I recently read Oleg Shilovitsky’s article Does it make sense to build intuitive CAD & PLM?. In the article, Oleg looks into the claim of various CAD vendors as having “intuitive” user interface. He talks about what is intuitive and how it can be measured. It made me think about PLM and ease of use.
I had to ask myself: can PLM be easy from the user perspective?
My first response to this question is “different strokes for different folks.” Obviously, what is easy depends on the user and it’s hard to measure, but hardly any customers I have worked with in the past 20 years would ever categorize PLM systems as “easy.” Some may claim some systems are better than others, but I think the consensus would be that PLM is not easy, unless you’re talking with one of the big PLM vendors out there.
3 Reasons Why PLM Isn’t Easy
Why is PLM software not as intuitive as users would want? The first answer is scope. PLM systems have grown in scope in the past two decades. Those systems now include more and more content, roles, functions and industry practices. PLM evolved from originally focusing on engineering to a much broader scope across more industries. As a result, the ability to manage all that additional data and processes in one system makes it harder to maintain ease of usage. It is almost an oxymoron. The more data/processes to manage, the harder the system is to use.
Another parameter on top of the growing scope is that data consumers with their specific industry needs and standards have forced the PLM vendors to introduce more solutions, functions or generic/configurable platforms in response to all possible scenarios and requirements. I believe this has resulted in overly complex user interfaces and processes in PLM.
Last is technology. With everything mentioned so far, you would imagine that only a robust technology could support such ease of use. The need is for scalable global systems and easy web-based functions like drag-and-drop and right clicks, plus the adoption of large data management technologies. PLM vendors’ slow adoption of technologies of big data management, HTML5, etc., compared to other industries, has not helped to improve usability. PLM vendors are working to catch up by investing in new technologies, although they still lag behind other commercial software vendors.
What’s the Answer?
The solution, in my view, is a combination of three things.
- Increase the usage of artificial intelligence. As I stated in my recent blog on PLM Thought Leadership, I believe AI is one way to drive an easier logical flow of events which lessens the user intelligence burden and the number of clicks.
- Promote standardization, both on the industry side as well as among vendors (although I doubt that will ever happen). This would enforce data consumers to conform to those standards and stop looking for custom solutions, which drive PLM vendors into trying to develop more options out of the box, inevitably making the systems harder to use.
- Continue the adoption of better technologies. For example, better search and big data analysis tools, faster databases, web technologies, etc. Of the three solutions , this is the one where I see the most progress in recent years by PLM vendors.
In conclusion, PLM systems are not easy, but the future looks brighter and there are things PLM vendors can do to improve the situation. If you are a PLM user, keep stressing the importance of usability to your vendor.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.