PLM in the Cloud: Can One Size Fit All?

Lionel Grealou Engineering ERP PLM 3 minutes

Cloud is a hot topic these days. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and PDM/CAD solutions are no exceptions to that – many are now available on Cloud infrastructure and pay-as-you-go (PLM/PDM/CAD software-as-a-service). However, one should not fall into the hype that it will all be easy and straightforward once PLM is ‘thrown’ in the cloud. 

PLM on-premise vs PLM in the cloud

PLM on-premise (hosted internally or in an external data centre with PLM managed by own IT) traditionally provides control over systems/data as enterprise data is stored/handled internally. It usually required significant up-front infrastructure investments with dedicated internal IT staff for maintenance and support.

PLM in the Cloud (hosted by a third party with PLM managed by another party) does not require huge up-front infrastructure investment; it is relatively low maintenance, very accessible, and is fully administrated by third parties which are doing all the hard work. Moreover, Cloud brings the following advantages (ref. Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing):

  1. The illusion of infinite computing resources available on demand, thereby eliminating the need to plan far ahead for capacity provisioning.
  2. The elimination of an up-front commitment, thereby allowing companies to start small and increase hardware resources only when there is an increase in their needs.
  3. The ability to pay for use of computing resources on a short-term basis as needed(e.g., processors by the hour and storage by the day) and release them as needed, thereby rewarding conservation by letting machines and storage go when they are no longer useful.

Cloud hosted solutions and SaaS models can be combined, but these are different things – hence mixing them or swapping one for another might just be confusing. Cloud computing refers to hosting the physical architecture, while SaaS refer to how it is used.

Whether on-premise or in the Cloud, PLM cannot just be used ‘as is’ out-of-the-box… In other words, it requires process alignment / configuration / customization / integration / etc.

Cloud is not the cure to all PLM challenges

Many cloud-based CAD solutions appear like great examples of reinvented PDM / CAD vault repositories – actually moving away from most holistic PLM value proposition(single ‘source of truth’ – aligned with the ‘create once, use many times‘ principle, and enterprise integration with clear master data management strategies).

Independently as to how it is hosted or managed, PLM needs to be flexible, configurable, integrated with the rest of the enterprise to return the full value / business benefits.

Nevertheless, Cloud is an obvious option for Product Development IT / PLM Engineering IT to mitigate risk and offset responsibility of the infrastructure and technical maintenance to a third party. Cloud provides opportunities to pay-for-what-you-use models – i.e. capacity adaptability and computing scalability.

Cloud-based PLM solutions require a learning curve for both 1) user teams in terms of adapting different type of data access and control, and PD IT support teams in terms of managing Service Level Agreement (SLA) engagement rather and giving away some of their ‘historical’ technical and administrative control.

Approach to moving PLM to the Cloud 

 PLM / PD IT managers should consider:

  • Capacity and scalability requirements and how these are to be managed.
  • Data and IP management, access and security, but also integration with other legacy and ERP systems – covering end-to-end processes (not just isolated elements).
  • Potential speed of benefit realization for some areas of the business vs others – what to deploy on-premise vs in the Cloud and how they will integrate / interface.
  • Reliance on hosting party or vendor – and approach for multiple vendor solution integration and transferability (ability to migrate from one Cloud to another – to avoid to be locked in with a specific vendor or hosting party).
  • First deploying / piloting PLM on-premise to define and validate how it will be used, what configuration / customization / integration is required, what can be deployed gradually in the Cloud, what will be the implications and learning curve for the different user communities.

Surely, the whole product development and manufacturing IT enterprise will not move to the Cloud or even a single Cloud… there will always be a hybrid Cloud and on-premise landscape combination that the PLM roadmap will need to consider. Process adaptability, integration and master data management will remain the most prominent challenges of PLM. Cloud is not a silver bullet to take them away. There is no simple ‘one size fits all’ PLM in the Cloud solution that can be used without configuration / customization / integration with the rest of the enterprise.

What are your thoughts?

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 13 February 2016.

About the Author

Lionel Grealou


Lionel Grealou, a.k.a. Lio, helps original equipment manufacturers transform, develop, and implement their digital transformation strategies—driving organizational change, data continuity and process improvement, managing the lifecycle of things across enterprise platforms, from PDM to PLM, ERP, MES, PIM, CRM, or BIM. Beyond consulting roles, Lio held leadership positions across industries, with both established OEMs and start-ups, covering the extended innovation lifecycle scope, from research and development, to engineering, discrete and process manufacturing, procurement, finance, supply chain, operations, program management, quality, compliance, marketing, etc.

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