In the past few weeks, I found the topic of “PLM standards” came across multiple times. I brought the discussion about standards in the last few articles. If you missed my earlier articles, check these links below.
Last week, at ConX19 in San-Diego, a few questions from the audience sparked the discussion about PLM standards during the panel about the future of enterprise tools and PLM. The question sounded very simple and interesting. Here is the point in the way I captured it – PLM vendors should agree about standards and follow them. In such a case, the problem of system interoperability and information silos will disappear. It is the vendors’ problem and not customer problem to support standards.
I captured two interesting comments from PLM vendors. The first one from Aras CTO, Rob McAveney. His point was very clear – to agree about standards will take time. The next day, after we agree, the standards will become obsolete. What Rob suggested is “to work together”. Unfortunately, he did not explain how to do so.
The second comment captured by me was from John Laslavic, CEO and founder of Upchain. He stated that large PLM vendors are not interested in standards because of data locking. So, what John suggested is to have a community effort to promote collaboration and data sharing. Again, I agree with John, we need openness, collaboration, and sharing. However, it is not clear how practically to achieve that.
The question about standards and business models are not simple. I like the way Aras’ Marc Lind stated it in his comments last year at PI PLMx in Chicago. Current business models are fundamentally based on data locking. So, don’t expect PLM vendors to magically agree on ease of data transfers and interoperability.
However, my favorite part from Marc’s video is about the question – what standards? Data archiving, interoperability, data exchange, protocols. Even some of these terms seem to be the same as interoperability and data exchange, I believe it is very helpful to decide what do we want to achieve with the PLM standards.
Here is the thing… I hope nobody believes that you can magically extract data from one PLM system, to load it to another system and continue to work. That would not happen in my view. If you experienced something like that in your life, let me know. The systems, environments, configuration, and customization of systems makes it impossible.
However, it doesn’t mean PLM space doesn’t have standards. All big PLM vendors are using SQL databases today in production. SQL data standards allow you to extract data from the PLM system and do something with this data. The latest is not a simple thing. Because data is really-really complex and often messy. But it is a practical way to handle data that was created in one PLM system. Extract data from some PLM systems is easier.
Also, we know that most of PLM environments today are used for PDM functions. The question about 3D files comes in such a context. If we narrow standards to exchange of 3D information, the standards such as STEP, IGES, JT, and few others can do a decent job. You won’t be able to recreate 3D features, but you will be able to get what is called dumb solid. It works for most situations today. There are some activities around long term archiving, but it seems to be more complex and less mature.
In both situations, existing standards can do a decent job of handling data. As Rob McAveney suggested at ConX19, customers should stop paying “bad” vendors. He didn’t call them by name. But, we can think about some process in which customers will migrate to systems and vendors that will make data formats transparent or export easily to make. For example, it is a good norm for most SaaS systems today to allow to export data in the format that can be used outside of the system in case customer is closing the account
Who needs standards? In my view, customers need standards the most in the current state of PLM business. Vendors live with data locking and create a business for integration services. This eco-system exists for the last few 15-20 years almost with no change. Emerging vendors are also beneficiaries of standards as it will allow them to interact with existing big systems. The last in the line is big CAD/PLM vendors. Even so, large industrial companies can influence big vendors roadmap to develop and support standards because no manufacturing in this world today cannot rely on a single vendor.
What is my conclusion? PLM standard definition is too broad to call for vendors to create and support “as is”. There is a need for a context and functions when it comes to standard development. With the current business models, established big PLM vendors are less interested in standard development. Future development of network PLM platforms can bring an opportunity for new business models in engineering and manufacturing software, which can change the current status quo of standard development and data consumption. Until that time, the best advice to customers and vendors is to follow the rules of openness and data transparency. It is good for your karma, business and finally helps to develop missed standards. Just my thoughts…
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.