Among technology practitioners, there is no shortage of pundits offering predictions into the future and where the next big wave is going to hit. The reason for this is that the stakes are high – a correct forecast of future technology trends can literally be worth billions.
So what are the current predictions talking about? Here is a sampling of the current buzz:
- Big Data
- Social Media
- Crowd Sourcing
- Social Computing
- Mobile Connectivity
So how does this impact PLM? Traditionally PLM is conducted on internal infrastructure in secured environments using traditional devices. For example, an average designer concerned with the creation of a 3D CAD data would be working on a company workstation behind a firewall. Equally, an engineer creating BOM data would be using a secured client installed on his company laptop. The possibility exists that the engineer may take his laptop home and interact with the PLM system via a VPN but this is probably the extent of “mobility.”
Returning to the technology buzz, consider the potential impact of two trends – mobile connectivity and social computing. Consider the following scenarios:
- Your newly recruited engineer has transitioned his digital life to his tablet and no longer uses a laptop. (hence the title of this piece)
- The VP of Engineering wants to query the status of his product introduction using his mobile phone.
- Your company wants immediate access to customer feedback on existing products so that this can be translated into requirements for new or updated designs.
Given the traditional model sketched our earlier, implementing anything close to these scenarios is almost impossible. The infrastructure, mindset, and processes will not support mobile connectivity from alternative devices nor allow general access to a requirements gathering front end. Also, it raises a whole lot of questions around data security, use of private devices, and non-company access. While the technology to achieve these scenarios probably exists, it would require considerable financial and effort investment to make it happen.
This leads to the fundamental risk investment equation. It may be possible to construct a business case that justifies the outlay. At a high level, two possibilities exist:
- Traditional PLM infrastructure is good enough for at least the next ten years and can be re-evaluated then.
- Changing the way business is conducted is a do or die activity and this includes PLM.
An informal survey of small to medium size companies shows that most participants have not even considered these technology trends. In part, there appears to be no business imperative and in part because there are other more attractive avenues for immediate investment.
So, do you want your engineers to be doing all their engineering work on a tablet anywhere in the world?