Pre-pandemic manufacturing businesses were already well along the way to being more cloud-centric. And for good reason – cloud-based solutions are integral to providing enterprise systems with the agility needed to remain efficient and competitive. However, many manufacturers are still struggling to adopt product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions in the cloud.

As a result, manufacturers often find themselves navigating a PLM application landscape that’s inefficient, often outdated, and frankly ill-equipped to support the development of the next-generation of highly-configurable and smart products.

With this in mind, IndustryWeek connected with Sef Tuma, global lead with Accenture Industry X, intelligent products and platforms as well as Matthew Thomas, North America lead with Accenture Industry X, engineering to share their insights.

IW: What steps are necessary for manufacturers to inform the development of assets, tools and accelerators that deliver PLM on cloud transformations with less cost and risk of business disruption?

Thomas: We found that three actions help ensure a company’s PLM migration to the cloud so that it meets or surpasses its expectations.2019 Headshoot BwMatthew Thomas, North America lead with Accenture Industry X, Engineering

The first action addresses the intense scrutiny amid today’s volatile economic climate. Every company thinking of migrating PLM to the cloud—which really isn’t optional anymore—needs to present a strong business case to the decision-makers. Leaders need to justify the solution from a value perspective to get stakeholder buy-in and commitment to the cloud journey. To get there, one must leverage a proven value assessment calculator at an early stage to fully understand all the value levers and hidden potential. Do not take on-premise solutions and attempt to “lift and shift” them to the cloud -this creates a false equivalency and leaves many benefits untapped. Additionally, be sure to break through barriers between business and IT to build a case that accommodates both perspectives.

The second action aims at maximizing and accelerating your benefits from moving PLM to the cloud. We saw clients achieve great successes with transformation of their managed services model. It presents an opportunity to drastically reduce PLM operating costs through automation, scale and innovative capabilities of application and infrastructure services. PLM as a managed service really provides year-over-year improvements in operating costs through automation releasing value to focus on improving the PLM solution. The round-the-clock support gives them rapid access to engineering information which accelerates decision-making. Managed service also means higher business resilience, which has become a ‘super-benefit’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thirdly, to realize the full value of cloud-based PLM, you must think in terms of total transformation – not incremental change. On-premise thinking does not apply. Think of technologies like digital threads and digital twins, where manufacturers can only use them to their full effect if they are deployed alongside modern PLM tools in the cloud. Other technologies like IoT, AI, high performance computing (HPC) and product data analytics are typically built in the cloud and offer powerful capabilities that are now essential to next-generation product engineering and development.

 IW: What challenges or stumbling blocks do they need to overcome in the process?

Tuma: Many companies are looking at the value of moving their PLM applications to the cloud the wrong way. The move to the cloud is often driven by the IT organization so when our clients do the benefit analysis they are only looking at the potential cost savings of cloud infrastructure. However, this can really vary between 60% reductions to, in some cases, cost increases. But this is the wrong way to look at the potential value. This only focuses on the cost side of the equation, whereas it is actually the value side where cloud can be transformative. In particular, the ability to roll out new capabilities rapidly, to weave a digital thread across your multiple engineering and manufacturing tools to release the value locked in our clients‘ data and to enable new cloud-based technologies such as HPC and Machine Learning will drive innovation of both products and processes.

Other reasons include security concerns and missing skills, or that the company’s engineering collaboration is very difficult and not cloud-enabled. Many are struggling with managing and integrating the large quantities of data they have. The lack of limited standardization of software and configuration within a company is only exacerbating the issue.Sef Tuma Md PictureAccenture Industry X Global Lead Intelligent Products and Platforms Sef Tuma

Speaking of software, many PLM and engineering programs as well as applications aren’t architected to be cloud-enabled and often the solutions do not fully leverage the capabilities that the cloud provides. Also, most engineers will want to be absolutely sure that a cloud environment provides low latency before they are willing to make the move.

We’ve found that a good way to get started is by setting up a hybrid model until a company can be confident in the performance of its PLM cloud landscape. Companies can ease the move by first leveraging only standard applications.

IW: Why is this important in an increasingly digital economy?

Thomas: It is important because it helps manufacturers improve both product development and innovation capabilities. Cloud-powered product engineering means being able to roll out innovative technologies to more users, much faster. It also means a company can automate the deployment and testing of new solutions at a much higher volume and rate.

The PLM move to cloud also unlocks the power of integrating data, analytics and computing. It becomes easier to build digital threads and digital twin infrastructures, and to streamline and run simulations at scale across different engineering departments, even with manufacturing. 

It enables better and easier business integration as PLM in the cloud provides a more reliable conduit between engineering systems and business back-office functions, and, to that effect, businesses can power design-to-market and bill of materials procurement to optimization functions.  

As our clients and engineering software vendors become more cloud-enabled, new tools and solutions will become available to the engineer and the ability to rapidly adopt these will be a competitive advantage.

IW: How has the pandemic intensified the significance?

Tuma: The pandemic has delayed or negatively affected many engineering projects. Why? Because engineers were cut off from their toolboxes and material stacks, figuratively speaking. Meaning, they weren’t able access the programs, applications and data they needed.

We believe that most heads of engineering and manufacturing, analysts and consultants now agree that to keep this from happening again, design, engineering and PLM need hybrid work environments, which isn’t possible without large investments in cloud capabilities, plain and simple.