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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

Across a variety of industries, there’s a growing interest in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software and its benefits. As companies look to improve their product offerings, refine their supply chains and scale their business, a PLM system is one of the best tools to achieve these goals. This article will take a look at the concept of Product Lifecycle Management, discuss why it’s important and what software options are currently available.

So, let’s talk about Product Lifecycle Management Software, where it came from, where it’s going and some of our top recommendations for your industry. If you’re looking for specific information about PLM software, here are some quick links to navigate the 6 most important things you need to know:

What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)?

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) 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 software 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 PLM software will allow you to collaborate with external vendors and suppliers and integrate important data from their end as you assess each step in your process.

4 Step for Product Lifecycle Management (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 software will  help you streamline the process and allow you to eliminate tedious data re-entry. Meaning that your PLM software should certainly integrate with your Product Information Management (PIM) system. For a detailed view of the PLM process, take a look at our Fashion PLM blog.

Expected Results with PLM Software: 

  • Lower product costs
  • Greater product quality
  • Faster time to market

Lower product costs - as PLM is an iterative process that your organization should refine with each cycle, one of your 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 software should push you toward a more refined supply chain along with a 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. The right PLM software 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.

The benefits go on with measurable data suggesting that choosing not to use PLM software is likely to be detrimental to a range of key metrics for companies: 

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software Performance

Where did Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software Come From? 

Let’s back up slightly and look at the origin of PLM software. Any idea for a process like Product Lifecycle Management is born of a need within a given industry. As mentioned, the PLM 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 lifecycle steps and efforts to improve those processes.

By the late 1950’s, as industry leaders looked to scale their businesses, a process that recognized the introduction phase of a product as well as the growth and maturity phases and eventually the saturation and decline of the given product formed the basis of modern Product Lifecycle Management.

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 PLM processes that leveraged new technologies and sparked a new way of implementing design, communications and data management systems.

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

History of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

What does Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software Currently Offer?

Unified PLM software allows 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 information that geographically-dispersed personnel can access. In a post-2020 world where more and more teams are working remotely, there's undeniable value in a system that facilitates accurate data sharing and collaboration.

Modern Product Lifecycle Management software 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

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Where is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software Headed?

As PLM software unites with PIM solutions to become more sophisticated with additional integrations across industry value chains, it’s worth looking at where the technology is headed. Beyond mere speculation, we can look at industry trends and technological advances that may lend themselves to more robust unified retail software solutions.

Cloud PLM - Full disclosure, the idea of a cloud PLM system is not something of the future. In fact, there are many options for it now. The reason to mention it for where PLM software is headed 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 Lifecycle Management data 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 Product Lifecycle Management software. 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. PLM software with good CX results in wider adoption of the platform. One of the main goals of a PLM system is to connect users across the value chain; the greater the number of stakeholders using product lifecycle management software, the more effective it is.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) - On the product development and design side of things, there’s no doubt of the influence AI could have on Product Lifecycle Management. Some early versions of this are making data management and accessibility more of a visual and 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 Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), check out Saratech.

5 Reasons to Use Unified Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) SoftwareReasons to use Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) 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. 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, Product Lifecycle Management software facilitates the iterative 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 CRM, or customer relationship management, comes into play. 
  3. Increased Revenue - As you accelerate your time to market with Product Lifecycle Management, you’ll also be reducing your production costs. The intersection between those two actions will improve your 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 after a few cycles is how it is impacting your revenue. If you aren’t finding steps in the cycle to improve, that’s an indicator that you should reassess your process. Any unified PLM and PIM implementation will increase your revenue over time.
  4. Accurate Data Sharing - PLM and PIM software should be your central repository for product data. Beyond that, it is the best way for storing and sharing accurate data. 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 Product Quality - More accurate data and improved workflows are always going to lead to improved product quality. In fact, that is another contributing factor to increased revenue. 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. That stands for both business and commercial transactions. As you refine your PLM steps and drive even minor improvements, you’ll see the difference in your end product. This will improve sales and build a better basis for customer loyalty.

Recruiting with Product Lifecycle Management

In our forthcoming blog on reaching sustainability with product lifecycle management, we will explore different definitions of sustainability and how top-tier PLM software can drive more viable long-term strategies.

One of those definitions is internal sustainability when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent within your organization. Recent studies point to a high employee turnover rate being a serious detriment to a company’s overall margins. In fact, some reports 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 unified product lifecycle management and Product information management tools? 

Recruiting with Product Lifecycle Management

Product lifecycle management tools can help your company attract all-star talent. Most job seekers who heavily depend on software platforms consider a company’s tech stack when looking for new employment opportunities. Talent who 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, unified product lifecycle management software creates an environment for top talent to thrive, increasing your ability to build and maintain a team that delivers high-quality results.

Surefront connects the dots even further, uniting traditional PLM software functions with PIM and CRM tools to seamlessly unite formerly disparate  retail teams. The platform keeps all historical data, including communications, stored for each product and object. This serves as an institutional asset for companies who need to either change personnel or add new talent to the team. Organized data accessibility with transparent workflows, communications, and sales tools make it easy for new members to 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 perfect platform with unified Product Lifecycle Management and Product Information Management tools for your business, look no further. We've chosen the top options across 5 of the most common industries that employ Product Lifecycle Management. 

Best PLM Software

Unified PLM, PIM, and CRM - Surefront

Everything you need for 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. 

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, the most flexible PLM around, helps organizations collaborate on design, engineering production and maintenance processes across the entire value chain. Their simple, cloud-based software combines their Out of the Box approach with multiple configurations available to users in order to have a completely unique software. 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's offerings.

Hardware PLM - Duro

Duro’s cloud PLM software focuses on empowering hardware engineers and manufacturers to improve their processes. From product data management to boosting supply chain health to accelerating product development, 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 PLM offering focuses on integrating data, processes, businesses systems and people in an extended enterprise. It allows you to manage product data throughout the entire lifecycle including: ideation, design, manufacturing to disposal.

See how Siemens PLM may help with your enterprise needs.

PLM is one piece of a complex puzzle

You don’t want your data to be siloed. Your company’s CRM, PIM and PLM solutions 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 solutions 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. 

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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