The Practical PLM Newsletter - Issue 14, Jan 2019

Practical PLM Newsletter - Issue 14
"Pursuing The Promise of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)"

Dear Reader,

During this past summer, the term “digital transformation” seemed to appear with greater frequency in analyst posts, vendor articles and bloggers.  We’ve even heard it from a number of manufactures we’re talking to.  The comments and questions include …

  • Should digital transformation inform our PLM strategy or vice versa?

  • Is digital transformation about getting the right technology in place or organizational change?

  • Does digital transformation replace or connect existing legacy solutions?

  • How is digital transformation implemented?

We thought we’d use this newsletter to address some of the questions. To that end, the first part of the newsletter is an excerpt from a white paper we prepared addressing digital transformation and PLM for the automotive supplier industry.  For those of you not in that industry, the core concepts in the latter half of the white paper are industry agnostic.  There’s a link in the excerpt below to the full paper.

 For next month’s newsletter, we plan on doing an industry agnostic deep dive into the specifics of what digital transformation means. We’re especially excited about this as it’s being developed in collaboration with a couple of industry thought leaders and further reflects vdR’s most current view of digital transformation and the role of PLM. In the meantime, if you have questions or feedback, we’d value your input. 

Best Regards,

The Practical PLM Team

In this Issue

  • Featured White Paper - Driving Digital Transformation and The Role of PLM [Excerpt from Automotive Supplier White Paper]

  • PLM In the News - Aras Joins the PLM Elite

  • Featured Article - Process Automation and Next Generation PLM

  • Events & Learning

Featured White Paper

Driving Digital Transformation and The Role of PLM

[Excerpt from Automotive Whitepaper]

The Enemy Within

Automotive suppliers are struggling to enact effective change in a business environment dominated by legacy solutions – and legacy thinking. While legacy solutions perform critical functions across the enterprise (e.g., ERP, APQP, parts catalog, and more), they perpetuate the data silo environment and are ill-equipped to react to business changes. In response, companies increasingly find themselves performing manual tasks or building one-off solutions to keep the legacy environment from collapsing under its own weight.

Over time, the islands of data and patchwork of manual intervention-based processes make simple tasks cumbersome and error-prone. When automotive suppliers are struggling to maintain the status quo, how are they expected to implement the needed changes for long-term competitiveness and innovation?

Making Sense of Digital Transformation

Most initiatives aimed at overcoming these legacy issues fall under the broad umbrella of “digital transformation.” However, there are numerous misconceptions surrounding the idea of digital transformation. It’s not about having a website, a paperless office, or even using the latest technology. Simply digitizing existing processes and services and calling it “digital transformation,” falls short.

Digital transformation is the intentional and planned organizational change that empowers teams armed with data-driven tools and strategies to ensure responsiveness to change. The operative phrase in this definition is data-driven; information is broken down into granular objects that are stored in a database and contextualized through relationships to other information objects. This approach is the heart and soul of digital transformation, and is critical for building a foundation for success – especially in manufacturing.

With this approach, relevant information can be presented by combining information objects in real-time. Documents become a snapshot of dynamic combinations of information objects.

This type of granularity doesn’t require a person to format, translate or pre-process the information. As an example, airline smart phone apps have a boarding pass feature showing the flight, departure time, and gate all in real-time. If there is a change, you are immediately updated. At this point, the boarding pass is no longer a document, at least in the traditional sense - this is the essence of digital transformation.

Product Lifecycle Management Foundation for Digital Transformation

Product Lifecycle Management Foundation for Digital Transformation

Connecting legacy data islands and pursing digital transformation requires a foundational framework. This foundation for success can be broadly divided into three categories.

Platform – data, processes, and people need to be synchronized and in lockstep. To synchronize these activities, a platform is needed to support the granular and relational data structures and associated processes.   

Data – managing a single and current view of data across various repositories eliminates duplicate information, facilitates data reuse, and ensures version integrity.   

Process – managing change is critical in complex and fast changing environments. Ensuring business rules and workflows are adhered to helps avoid corrective actions, minimizes waste and scrap, and encourages multidisciplinary decision making.

Product Lifecycle Management - A Platform-Based Approach


Many companies have tried replacing or updating legacy systems but, all too often, the process is disruptive, falls short of expectations, and costs balloon beyond budgets. Adding another one-off solution or integration amplifies the data silo paradigm and can often worsen the problem.

Most suppliers already have the right authoring tools and solutions in place. These tools, however, lack the underlying connectivity to keep the data, processes, and people in sync and accessible. The preoccupation with fixing, adding, removing, or consolidating an existing solution is a secondary concern when compared to the need to connect existing technologies.

Connectivity and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

CIMdata, an analyst organization specializing in the product lifecycle management (PLM) industry, recently commented on these silos and suggested, “companies need a platform and technology that can fill the large process gaps by managing workflows and capturing data while connecting and coordinating existing data silos.”  They further assert, “Companies get stuck with their legacy systems and solutions, which in turn impairs their abilities to respond to these challenges.” This sentiment is echoed by others including Accenture, Boston Consulting Group, IBM, and Kalypso.

Modern PLM has evolved a long way from its origins as a CAD drawing and file product data manager (PDM). Today, automotive suppliers and industrial manufacturers are increasingly looking to next-generation PLM as a platform to fuel digital transformation. Figure 5 illustrates, at a high-level, how the role of PLM has expanded over time and connected the broader enterprise.

Increasing PLM Prominence in the Enterprise Solution Architecture

Increasing PLM Prominence in the Enterprise Solution Architecture

Solutions and applications operating against a PLM platform are claiming an ever-increasing slice of the enterprise software mix. This isn’t occurring because PLM is replacing existing solutions but rather because it’s connecting the organization’s technology silos and making data accessible. Figure 6 looks at this trend from a different angle and highlights the horizontal nature of PLM’s growth from engineering in the 1990s into sales, manufacturing, and even services/support today.

Continue reading the paper here.

PLM In the News

Aras, vdR’s PLM Technology Partner, Joins the PLM Elite

In the PLM business, CIMdata’s “PLM Mind Share Leaders” list is a trusted resource for understanding which companies are making the largest impact on the PLM industry. Companies that get on this coveted list join the likes of Dassault Systèmes, Siemens PLM, Autodesk, SAP, PTC, IBM and Oracle.  The last few years have seen little change in the lineup and many industry commentators have suspected the “music had stopped” and the chairs were full.

Earlier this year, when CIMdata released their 2017 annual report on the state of the PLM Market, there was a new name: Aras Corp, the developers of Innovator.  How had this relatively small PLM provider battle its way onto the list?  While Aras has been enjoying many years of modest growth and adoption, this year’s windfall accomplishments couldn’t be ignored by CIMdata. Clearly, Aras has reached a tipping point and the industry is taking notice.

Milestones and Advancements

CIMdata’s criteria for joining the list are:

  1. size and scope of PLM implementations

  2. technology completeness, and

  3. thought leadership

By all three of these measures, Aras has shaken up the industry in the last few years. On the adoption and implementation front, recent wins include General Motors (50,000 seats) and global automotive supplier Schaeffler Group (20,000 seats). Other notable wins in the last few years include Huntington-Ingalls, Airbus, Microsoft, and Hitachi, among others. These new accounts have totaled over 100,000 additional users.

From a technology perspective, Aras has built a reputation as a technology that “just works” and is highly configurable and robust.  While Aras continues to improve and add to its suite of preconfigured application - document management, visual collaboration, configuration management, and many more – they have invested heavily in the underlying technology platform. This strategic choice to mold Innovator into a powerful application platform is allowing PLM to extend beyond engineering and design to the “headwaters” of product data such as sales and quoting.  On the other end of the product lifecycle spectrum, Aras is adding new solutions geared to manufacturing including their manufacturing process planning (MPP) module.  Many industry analysts see the future of PLM as an application platform and Aras Innovator is clearly leading the charge.

Beyond technology, Aras has been challenging the status quo and overturning common assumption about enterprise PLM for nearly a decade.  As a result, the leadership at Aras has emerged as key thought leaders in the space. Their hybrid open source business model allows anyone to download Aras Innovator and use it for free. For more serious users and larger companies, a subscription option provides access to additional features, training and support.  However, the most compelling benefit of subscribing is the guaranteed upgrade.  As any PLM veteran knows, this is highly unprecedented in the industry.

Continued Momentum with $40 Million VC Investment

To add to Aras’ momentum, they recently announced that Silver Lake Kraftwerk, along with GE Ventures, are participating in a $40 million investment round.  This investment is a huge validation of their long-term goals.  In a joint statement, Aras said it will be utilizing this investment round to expand its global sales activities and accelerate its product roadmap. As a point of comparison, the industry’s only other independent PLM provider, Arena, has raised a total of $49.95 million while this recent investment round puts Aras’ total at $68.2 million.

Featured Article

Process Automation and Next Generation PLM

It’s no longer about simply making improvements to treat the product lifecycle.  It’s getting more ambitious. It’s about establishing a “digital twin” and “digital thread.”  It’s about a holistic paradigm shift that will indeed transform how manufacturers will manage their products.  And it’s long overdue!

For the last couple of decades, technologies in the product lifecycle space have been point- solutions oriented.  Think configurators, CAD systems, PDM, document management like SharePoint, FEA, ERP, etc.  In reality, these point solutions haves simply reinforced existing information silos that make the “digital twin” concept a fantasyland. 

Interestingly enough, even when PLM is in place as just an engineering and design tool, other tools hopelessly attempt to glue the data together such as emails, spreadsheets, Word documents, Access databases, etc.  And collectively, various verbal, manual, cultural, water-cooler, processes have been concocted to try and bring some order to the chaos.

Many organizations will admit that this evolution of point-solutions, manual interventions, data silos, and cobbled processes have eroded profits, impaired morale and impacted customer reputation. But what to do?

The Promise of the Next Generation PLM

We’ve used the diagram below as one way to characterize the promise of next generation PLM.   Simply put, it’s about data cohesion and repeatable processes.  More specifically, it’s about tying data together, at a granular level, so that processes can reference the actual data items that are being acted on. 

For example, in the case of a quality control process, a certain task in the process can reference and link directly to the most recent part in question, a current version of the part’s requirements, and the correct quality control template that needs to be completed for that task.

With this approach, it’s finally possible to establish a digital thread of activities.  Literally, from the time of a quote (in the case of BTO/ETO businesses) all the way thru delivery and feedback.


Picking a place to start in this journey will likely vary depending on the nature of the business and challenges an organization faces.  Do you start shoring up your data or automate processes?  Or both?  It can be argued that starting with processes helps to envelop organizational policies and standards while solidifying stake holders and data requirements.

However, it’s not just about documenting processes.  What good are documented processes if no one follows them?

Continue reading the article here.

Events & Learning

Live Webinar: Weaving Your Organization’s Digital Thread


Thursday, January 16, 2019 - 11:00am to 12:00pm Eastern

The concept of the “digital thread” is gaining traction—the idea of connecting assets such as parts, CAD models, documents, process plans and service manuals throughout an organization. However, legacy PDM suites can make it impossible to create and maintain a digital thread, due to their fragmented architecture.

A good product lifecycle management (PLM) platform can create an enterprise-wide, fully-integrated and connected product development environment. Aras is one PLM platform that could weave the digital thread by connecting digital assets, enterprise systems, controls access and configuration rules for persistent data in the long term.

In this webinar, John Sperling, Aras VP of Product Management, will demonstrate how the digital thread can be used to connect the following in your organization:

  • Systems Engineering

  • Mechanical, electronic, & software designs

  • Manufacturing

  • Quality

About the Speaker


John Sperling, VP Product Management, Aras - John is responsible for defining the Aras product roadmap and leading the Product Management team which drives both standard Aras Innovator product and Aras Labs R&D. He is also currently serving as President of the 3D PDF Consortium.

Prior to joining Aras, John worked at Eigner, Agile and Oracle in the PLM space. Prior to that, he worked in the aerospace industry developing engineering tools and processes at Boeing and Rockwell International for the Space Shuttle, GPS satellites and experimental vehicles.


Lisa Costa, Solutions Consultant, Aras - Lisa Costa is a Solution Consultant on Aras’ Community team. Prior to Aras, Lisa worked in the CAD, PDM and PLM industries for over 20 years in many capacities including sales, support, implementations and as a user.


3D Throughout the Lifecycle – Live Webinar


Thursday, January 18, 2019 - 8:00pm to 8:30pm Pacific Standard Time

Learn how to work seamlessly across disciplines, organizational and location.  Critical tasks like engineering changes function best when team members can view and discuss the proposal before making decisions.  But files created by specialist authoring tools (like MCAD/ECAD) are not generally accessible to other team members, and there are no easy ways to securely share comments in context.

For additional event information, check the vdR Events Page.



This Practical PLM newsletter is authored and edited by The vdR Group, Inc. along with contributions from selected partners.  Your editors are Martin van der Roest and Dick Bourke.  We welcome your comments/questions.  You can direct them to or  If applicable, we will respond in a following newsletter. 

What is PLM?

Not sure what PLM is?  That’s OK. PLM is ever-changing and encompasses a range of topics.  Product lifecycle management (PLM) manages the data, processes, and people needed to design, build, and service your organization's products.  This enterprise-wide strategy creates a "single source of truth" for product information that lowers costs, boosts quality, and fosters innovation.  To learn more, check out the “What is PLM” infographic.


Our mission is to help engineering/manufacturing companies achieve the promise of product lifecycle management (PLM).  We do this by exploring practical action steps that drive business value, yield measurable revenue contribution and reduce expenses.  PLM is a combination of business strategies, best practices and technology.  Hence, this periodic newsletter looks at the business drivers, best practices, applications and education.


The vdR Group has three decades of experience serving engineering and manufacturing companies with solutions, technical consulting, and services focused on PLM and application integrations. Over 200 companies and 220,000 users have benefited from vdR’s solutions. As a full-service Aras partner, The vdR Group leverages Aras Innovator® as its PLM technology of choice.  

Cornerstones of Our Services

We’re Part of the Solution - vdR has decades of experience architecting, implementing and deploying PLM solutions.  As an extension of your team, we can turn our experiences into tangible value.

Quality - Ultimately, the quality of a solution can be measured by user adoption.  We seek to deliver production-ready functionality that is easy to use and well documented.

Delivering on Time - You’ve made commitments that have critical deadlines.  We get it. We’ll do what’s needed to help you meet your goals and achieve your deadlines on time.

Copyright © 2019 The vdR Group, Inc., All rights reserved.

All trademarks belong to their respective holders.  Content, responses and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Aras.