(Eng) My 2 cents on PLM-ERP integration concepts

Posted on December 6, 2010

plmerp_engThis is my first post in english since I’ve announced I would alternatively write articles in french and english. This article is following the comment I recently made on Oleg’s blog about PLM and ERP integration. There is a lot of debates on this integration as you can save a lot of time and get more productive with such integration at least when you think about the data each sides needs from the other. The problem is, none of these solution as been made to be integrated with the other. ERP editors have not think about how would they integrate their system with a PLM solution just like PLM editors, they just fixed this need by creating translators, connectors, and some other kind of integration. And that’s why i think most of the debates on PLM and ERP integration are just a waste of time and money as the real solution will come from an editors who will rethink from the basics the whole integration strategy.

“PLM, ERP, whatever the name, it may not be the only software to need a single dataset, you just handle it differently”

This is my personnal point of view on PLM and ERP integration. I don’t think these systems should own the data. The software is not made to own a data, the data should be most of the time a representation of a real thing. Software mainly virtualise items to enable business rules to be applied to them. Let’s take a car. It has history, design information, actual cost, production plan, etc… The data is the car and all its related information. What PLM and ERP will provide are business rules to manage evolution of some property and attributes of the car. Tools like Master Data Management should be the unique software to own data. PLM, ERP and other solution will just impact the adequat data. So, in fact there should be no need of PLM and ERP integration it should just be a part of the whole information systems where PLM and ERP interact with the same datasets.

Build a system easy to integrate, use standards !!!

That’s where we could accelerate things in companies’ informations systems and stop wasting time on software integration. Using standards for data management. I like the example of XML as it is widely used is the base of different standard like GML for example. The need is to address and structure a data that is easy to understand and in which some part can be controlled by different systems. Here is a short XML example of what I’m trying to explain where some data should be addressed by ERP, some by PLM and maybe we could add some data managed by both.

<Item type="Produced Good">
 <properties>
  <property name="serial_number"></property> <-- this would be filled by ERP
  <property name="production_date"></property> <-- this would be filled by ERP
 </properties>
 <relationships>
  <relationship>
   <Item type="ProduceGoodDefinitions"> <-- this whole section would be updated by PLM
    <related_item>
     <Item type="Part">
      <property name="name">car</property>
      <relationship>
       <Item type="Part subPart">
        <property name="quantity">4</property>
        <related_item>
         <Item type="Part">
          <property name="name">wheel</property>
         </Item>
        </related_item>
       </Item>
      </relationship>
     </Item>
    </related_item>
   </Item>
  </relationship>
 </relationships>
</Item>

My point in this example is just to show that on one extract which could be read with usefull information for anyone in the company, there will be data updated by the ERP and some other data managed by the PLM. So, there shouldn’t be any connector between ERP and PLM, just both applictaion should affect some part of the same dataset.

Is Master Data Management the answer?

I’m not a specialist of MDM but from the different description I’ve been reading and the few hours I’ve started to work on such tools, it clearly seems to correspond to the needs I discribe. My point is that the added-value of such tool should be mainly database management. And from what I’ve been able to see most of the effort is focused on data conversion management for data to go both ways between specific application and master database. If both, MDM and specific application were using standard format, on each side we could concentrate on our added-value.

Conclusion

Yes these points are obvious but we’re still spending too much time talking about non-sens integration costing a lot of development time. Instead of that we should push more the editors to use standards data-exchange formats in order to have people working on datastorage performance and other people working on business rules integration. Does that make sens? Are the MDM editors the next target for PLM companies?


 

Yoann Maingon

Yoann Maingon is an Entrepreneur and a PLM enthousiast. He is our main blogger at Minerva as he has been publishing articles about General PLM concepts and Aras Innovator for more than three years.

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  • Hi Yoann,

    My approach to the ERP-PLM integration is almost the opposite. From many years of analyzing the needs of both systems I have come to the following conclusions:
    1. The needs of PLM systems and ERP systems are very different. The entities in the organization which use the systems are completely different too. The conclusion is that agreeing on a combined data model which will fit both is almost impossible, and will consume more time and development efforts than going back to the basic approach.

    2. The use of integration tools, middlewares and connectors is a complete waste of time. Not only that you need to set up 2 complex systems (ERP & PLM) – You now need to set up a 3’rd system such as BizTalk or WebSphere which also cost a lot of money and take forever to set-up with attribute and class mappings.

    3. My approach – The only way that I found this to work is the old way. Once the ERP and PLM systems are in place (in terms of data model) – Use files (flat files or XML files), or SQL stored procedures to replicate data from one system to the other.

    If we take files for example which we use to exchange data – Writing a small app to login to the system, query the information and write it to XML files with proper monitoring of data integrity and completeness of the operations, is a fairly easy task, and more importantly – This application is easily re-usable with only little modifications.

    To me – This solution, although not very “sophisticated” represents the fastest, easiest to set-up and requires the least amount of efforts from all sides.

    These are my 2 cents..
    Sagi Tikotski
    CycleOp.com

  • Hi Sagi,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right regarding actual available softwares and I would do pretty much the same things as you do with the actual tools I could have in my hands. My article is more talking about how it should be. Will it be in 2,5, 10 years? I don’t know, i just see it as the right way of making it work. When a car is shipped it is definitely related to ERP, PLM, CRM data etc… so why not having a single point of truth (the Car) for these systems. I think MDM will have an important role on that and it comes at the right time with cloud technologies. I’ll try to spend some time on Talend MDM product to see how it could help this process (http://www.talend.com/master-data-management/talend-mdm.php)

    Best,

    PS: how is the European Amazon EC2 cloud connection from Israel?

  • I agree with Sagi, the simplest solution is usually the most elegant, robust, and many times the only one that ever works. I have watched many customers invest 100s of man-days of development using heavy integration tools… when a simple data extract and import would move a BOM equally well. Any modern architecture PLM and ERP system includes a simple API for exporting and importing data. My 2 cents – always try the simple approach first !

  • Thanks Peter for your comment.
    Once again, the goal of this article is to say that I think this is the way it should be done if the technology was enough flexible and sustainable to allow it. I think if we combine the use of MDM concepts and a better use of standards we could go further on this enterprise software integration.
    My fear is that because of a lack of good technologies, we use alternative solutions and we forget to come back at the best concept when technology make it possible to be implemented.
    So yes, let’s use clear flat files (csv and xml) but make sure we keep in mind that all this should one day be integrated in a better way.

    Best,

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