Product Lifecycle Management (PLM): Oracle enters a brave new world

Posted on 4 Apr 2012 by Malcolm Wheatley

The challenges facing Product Lifecycle Management have evolved significantly, finds Malcolm Wheatley.

With little fanfare, the world of innovation has changed. New paradigms, such as open innovation (p80), and extended collaboration – are now seeing manufacturers bring products to market through development processes quite unlike the traditional in-house model.

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For instead of product development being carried out exclusively on an internal basis, it’s being carried out collaboratively, working with suppliers, universities, customers and research bodies to take a new idea or emerging technology, and harness it in order to bring new products to market.

What’s more, look closely, and many manufacturers are also deploying a portfolio of development strategies. One product might be brought to market collaboratively with an existing partner; another through the kinds of open innovation techniques associated with Henry Chesbrough, a professor at the University of California’s Haas School of Business; and another be developed internally.

And a similar diversity applies to the process of manufacture, once the product has been developed. One product might be produced in-house, for instance; another built collaboratively with a development partner; and the other outsourced entirely to a manufacturing subcontractor.

Moreover, the regulatory environment in which those products are developed, manufactured and maintained has changed, too. In industry after industry, compliance has become a significant challenge – and not just for manufacturers in traditionally regulated industries such as pharmaceutical manufacture, aerospace, medical devices and food and beverage.

Take Europe’s Restriction on the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (RoHS) directive, or the more recent Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) directive, for instance. These effect a huge number of businesses and worse, businesses exporting the same product to multiple geographies face multiple compliance challenges.

Think, too, of the need to link regulatory-complaint product packaging to the product in question. It’s a particular requirement in industries such as pharmaceuticals, of course, and in food and beverage, but it’s emerging as a problem in many other industries, too – especially in the context of globalisation. Get it wrong, and costly, embarrassing product recalls beckon.


Roll it all together, and the result is a significant change to the environment in which manufacturers’ Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems must work. In short, such systems must be capable of supporting not only inhouse product development processes, but also collaborative product development processes involving multiple external partners, and bring to market products through multiple manufacturing routes while simultaneously supporting the requirements of multiple compliance regimes.

“As a business, we saw this coming some years ago,” says Denis Senpere, European vice-president of enterprise product lifecycle management solutions at enterprise technology company Oracle. “We understood that existing approaches to PLM were too static, and began thinking about how to develop our own advanced PLM technology to support these emerging new paradigms.”

The rest is history. In 2007, Oracle acquired the market leading Agile PLM suite, recognising in it a ready-built springboard on which to construct its vision of advanced PLM technology – a vision now badged Enterprise PLM, and enshrined within Oracle’s own Oracle Enterprise PLM application.

“We kept the Agile solution on the development trajectory that had been set for it, but put it in a much broader context,” says Senpere. “In a world where product development is crossenterprise, PLM needs to be cross-enterprise, too. And be capable of acting as the master data repository of records in a cross-enterprise context, as well.”

Put simply Senpere explains, Enterprise PLM is a strategic approach to managing the lifecycle of a product throughout its full value chain in a company, or across company boundaries. As such, the approach includes every process in the chain – from requirements gathering through design, prototyping, certification, production, customisation, distribution and retirement. It unites all the partners in the value chain by providing a single, collaborative software platform.

Denis Senpere, European Vice-President of Enterprise Product Lifecycle Management Solutions, Oracle
Denis Senpere, European Vice-President of Enterprise Product Lifecycle Management Solutions, Oracle

“In a world where product development is crossenterprise, PLM needs to be crossenterprise, too” – Denis Senpere, European Vice-President of Enterprise Product Lifecycle Management Solutions, Oracle

Out of the box

As a result, Enterprise PLM is much more than just a technology solution, emphasises Senpere.

“It represents a new, strategic approach to the product value chain that emphasises process efficiency, inter organisational collaboration, rapid innovation, rigorous quality control, risk mitigation and cost effectiveness,” he explains.

And put like that, he notes, it’s clear that most vendors in the PLM market will struggle to offer such a capability.

“Unless you’re talking about relatively simple innovation, or revisions to existing products, vendors approaching PLM from an ERP perspective just don’t have the bandwidth,” he asserts. “Their solutions aren’t rich enough to handle the complexity of today’s approach to innovation.”

Equally, he adds, companies approaching PLM from a CAD perspective tend to be too tied to design issues, and to the need to protect revenue streams coming from their core CAD ‘cash cows’, to offer a credible solution, either. The problem? In the world of extended collaboration, there will be multiple CAD solutions within the value chain, potentially forcing CAD vendors to cannibalise their revenue streams.

“Quite deliberately, we support direct integration with multiple CAD solutions,” he says. “Today’s Oracle Enterprise PLM is more tightly connected to more CAD solutions than a PLM offering from any other vendor – and that’s because we don’t have any conflicts of interest to support the best possible integration with any CAD solution. This is total openness.”

What’s more, he adds, while linking to CAD systems, Oracle Enterprise PLM also links to other aspects of the enterprise suite including, Customer Relationship Management, Supply Chain Management, and ERP.

Better still, he adds, Oracle Enterprise PLM is built around the requirements of seven key industries, and specifically addresses the needs of these vertical industries with ‘out of the box’ pre-built industry-specific applications and best practices working on top of a common PLM infrastructure.

“For manufacturers, the result is that deployment time is much reduced, and there’s very little need for customisation – which consequently means a lower cost of ownership and better agility when it comes to benefitting from new versions,” sums up Senpere. “In effect, we’re destroying the notion that a single PLM system can handle the needs of every industry, out of the box. It can’t, and it’s unrealistic of vendors to pretend that it can.”