Over the last couple of years, large design software firms have rushed to redefine themselves as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) vendors. Yet when I talk to customers, they never mention PLM. When I ask them about it, they seem confused and put off. "I'm just looking for software to help me do my job—what does PLM have to do with that?" they ask.
My company offers CAD software, not PLM software, so I must admit I'm not an expert. We do compete with some companies that offer PLM, so the subject is important to me. PLM seems to be the conglomeration of each vendor's complete engineering software product line. Research firm Daratech has defined Seven Pillars of PLM: CAD (computer-aided design), CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), CAE (computer-aided engineering), PDM (product data management), BOM (bill of materials), CRM (customer relationship management) and MPM (manufacturing process management).
Instead of seven pillars, I see a Tower of Babel that confuses customers and inhibits manufacturing companies from making real progress. Just like the biblical Tower of Babel, PLM vendors all speak a different language (as does their engineering software) and are all trying to talk at the same time.
When I probe customers, they say that they actually care about software tools that are powerful, easy to learn, easy to use, affordable, well-supported, and that help them do one or more of the following: shorten time to market, improve product quality, reduce pre-production costs, reuse engineering data, optimize product design, reduce waste, and integrate engineering workflows.
How did customers and PLM vendors get so out of whack with each other? I believe it is because PLM vendors are all competing for the same handful of global manufacturers and they only care about two things: keeping their customers and taking customers away from their competition. PLM is all about selling to top executives and using fear, uncertainty, and doubt to keep customers from even trying another vendor's products.
I believe that PLM really means "Pay Lots More." PLM vendors want their customers to stay loyal, pay high prices for their products, and consume lots of consulting services in the attempt to implement enterprise-wide "solutions." A typical PLM company sells software that costs $5k to $20k per seat per product category. A complete suite for a single user could easily cost $100k. On top of this, customers are expected to pay more, even millions more, for the implementation and integration services required to actually use and integrate the products internally and with partners.
Somehow, in spite of not having PLM product suites, manufacturing companies have been managing their product life cycles for years, apparently with great success given the enormous range and diversity of manufactured products available in the world today.
I am convinced that PLM vendors have missed the boat. Millions of small to medium-size customers are not being served at all by the PLM approach. Just look at the statistics of 2D versus 3D CAD. Autodesk has sold over four million seats of 2D AutoCAD (including LT). However, only about one million seats of 3D CAD from all vendors combined have been sold. Clearly, millions of customers have not yet had their needs met for modern 3D design tools—and they probably don't care about PLM.