In my conversations with clients and prospects this is a question I frequently get asked. At its surface, SharePoint seems like an equal to PDM/PLM. It has the ability to manage files, file access and revisions. It has the ability to track meta data about files or records and it has a workflow engine. Isn’t this basically what a simple PDM or PLM system do?
The short answer is yes, the basics of a PDM or PLM system are file control, meta data and workflow. The right answer though is in the ‘P’ of PDM/PLM. P stands for Product. When managing files, file access, revisions or workflow means managing a single file, SharePoint is a great choice. However when you are managing a product you are managing all of those things and, here’s the key, THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEM.
PLM Manages Relationships Between Files, Not Just Files Themselves
Running a single file through a change workflow is simple. However, that is not what managing a product is about. When you manage a product you run the product through a change process and in that change process you want to make sure that all of the suppliers related to the parts of that product are visible. You want to know all of the other places parts of that product are used so you know what may or may not be affected. You want to look at the manufacturing and tooling drawings associated with one of the parts so you know who to involve from manufacturing. You want to know what QA tests were previously done and may have to be redone or revised and redone due to this change. The point is, while a file may be at the center of the change and the thing that will eventually reflect the actual change, there is all kinds of data that needs to be considered before executing that change.
SharePoint is not designed to maintain relationships. You can’t link file A to file B in SharePoint so that anytime I am looking at file A I know to review file B as well. This is what PDM and PLM are for.
So does that mean that SharePoint does not have a place in your product management infrastructure? No. SharePoint is a great tool for disseminating information to large numbers of people in a very easy to use fashion. We have seen a number of our clients use PDM/PLM during the design and WIP phase of a product and then, upon release, send PDFs to SharePoint for the masses to consume. This, and other similar scenarios, are a great way to leverage the strengths of SharePoint while not limiting yourself regarding managing your product.
Razorleaf has been working with SharePoint since 2007 and has created a number of integrations between SharePoint and various PDM/PLM systems for our clients. We’d love to talk with you about where SharePoint fits in your product design, manufacturing and service landscape.