This week I attended SAP Insider’s European three-part conference — covering Logistics & Supply Chain Management, PLM, and Manufacturing — and got a chance to catch up with both SAP PLM customers and the SAP executive team on the latest SAP PLM strategy and roadmap. Over the years, SAP’s PLM solution development has been a story of evolution. Starting with basic document and image vaulting in the 1990’s, the SAP PLM moniker has steadily expanded to include BOM management (leveraging common data objects from SAP ERP), a complex, concurrent product-process module called iPPE (co-developed and piloted with BMW), specifications and recipe management (building upon SAP’s Environmental Health & Safety database), and engineering change workflows (basically the major integrating denominator across these modules). Most recently and starting in 2005, SAP has gone to market with its New Product Development & Introduction (NPDI) xApps — a suite of tools which includes cProjects (for phase-gate project management), xRPM (for resource and portfolio management), and xPD (for ideation and concept management). This steady proliferation of "SAP PLM components" has created some deployment challenges (such as customers requiring multiple, specialized consultants for each app) and confusion as long-time SAP customers struggle to assimilate and assemble the various offering pieces for end-to-end PLM process support.

In response to this challenge, the SAP PLM team is positioning their stable of offerings under a new theme entitled "Product & Service Leadership".¹  What does this new theme mean for SAP PLM customers? Less emphasis on singleton tools and more emphasis on longer-term, end-to-end process support. For example, the NPDI app suite is now captured under the "Continuous Product Innovation" value scenario where portfolio, project, and product analytic capabilities will be more-tightly integrated.²  Similarly, the value scenarios of "Integrated Product Development", "Product as a Service", and "Embedded Product Compliance" should prompt discussions — and up-selling opportunities — with SAP customers around their long-term application strategy to manage product data across the enterprise.³ 

I give SAP credit for taking steps towards more process-orientation — not an easy path given customer decision-making, pricing, and market definitions are still oriented around long-standing, three-letter application categories. The move also counters rival Oracle and their vision to assimilate Agile PLM alongside their CRM, SCM, and ERP suite of products to support integrated, enterprise-wide PLM processes. Customers I talk with, though, still cite foundation elements like usability as their number one expectation from future SAP PLM releases in order to lower deployment hurdles.

My advice on enterprise-wide PLM? Don’t underestimate the change management challenges! Successful companies who orient their long-term PLM strategy on just one of the proven, measurable benefit cases like accelerating ECO cycle times, increased part/material re-use, or better compliance control use this clarity to be able to effectively educate and drive change across their complex mix of PLM stakeholders.

-Roy C. Wildeman, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research

¹ The bundling of product and service dimensions under a single messaging banner is interesting; business models like Hilte equipment rental, GE’s uptime model, and Apple’s online music store were cited to emphasize the differentiating power — and lucrative margins — that a bundled product/service model can have in a globalized, ultra-competitive market.

² It’s interesting to note that xPD was not included in the Continuous Product Innovation scenario — suggesting a potential future assimilation of this tool’s functionality within the more popular xRPM/cProjects app areas.

³ SAP also presented a renewed investment commitment in Recipe Management in support of PLM for process-industries, addressing tactical opportunities such as product labeling and compliance checks, as well as extending earlier investments from the discrete-manufacturing roadmap like increased usability, NPDI integrations, etc.