The Evolving Product Lifecycle Management Landscape

David DiLeo, CIO, Industrial Scientific Corp.
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1. How would you describe the role of a CIO today?

From my perspective, the role of the CIO has never been more dynamic or critical than it is today. IT organizations have an unprecedented opportunity to transform and positively touch every business function within their company while also enhancing the experience and productivity of its employees, partners, and external customers. The combination of the cloud, mobile, and IoT is really setting the stage for a massive cross-company and people ecosystem that enables value to flow with scale in both directions—to the customer and back to the company itself. All parties in this connected ecosystem receive increased value.

When you consider the above, CIOs have a strategic obligation to understand their company’s most pressing business challenges and then look for ways to harness and leverage technology solutions in a manner that digitally extends and pushes the business as close as possible to its partners and external customers. Of course, CIOs will need to balance the traditional focus of cost and efficiencies with innovation that drive and support the revenue. For example, to make this balance and distinction real, I know of one large organization whose IT group has rallied and even organized around the simple phrases of “run the business” and “change the business.” In this case, the former is focusing on cost and efficiency while the latter is focusing on innovation.

  ‚ÄčCompanies that bake connectivity, sensors, and PLM related data collection into their product designs will be well positioned to get out in front  

2. How can the CIOs make their business counterparts think differently about the importance of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) in IT?

Within our company, Industrial Scientific Corp., Product Lifecycle Management is hyper critical as we design, develop, manufacture, service, sell, rent, and lease our equipment. Understanding how a product traverses from cradle to grave and the unique aspects and requirements at varying points in the lifecycle are essential to profitability and happy customers. For example, knowing that a product in the field is reaching its useful life and proactively replacing it is a win for everyone. In another example, insights into product usage influence repair and warranty costs while also driving supply chain and/or Material Requirements Planning (MRP) requirements. In a rental or lease scenario, we own the equipment so understanding asset health is a key factor in optimizing asset pool utilization.

From an IT systems perspective, our PLM solution, PTC Windchill, was initially implemented to address a Product Data Management (PDM) requirement that was primarily focused on the upfront product design and development processes with a heavy emphasis on document management, Bill of Material (BOM), and associated change control management. However, as our business has evolved so has the solution with additional capabilities around Part and Supplier Management. We are also beginning to integrate our PLM solution with our Oracle EBS ERP solution to synchronize BOMs across both systems as well as using our PLM solution to manage and comply with the European Union Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive.

To make business counterparts think differently about PLM, it is important to remind everyone to think broadly about Product Lifecycle Management and to not look at it through an IT lens. Rather, they need to recognize that it cuts across multiple departments, business processes, and thus systems. As mentioned earlier, it also encompasses partners, suppliers, distributors, and fielded product. This is where IoT and the cloud begin to provide new opportunities for cross-company integration and real-time product insights. Having a full understanding of the broad PLM landscape and all of the business processes that contribute to it is critical.

3. As the PLM technology sphere evolves with each passing day, what are some of the latest trends that are gripping your mind?

While Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and remote system monitoring systems have been in place for many years in various industrial sectors, my team and I are focused on the promise of the new and broader IoT opportunities that are being driven by pervasive and constant connectivity, mobility, the processing power of cloud solutions, reduced costs, and low technical barriers. IoT has gone from niche to mainstream in what feels like only a handful of years. Within our company, we have been leveraging device connectivity and IoT capabilities to drive our “Gas Detection-as-a-Service” business since 2003 with the majority of our focus being transactional in nature. More recently, we have begun to go much deeper into the data to gain quality insights. This has created a quality feedback loop that connects our fielded products to our Quality and Reliability team in near real time. As things mature, we plan to push those insights into our channel partners, service partners, and end equipment users.

4. How can the PLM evolving technologies help Industries overcome the challenges?

Evolving PLM technologies can really help companies be more proactive. Companies that bake connectivity, sensors, and PLM related data collection into their product designs will be well positioned to get out in front and ahead of not only technical issues but will also be able to see trends in how their products are being used. Putting those insights to use should result in higher quality products that meet emerging customer needs. Companies that do this will no doubt have a strong competitive advantage over those that don’t.

5. What changes have you seen in the IT operating model of your organization during the last five years?

Our IT operating model has changed considerably over the past several years. Most notably, we restructured our ERP and Business Application teams to be aligned with our business functions and have also been successful in pivoting from an 80 percent reactive tactical focus to an 80 percent strategic proactive focus. We achieved this by immersing our IT leads in the business areas they serve while also formalizing both the engagement level and the cadence of interaction between the IT and business teams. As a result, our business teams now view their IT counterparts as internal consultants who are ready to apply technology solutions to business problems. Additionally, we established a very clear IT vision centered around three basic principles: 1) Deliver highest quality & business value; 2) Leverage a flexible & scalable team structure to meet demand; and 3) Act as one global IT team with common standards whenever possible.

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