Project Description

In the product lifecycle management (PLM) space, organizations are beginning to view mobile PLM applications as a mean to greatly increase efficiencies in their existing business processes and compliment or expand their PLM solution footprint. PLM users need timely and accurate access to information throughout the entire product lifecycle, and mobile solutions are fast becoming an integral part of the PLM process. As manufacturing processes become leaner and quicker, and global collaboration becomes an imperative, it is critical to be constantly and intimately able to both input and access information residing in PLM systems to avoid expensive errors and delays caused by antiquated communication processes.

To address this need, PLM solution vendors are investing in their applications. The desire for increased mobility has created new products, product features, and technical solutions from browser based access to the entire PLM suite of apps with functionality addressing specific lifecycles including trend, product development, quality assurance, fit and collaboration.

In this point of view, The Parker Avery Group explores the use of mobile technology in PLM solutions and processes, along with a high level overview of the business benefits and challenges associated with PLM mobility.  While many of the concepts discussed can be applied to other platforms and applications across the enterprise, our focus will specifically be on mobility in product lifecycle management solutions.

PLM and Mobility

PLM is a set of processes and supporting technologies that enables the definition and management of a product from its inception until it is retired within an organization. The broadest definition of PLM includes activities that encompass conceiving, designing, developing, sourcing or making, and delivering the product. Narrower definitions of PLM include only a subset of these activities. However, the general consensus is that PLM refers to the upfront processes of conceiving, designing, and developing product.

Implementing a technology solution that supports end-to-end business processes, such as PLM, allows an organization to have a data repository that holds a “single version of the truth” as opposed to having information spread across multiple spreadsheets and individual computers.  This allows for much greater collaboration and consistency between teams and external partners across the globe: the most up-to-date version is always accessible.

In the fast-moving world of product development, mobile technology is becoming extremely important.  PLM activities require retailers to develop, track, and manage branded or exclusive products from product conception through order fulfillment.  Over the past few years, many advances and improvements have been made to PLM applications to make the product development process faster and more efficient.  However, while PLM is the “single version of the truth,” information gaps remain between the product designers, factory and consumers.    Many decisions and processes still happen outside the PLM system, and that information can be lost, delayed, inaccurate, or simply not entered into the PLM system at all.

Enabling PLM processes with mobility can vastly improve communication, efficiency, and data accuracy – in the end leading to better decision-making.  Mobile applications give employees more flexibility in accessing corporate data and applications when traveling or working remotely.  Mobility also increases productivity because employees can communicate with their colleagues more frequently and can quickly respond to issues that arise real time.

An organization must have in place the right processes, policies, and procedures to support a mobile PLM work force.  In the past, it was uncommon for the IT organization to allow “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) programs, which allow employees to use their personal mobile devices for work.  Today BYOD is an acceptable and scalable solution approach for mobile deployment.  While there are enterprise security and personal privacy issues that must be managed, as well as the need to maintain application consistency across a myriad of devices and operating systems, employing BYOD practices helps reduce enterprise technology procurement and maintenance costs, while providing the opportunity to vastly improve productivity, efficiency, and data integrity.

Benefits of Mobile PLM

There are a number of benefits to be realized as PLM software vendors continue to invest in developing stand-alone mobile solutions:

  • Increased functionality

  • Improved communication and responsiveness
  • Reduced costs and increased sales

  • Increased productivity and more flexibility

With the growing expectation that mobile-enabled enterprise applications are designed to make business processes more efficient and less constrained, these benefits are likely to be realized more quickly than those associated with traditional solutions. Adoption of these solutions is also likely to be widespread due to the nature of the businesses in questions who are driven by a need to be highly efficient at continuously developing, producing, procuring, and selling through products.

Challenges of Mobile PLM

While there are many benefits to mobile PLM, it also poses several challenges. Mobile device providers continue to improve the mobile device video displays through larger screens and the ability to display high-definition pictures in their attempt to mimic the computer experience. These graphics and other large files take up large amounts of memory, coupled with the infrastructure in some locales that may not have the bandwidth to transmit these images. Until high-speed networks are available everywhere, this will continue to be an issue.

  • Large file sizes required

  • Unreliable mobile infrastructures

  • Too much item information

  • Small device screens

Additionally, many PLM applications have an abundance of information to offer on a company’s products. Software providers need to develop their mobile solutions with this in mind and try not to deliver all the information available but only the information needed for the task at hand (e.g., cost negotiation). Thus, information delivered at any point in time is either driven by user-defined parameters, role-based security, or the specific business function in order to minimize the amount of bandwidth needed.

The mobile platform also needs to take into account the smaller screens that mobile devices offer versus a computer.  PLM applications tend to have a great deal of data on each screen.  As a result of this large amount of data, even when using a computer, there can be a great deal of scrolling or navigation through multiple tabs to view all the information.  With the smaller screens, the software providers need to keep this in mind when developing their mobile solution to enable efficient access to the data.  It is not as simple as just porting the application from a computer browser to a mobile browser.

Final Word

Mobile PLM technology offers a new way of doing business.  Traditional web-based PLM systems have improved the product development process. However, content creation, as well as critical milestone decisions and processes still occur outside the PLM system and outside the cubicle.  As advances with mobile technology continue to improve, retailers can leverage these new capabilities and benefit from greater control of their data, people, processes, and calendars.  With mobile functionality and real time updates and sharing of data, PLM teams will make better and quicker decisions.  While challenges still exist with this new PLM capability set, retailers that take advantage of mobile PLM will see superior benefits from faster and more efficient processes, ultimately leading to substantial bottom line improvements.

About Parker Avery

The Parker Avery Group is a leading retail and consumer goods consulting firm that specializes in transforming organizations and optimizing operational execution through the development of competitive strategies, business process design, deep analytics expertise, change management leadership, and implementation of solutions that enable key capabilities.

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