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Unified Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software: 6 Things to Know

12 min read
Feb 26, 2021 9:13:53 AM

Updated August 2021 - New Bonus Section: Recruiting with Product Lifecycle Management

Surefront is a Unified Product Collaboration Platform with PIM, CRM, and PLM solutions. It's a centralized data home where stakeholders can freely share product information and assign access permissions. Most integrations are supported in Surefront, but none are needed. Our articles often focus on one aspect of our unified PIM, PLM, and CRM platform. With Surefront, each solution seamlessly works together to achieve a guaranteed 10x ROI for every customer.

Updated April 2023 - New Bonus Section: Recruiting with Product Lifecycle Management

Across a variety of industries, there's a growing interest in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software and its benefits. From automotive product lifecycle management software to a sporting goods product lifecycle software feature, the future of business will be fueled by an agile PLM. 

As companies look to improve their product offerings, refine their supply chains and scale their business, a Product Life Cycle Management tool is a great asset to achieve these goals. This article will take a look at what is Product Lifecycle Management is, discuss which product lifecycle software features you may need, and what types of PLM are currently available.

If you're looking for specific information about different types of PLM, here are some quick links to navigate the 6 most important things you need to know:

What is PLM ?

It is a process by which organizations take a product from creative inception and development all the way to end of life and phasing out. PLM facilitates this process by integrating data, workflows and systems across a chain of key stakeholders. 

A great PLM system should consider everything within these 4 phases of a product's lifecycle: concept, design, production and distribution. Along the way, your organization should be setting goals and KPIs for each step in the process and workflows for the stakeholders. The best product lifecycle management software will allow you to collaborate with external vendors and suppliers, implement an agile product portfolio management process, and integrate important data as you assess each step in your workflow.

 

4 Steps for PLM

Key elements within the 4 phases of Product Lifecycle Management:

  • Design

  • Product Development

  • Buying

  • Production

  • Finance

  • Logistics

  • Sales Channels

  • Management

As your organization goes through each of these stages, you should be collecting and entering data into your PLM system. The best types of PLM will  help you streamline the process of designing and building products with raw materials.

An agile PLM will help you eliminate tedious product related data re-entry as your team works to create your final product. For a detailed view of the PLM process in the fashion industry, take a look at our Fashion PLM blog

Expected Results with PLM: 

  • Lower product costs

  • Greater quality

  • Faster time to market

Lower product costs - as the product lifecycle management process is iterative, your organization should refine it with each cycle. One of your main goals should be to lower production costs. This may seem intuitive for any organization that engages in product development, but it's important to point out that great PLM tools should push you toward a more refined supply chain and a more streamlined production process.

Greater product quality - in a similar vein to lowering product costs, your product quality should increase as you foster your PLM process. Whether it's finding more durable materials or better parts at the right price, each cycle should push you to assess your sourcing, development and production methods to improve your offerings.

Faster time to market - this is a direct result of improving your supply chain along with manufacturing and logistics. An agile PLM is not only a repository for your product data along its lifecycle, but also a tool for you to have comparable data that you can use to streamline and improve the steps in your process. To learn more about how time to market is addressed in the overall merchandising process, check out our article on how retailers bring products to market via merchandising software.

Data suggesting that choosing not to use a PLM solution is likely to be detrimental to a range of key metrics: 

 

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software Performance

Where did PLM Come From? 

Let's back up slightly and look at the origin of product lifecycle management processes. Any idea for a tool to refine business processes is born of a need within a given industry. As mentioned, the product lifecycle management process aims to bring products to market faster, more efficiently and with a greater degree of quality. Here's how it all started:

As early as the 1930's, the idea of different phases or stages of a product's life were already taking form for many companies. Coming off the back of the 2nd industrial revolution, organizations had more technology at hand and more sophisticated methods of production. This led to the natural categorization of the steps of the PLM process and efforts to improve them.

By the late 1950's, industry leaders looked to scale their businesses. This process recognized the introduction phase of a product, as well as the growth and maturity phases of the product lifecycle. Eventually, the saturation and decline of the given product formed the basis of modern PLM tools.

In the mid 1980's, American Motors Corporation (AMC) was looking for a way to speed up their time to market in order to compete with larger industry figures. This gave birth to one of the most successful modern business processes that leveraged new technologies and sparked a new way of implementing design, communications and data management systems. With automotive product lifecycle management as the first step, PLM process, as we know it today, began to take form.

For AMC, this led to the Jeep Cherokee, a vehicle that defined a whole new class and market - the compact SUV. The updates to automotive product lifecycle management software eventually led to their hallmark Jeep Grand Cherokee. This is a direct and clear example of early automotive product lifecycle management that serves as a model for how a bevy of organizations can leverage the product development process to redefine their business... and even their industry.

 

History of PLM tools.

What do PLM Solutions Currently Offer?

Unified PLM tools allow multidisciplinary teams to collaborate on products with internal and 3rd-party stakeholders. The best part is that, your unified PLM and PIM system will be a central repository of accurate data and B2B customer feedback that's easy to access for geographically-dispersed personnel.

However, your product lifecycle software features need to work seamlessly with the rest of your tools to maintain data quality throughout the process. In a 2023 world where more teams are working remotely, there's value in making unified PLM technology that facilitates accurate supply chain management, data sharing and collaboration a focal point in your business strategy.

Modern PLM tools should help smaller businesses scale up, as well as larger businesses create a repeatable process that does away with bottlenecks. This provides a path to digital transformation that all organizations need to stay competitive. Unified PLM and PIM software provides an array of options for seamless data sharing, as well as integrations with other enterprise software.

Key examples of PLM software integrations include:

  • Product Information Management

  • Customer Relationship Management

  • Enterprise Resource Planning

  • Manufacturing Execution Systems

  • Computer-aided Design

  • Industrial IoT

 

Where are PLM Solutions Headed?

Product development software and process management software will unite to become more sophisticated, with additional integrations across the retail industry. Let's look at industry trends and technological advances that may lend themselves to more robust unified retail software solutions.

Cloud PLM - Full disclosure, cloud-based PLM software is not something of the future. In fact, there are many options for it now. So, why do we mention it when discussing where modern PLM solutions are headed? The answer lies in the wide adoption of the technology. In the last decade, there's been a growing education on the value and flexibility of using cloud computing for data storage, sharing and accessibility.

Where many industry professionals pushed back against the idea of storing sensitive product information in the cloud, they are now warming up to the idea. Especially since 3rd-party collaborators are scattered across the globe. Cloud PLM makes for flexible and accessible processes with easier adoption across your value chain. Expect cloud PLM systems to be the standard moving forward. Take a look at our article on supplier management to learn more about how companies can better engage their 3rd-party partners with new technology.

Greater focus on B2B Customer Experience (CX) - Customer experience has been one of the greatest barriers to the wide adoption of PLM platforms. Many developers simply provided the tools but didn't consider the end-user's experience. CX is quickly becoming a key differentiator for SaaS PLM providers.

Agile PLMs with good CX result in wider user adoption. One of the main goals of a PLM system is to connect users across the value chain. The greater the number of stakeholders using the platform, the more effective it is. Some unified PLM and CRM features allow users to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders in one platform,  enabling better CX for B2B companies. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) - On the product development and design side of things, there's no doubt of the influence AI could have on the available product lifecycle software features. Some early versions of this are making data management and accessibility more of a visual, streamlined experience. One example of this is storing visual data on textiles for fashion brands and designers being able to search and filter through their database by simply taking a picture of a textile or trim and finding the right match within that database. This could save countless hours of searching and sorting moving forward.

For more resources on the future of engineering PLM, check out Saratech.

5 Reasons to Use Unified Product Data Management Software

  1. Increased Productivity - Reports suggest that across most industries, employees spend just under 40% of their work time on the primary function of their job. This percentage is even more dire in the fashion industry. The rest of the time is often dedicated to data entry and re-entry, email communications and other data-centric activities that could be streamlined. By design, PLM tools facilitate the process of lifecycle management and drives improvements across the series of cycles for the given product. Implementing a unified PLM and PIM platform increases employee productivity by consolidating designs, communications, workflows and product data in a single place. This inherently cuts down time on finding and organizing data.

  2. Accelerated Time to Market - The smoother the workflow and the higher the productivity, the faster your organization will be able to bring products to market. An important thing to remember here is that the best PLM and PIM systems will not only improve internal team speed, but they should also increase the rate at which you collaborate with your 3rd-party partners. That's where the new communication system, or customer relationship management element, comes into play. 

  3. Increased Revenue - As you accelerate your time to market by using software to address engineering challenges, you'll also be reducing your development costs. The intersection between those two actions will improve margin and help you scale up your business. You can't just think of PLM tool as a way of improving your workflows. One of the most critical KPIs of product lifecycle software features, after a few cycles, is how it is impacting your development departments. If you aren't finding steps in the cycle to improve, that's an indicator that you should reassess your process.

  4. Accurate Data Sharing - Agile PLM and PIM software should be your central repository for product information. It is the best way for storing and sharing accurate data, so youcan produce quality products. In traditional systems where PDFs, spreadsheets and other data forms are stored individually, it can be difficult to keep track of the most recent and accurate data points. That makes for a mess. Unified PLM and PIM software organizes your data, helps you keep track of it and allows for sharing with the right stakeholders at the right time (both internal and external).

  5. Improved Quality Management - More accurate data and improved workflows always lead to the ability to produce quality products. Regardless of your organization's position in the supply chain, your customer will be more likely to purchase from you if you provide great products. Both business and commercial transactions benefit from a seamless supply chain strategy. As you refine your lifecycle and drive improvements, you'll see the difference in your end product. This will improve consumer demand and build a better basis for sales.

Recruiting with Your PLM Solution

Internal sustainability can help attract and retain top talent in your organization. Recent studies point to a high employee turnover rate being a serious detriment to a company's overall margins. Some reports even suggest that companies with significantly lower turnover rates enjoy up to 4x higher profits than those who have difficulty retaining their talent. 

So, what does that have to do with using various types of PLM tools? 

 

Recruiting with PLM Solutions

Unified tools can help your company attract all-star talent. Most job seekers who heavily depend on quality management tools consider a company's tech stack when looking for new employment opportunities. Talent that relies on software for their daily duties are attracted by environments that set them up for success. What is a unified product lifecycle management system if not a facilitator for better work? 

From refining product development pipelines to eliminating data silos, retail leaders need to create an environment for top talent to thrive. Surefront connects the dots even further, uniting traditional PLM software with PIM and CRM tools to unite formerly disparate retail teams. The platform's product lifecycle software features keep all historical data, including communications, stored for each product and object.

This serves as a competitive asset for companies who need to either change personnel or add new talent to the team. An agile PLM can give you organized, accessible data with transparent workflows, communication, change management and sales tools. New members can join in, get up to speed, and start working with both internal and external collaborators all in a single space.

5 Best Options for Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software

If you're trying to find the right Unified Product Lifecycle Management and Product Information Management tools for your business, look no further. The following competitor analysis lists the top options across 5 of the most common industries that employ Product Lifecycle Management. 

 

A competitor analysis for Surefront

Unified PLM, PIM, and CRM - Surefront

All the data in your PLM is just the beginning. Surefront provides full Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Product Information Management (PIM) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools on one unified, easy to implement platform. Surefront improves your ability to retain relevant data, share that data with internal and external partners and collaborate on product development.

Combining all aspects of product development and merchandising with a built-in chat function, Surefront elevates the collaboration process for suppliers and brands. Not only does Surefront help with the lifecycle process and help category managers with procurement and sourcing initiatives, but it also facilitates the sales and product listing process. The result? A more strategic process, better business models, and improved market penetration.

Take a closer look at what Surefront has to offer.

PLM Manufacturing - Arena

Unified cloud-based PLM provider, Arena helps companies deliver innovative products in an expedited timeline. The platform focuses on increasing data visibility and traceability for globally dispersed teams and supply chains. They currently support over 1,300 high-tech and medical device customers around the globe.

Explore Arena's features to learn more.

PLM Engineering - Upchain

Upchain's product lifecycle software features help organizations collaborate on design, engineering production and maintenance processes across the entire value chain. Their simple, cloud-based software combines multiple configurations, so users have a completely unique offering. By charging no extra fees for custom coding and implementation to get their customers up and running, Upchain accelerates innovation in a cost and time effective way.

Take a closer look at Upchain.

Hardware PLM - Duro

Duro's cloud PLM software focuses on empowering hardware engineers and manufacturers to improve their processes. Analyze data, boost supply chain health, to and accelerating your product launch right in the platform. Duro increases workforce productivity and focuses on reducing the risks that are inherent to engineering and manufacturing.

If need help with your hardware and more, see how Duro can help.

Industrial PLM - Siemens

Siemens's offering focuses on integrating data, processes, businesses systems and people in an extended enterprise. It allows you to manage all the data throughout your product's entire lifecycle. From change management to weighing material costs, Siemens is a great solution for enterprise retail operations.

See how Siemens PLM may help with your enterprise needs.

Honorable Mention - Oracle agile PLM 

If you need an agile, flexible solution, see how the cloud-based Oracle agile PLM can help. 

PLM is one piece of a complex puzzle

You don't want your data to be siloed. Your company's business systems shouldn't operate in a vacuum, either. Surefront is a Unified Product Collaboration Platform to power growth and ROI. Our patented PIM, CRM, and PLM enables organizations to streamline the omni channel sales, merchandising and product development processes. By combining these essential functionalities, Surefront creates a single source of truth throughout your product lifecycle, sales and listing processes. Meet your retail team's new competitive advantage.

The results? Up to 150% more revenue per employee and a 40% shorter product development cycle is just the beginning. Try our 10x ROI calculator to see your company’s potential profits. Or, skip the noise and book a custom demo with one of our unified product collaboration management experts today. The retail industry evolves quickly and has a lot of moving parts. We do all of the research, so you don’t have to. Stay ahead of market fluctuations, trends and new features by subscribing to our Unified Product Collaboration Management Blog.

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