Sooner or later when talking about EDM or PDM software, the subject turns to return on investment (ROI). But before measuring the ROI of any particular software purchase, one must be clear about what exactly is being measured. Recent trends in the engineering software industry are muddying the waters instead of making things more clear about the purpose of PDM. So, (spoiler alert), this article is not about ROI of PDM specifically, but about the clear thinking required to measure it correctly.
There is a new set of CAD and PDM tools on the market using cloud technology. They all have one thing in common: they are geometry-centric. Like their desktop predecessors, they are very good at helping people turn ideas into drawings or models. The new cloud-based CAD systems offer a better way to streamline design collaboration. Distance is no longer an obstacle for those who must work together to create geometry. However, the work output has not changed; geometry is created, refined, and submitted to a larger product development process.
When a CAD vendor adds PDM to CAD tools, they invariably create a situation that treats the models or drawings as the product. A book about trees is not a forest; a set of drawings or 3D assemblies are not a product. PDM that only exists to manage CAD documents is not enough.
We are then left with the same question that was relevant 20 years ago: We have the geometry, but now what?
A complete PDM system starts from the realization that everybody in the company is there to help create products, not data. Perhaps if we typed the acronym as “PdM” it would help. If we were writing a screenplay, “data” would be a supporting character not the star. The product (or project) is the central character. A CAD system or a geometry-centric CAD library with added “PDM” features only helps juggle the documents; such technology is not a complete solution.
A complete PDM system takes geometry as one input, change orders as another, BOMs as another, email conversations as another, etc. The PDM system organizes all these inputs for efficient storage and retrieval, but then goes much further. The PDM system automates the business processes that turn all the data into tangible products (or a completed project, if your “product” is a plant or pipeline).
True PDM is about automating business processes, not about creating a geometry cabinet in the clouds. It requires thoughtful installation and implementation, so that when it goes online the PDM system turns previously manual business processes into automated digital processes. Economists refer to this as improving transaction costs. When a company arrives at this point, it can evaluate the investment more thoughtfully, with an emphasis on the time value of money as it applies not just to the creation of geometry, but the entire sequence of creative inputs and information transactions.
Don’t measure the ROI of having a place to put your CAD stuff; measure the ROI of creating digital business processes for product development.
Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985. More information is available at https://www.linkedin.com/in/randallnewton.