A step-by-step guide for performing a PLM upgrade

Product lifecycle management benefits are immense. That’s all the more reason to take a systematic approach to upgrading your system.

By Rakesh Pandey, Xchanging February 14, 2014

The turbulent economy of the last few years has yielded a significant impact on how organizations conduct business. Product lifecycle management (PLM) helps businesses to create innovative products while reducing the time-to-market and responding to dynamic supply chain conditions such as volatile currency markets, omni-channel consumer demands, political chaos…the list goes on.

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based research firm CIMdata estimates reveal that the mainstream PLM market grew 12.6% in 2012 to $21.1 billion. Aided by an increase in demand for improved efficiency and productivity and a growing need for collaboration across the global manufacturing lifecycle, PLM saw a sustained growth throughout the duration of last year. The research firm further predicts that the PLM market will have a compound annual growth rate of 8.7% to reach $50.7 billion in 2017.

First, let’s consider why there’s a need for such a process. Keeping the PLM system aligned with the latest system patches, software updates, and business process improvements is critical, but often neglected. The common reasons for a PLM upgrade are as follows but not limited to:

  • Resolving issues (in terms of performance, sustainability, maintainability, and stability) in the existing PLM deployment
  • Leveraging additional capabilities in the next-generation platforms
  • Addressing platform incompatibilities as the underlying software and hardware platforms keep evolving. 

Businesses also face many challenges in the process of a PLM upgrade. The PLM companies are creating next-generation platforms to address these dynamic business needs; yet, buyers of the solutions are often faced with the challenge of how to best optimize their investments, in addition to managing the risks on their IT investments and data assets. Other common issues include:

  • Changing the business process/system
  • Ensuring operational continuity
  • Dealing with non-scalable PLM deployment
  • Rolling out upgrades in heterogeneous enterprise systems
  • Non-traceable configuration management
  • Addressing integration complexities
  • On the user front, resistance to change and insufficient training.  

Take an organized approach

With that background in mind, let’s dive into the step-by-step process for a PLM upgrade by which organizations can minimize the risk involved and derive the maximum value from their investment:

  • Getting started: The first step in a PLM upgrade implementation is to assess the impact on the overall system architecture and fitment of the new functionalities, infrastructure components. and changes in user experience. The technical fit analysis process is critical, as it will determine the overall success of the upgrade. During this process, organizations can identify common document model and data migration issues, create upgrade plans and estimates. and validate quality assurance test plans.
  • Assessment, strategy, and proposal: Step two is the upgrade assessment and proposal phase. Before embarking on the implementation process, the business must first determine its upgrade strategy. This requires a detailed assessment of its existing PLM system from a technical and functional standpoint.

The upgrade strategies include a comprehensive upgrade, which addresses issues in the existing system, thus making it more robust, or a hybrid approach, which is followed for specific PLM applications (done under comprehensive upgrade), and for the remaining, a plain upgrade is done.

Once the best approach is determined, the business then selects the right upgrade implementation partner. That is, one who has strong cross-functional experience to help make the transition seamless and hassle-free.

  • Implementation and validation: Step three is the upgrade implementation and validation process. The key challenges in the rollout phase include implementation within scheduled timelines and creating minimum disruption to the users. Establishing certain contingency measures to handle unforeseen issues is also essential.

The completion of a PLM upgrade is different from a software development project mainly due to multiple projects running simultaneously and significant impact on data due to the scope and upgrade strategy followed. In an upgrade project, organizations must ensure that code merging has been done so that none of the current functionalities from the existing system or from the new release inadvertently get overridden.

  • Keeping customers “in the know”: In step four, we address the process of keeping customers informed, as this is a crucial component to a smooth transition. The early involvement of the users will ensure a seamless transition even though a PLM upgrade may or may not involve a significant change in the user experience.

To achieve this, companies can prepare the training material highlighting what’s new in terms of user experience. This should include updating the current user guides and related content, giving a demonstration of the upgraded platform prior to release, preparing a list of common issues to help address queries on the new platform, and organizing a help desk team to handle user requests.

  • Ongoing support: Our final step of a smooth PLM upgrade transition is post-deployment support. This final phase is an ongoing effort and is as crucial to the process as the four prior steps. Post-deployment support includes a customer acceptance test, production go-live, and ongoing post-production support. 

The need for PLM is clear, and just as important is the need to ensure your PLM upgrades go smoothly. Following a set process like the one I’ve outlined here is helpful in minimizing the many hiccups that can be encountered in the process. From the initial pre-upgrade analysis to determining how it will impact the overall system architecture, to the ongoing post-deployment support, each step of the process should be closely reviewed before the upgrade begins and then cautiously executed during the rollout to ensure a smooth and successful deployment.

Rakesh Pandey is global business unit head, manufacturing, at Xchanging (www.xchanging.com), a business process, procurement, and technology services provider.