BMW to baby bottles meant choosing the right package

Selecting the correct product lifecycle management software is crucial when launching a business, as Lindsay Clark reports

With nearly 20 years’ experience in engineering, including work at large firms such as BMW, Jim Shaikh knows all about product lifecycle management (PLM) products. But when it came to founding his own company, the challenge of picking the right package was different.

Mr Shaikh started baby bottle manufacturer Yoomi, which developed a unique self-warming technology, without the resources that were once at his fingertips. Selecting the right technology for PLM within a more constrained budget was therefore essential.

“We are not a large company with access to hundreds of computers,” says Mr Shaikh, Yoomi managing director. “We bought £20,000-worth of hardware; I used to work on million-pound machines.”

Yoomi invested in software from Ansys to model flows of liquid and air, helping to keep down the time and cost of product development, he says. It also used SolidWorks for product design.

Anyone picking PLM products for the design phase of the cycle should ensure that it can model the physical processes the vendors claim. “That comes down to the back-end of the software,” says Mr Shaikh. “Does it have the engine to deliver the correct results?”

Businesses picking PLM software need to decide if they have the in-house skills to support the system or require outside help

Secondly, it has to be able to fit within the hardware and cost constrains of the business. Yoomi was able to perform calculations on networked Dell machines. Businesses are benefiting from these lower-cost “commoditised” systems, rather than investing in costly, high-end research machines, Mr Shaikh says.

Lastly, businesses picking PLM software need to decide if they have the in-house skills to support the system or require outside help, he adds.

Beyond the design phase, Yoomi opted for a mix-and-match approach to PLM, with the help of external consultancies. “Being a small outfit, we cannot afford to have all the different types of software you need for PLM inside our business.”

While Yoomi felt the benefit of its founder’s experience in PLM, not all medium-sized business find adopting the approach easy, says Sally Waterston, director at consultancy Waterstons. Systems governing various elements of PLM have built up ad hoc, but smaller businesses are unable to stop their day-to-day work to implement a new system from scratch.

“This is why people see the attraction of cloud-based technologies,” Ms Waterston says. “You can’t spend a year-and-a-half getting an in-house system to fit your processes. You have to take best practice [in the new software] and fit into that.”

However, businesses need to be sure they have the management control to change their own processes before investing in one of these standardised packages, she adds.

Lower costs are also attracting PLM customers to the cloud, says Gartner research vice president Marc Halpern. For mid-tier buyers, larger vendors which dominate the PLM market, such as Oracle, SAP or Siemens, are priced out of the market, he says. “Users feel that the overhead of getting started is too high and they do not have the resources to support those investments,” he says.

While the mid-tier firms believe they can gain competitive advantage from cloud-based PLM systems, such as Autodesk PLM360, the trend is still in its infancy. Many users fear for their intellectual property (IP) in the cloud, says Mr Halpern.

“Actually, it is not much of an issue,” he says. “The security risk is minimal. Most of the IP theft we see is not done by someone hacking into systems; it is done through a human network, by unethical people. Many cloud-based systems have military-level security. Also, criminals need context to understand what they download from a database to make it useful.”