Next-generation PLM: Avoid being a casualty in vendors’ fight for market supremacy

The potential quandary confronting product life-cycle management (PLM) users is reflected in the battle of words being waged by SAP and Oracle, the top-tier suppliers of enterprise applications that have recently begun flexing their muscles in the PLM space.


Product life-cycle management (PLM) software vendors are investing heavily in what they describe as next-generation solutions. That’s good news and bad news for companies looking to deploy PLM technology.
The good news is there are applications out there to address myriad product-development issues facing contemporary manufacturers—such as the need to share detailed product data throughout global supply chains. The bad news is not all vendors are offering the same depth and breadth of solutions, which means users must exercise caution when making a PLM software purchase.
The potential quandary confronting PLM users is reflected in the battle of words being waged by SAP and Oracle , the top-tier suppliers of enterprise applications that have recently begun flexing their muscles in the PLM space.
Both companies profess leadership in the realm of enterprise PLM, which essentially is the linking of product-related data with back-end business applications such as ERP, CRM, and supply chain planning.
Oracle stormed into the PLM market last fall by purchasing Agile Software , a specialist in helping OEMs share product-related information with contract manufacturers. Oracle President Charles Phillips likened this $495-million purchase to an R&D investment, providing an instant infusion of functionality it would have taken Oracle years to develop internally.
Soon after Oracle finalized its Agile acquisition, SAP unveiled a “road map” for adding new functionality to its PLM offerings. The map, which SAP says will be complete by 2010, includes:
• Stronger capabilities for managing new product portfolios;
• New role-specific user interfaces;
• Improved supply chain collaboration functionality; and
• Easier means of integrating data from various parts of the organization—from engineering to sales, manufacturing, and aftermarket service functions.
SAP says these enhancements would come through heavy use of its service-oriented NetWeaver technology platform, which supports creation of composite applications.
Oracle declined to comment when MBT asked for its reaction to SAP’s road map last fall. Now, however, having assimilated Agile into its corporate culture, Oracle has a lot to say about its poistion in the PLM space.
“The Agile acquisition has established us as the leader in enterprise PLM,” says Hardeep Gulati, Oracle’s VP of PLM and PIM. “We just completed a stellar second quarter… in which we gained market share by expanding sales within the existing Agile installed base, within the existing Oracle base, with completely new customers, and even within the SAP installed base. We now have more seats within the SAP installed base than SAP has with its own PLM solutions.”

While Gulati didn’t say so, most of the SAP customers using Oracle’s PLM solution purchased that software from Agile Software before its merger with Oracle. Gulati did argue, however, that Oracle already has many of the capabilities that SAP’s road map promises—including portfolio management functionality and role-based user interfaces. “We also have a huge number of customers doing supply chain collaboration,” says Gulati.
Despite its professed lead in enterprise PLM, Gulati says Oracle also has a road map for improving its offering, comprised of three dimensions:
Applications unlimited : This is Oracle’s term for continuing to support applications used by customers of companies it acquires. In this case, according to Gulati, it means Oracle will add new functionality to the Agile platform, including support for mechatronics, intellectual property protection; customer needs management, and new capabilities for analyzing product-related data.
Tighter integration of design data with back-end business systems such as ERP, CRM, and supply chain planning : Gulati says this integration will be accomplished via Oracle’s application integration architecture (AIA).
Next-generation technology : This refers to blending of service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web 2.0 features with the PLM platform to improve customers’ ability to collaborate internally, and with supply chain partners.
Gulati envisions the use of next-generation technology leading to the development of “composite processes” such as demand-driven project planning. “That means having the ability to look at demand signals and plan the right time to launch products for a particular market,” he says.
While Oracle and SAP battle for supremacy in enterprise PLM, other vendors have their own vision of the next generation of PLM. For instance, Boston-based AMR Research says Siemens PLM Software , Dassault , and PTC are working to make it easier to move product design data to the shop floor—an area in which neither Oracle nor SAP has much expertise. This latter set of vendors also has a heritage in the CAD space, where the product designs are created. That means they are more proficient at—and are developing more advanced solutions for—things like helping companies share and collaborate around 3D product models.
Wide disparity across PLM vendors’ offerings—and their areas of focus—is exactly why users need to take special care when choosing a vendor. For AMR's advice on choosing the right PLM vendor, this table is offered.

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