One of most common phrases one hears in PLM discussions – usually during a product demonstration by a PLM software vendor – is "a single version of the truth." The notion is that manufacturing organizations have to manage vast amounts of information generated from a variety of sources, both manual and instrument generated, that is managed by any number of bespoke applications and spreadsheets. The idea of offering a single point to organize and access the different data sources and points of view appears to make sense. But a close examination reveals some serious challenges.
The typical product development process employed by most organizations emphasizes individual task performance and is optimized to meet the goals and constraints of each product life-cycle stage, often at the expense and detriment of other downstream activities. For instance, a system designer may select a design and components best suited to meet the functional requirements, but the designer may not be aware that a certain components may be nearing obsolescence. Typically, downstream activities such as supply chain and service planning often are treated as afterthoughts and commence late in the product life cycle, at which point the ability to influence already-made decisions is very limited.
In other words, each stakeholder's "truth" is the one that best represents the stakeholder's goals and constraints, and seldom do users have the tools understand the potential impact of their decisions on downstream or upstream activities.
PLM and PDM software makes it easier to organize and access information from a single repository, but ease of access alone does not make information useful and impactful. All too often, lack of visibility to downstream activity, or clarity of understanding of the higher business-level goals, results in an optimal decision made within one product group, location, or discipline but, at the same time, jeopardizes the ability of a downstream group to meet its objectives. By definition, serializing a set of highly optimized localized decisions is likely to result in a suboptimal global decision.
The real value of product data hinges on an active product knowledge source that is self-organized and reveals information, knowledge, and experience depending on the user, task, and context and that allows multiple "truths" to coexist, at least temporarily, in the form of each stakeholder's goals and constraints. Instead of insisting on storing and managing the "single version of the truth," PLM vendors should provide an open architecture and the building blocks to realize an effective collaborative PLM platform that help stakeholders harmonize different product lifecycle disciplines and perspectives, delivering the full context for high-fidelity decision making.
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