technologies and distributed manufacturing ledger and Product lifecycle, e-commerce and distributed ledger.
In my view, the time is coming to think about new architectures of PLM systems. These architecture should be a step from existing single (relational) database paradigm. Existing architectures were build for the last 15-30 years of enterprise solutions development, but most of them were built for a single company and assume possibility to bring all data under the same roof. Integration and federation are technically possible, but it never worked as expected and required lot of hard wiring and services. It is a time to talk about “connected” PLM architecture. Some of my thoughts are here.
The new application architecture foundation should be different and relies on a new data management concepts of distributed data management, changes, traceability and distributed ledger. Together they will provide PLM foundation capable to scale towards the goal of having data located in multiple places, instant data sharing and trusted ledger system capable to replace the idea of centralized data management.
So, how new architecture and distributed ledger technology can change enterprise PLM?
The founding element of new architecture is immutable distributed block of data. It can create new enterprise architecture. The core elements of this architecture is immutable, auditable data. This data structure is also a foundation for new process control mechanisms. In a nutshell, these mechanisms can keep the log of changes and use distributed blocks of data for persistence.
If you do work with PLM systems you realize that lot of data is processed between PLM and other systems. This is result of multiple silos and tons of integration every PLM implementation is bringing to the company (systems are sending data, snapshots, diffs, logs, etc). All these data transfers are vulnerable and hard to implement. But even more, these data is potentially exposed to different manipulations and data injections. A communication between multiple companies is even more complicated and potentially exposed OEMs and suppliers even more.
New enterprise distributed ledger technologies can provide a way for securely signed data, validated verification protocols between systems and storing data in a way that can be easy audited and transparent between organizational divisions and companies. In addition to that, it will protect companies from external and internal threats.
Most of today’s architectures are web based and based on SOA model (different flavors and REST is one of them). But these communication protocols aren’t safe and don’t provide enough integrity that needed to communicate between siloed enterprise systems and cross company communication across value chain. So new architecture should go “beyond SOA”.
What is my conclusion? It is a time to rethink enterprise PLM architecture to scale beyond single organization and beyond single version of truth mantra. New architectures for data and process management will use distribute databases and ledger technologies to manage data and create a network of trust between manufacturing companies in value chain. Just my thoughts…
PS. Distributed ledger and data management is one of the places I’m actively researching to find new way to manage data for modern manufacturing environment. Contact me if you have interest to discuss more.
Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.