Interest in acquiring PLM (product lifecycle management) software is growing. Independent CAD/CAM/PDM analyst CIMdata last month released figures showing that what it terms the ‘collaborative product definition management’ part of the PLM market (everything except CAD/CAM and publishing software) grew 25% last year to reach £3.6 billion, with services just over half of that. Top vendors in rank order include EDS PM Solutions, SAP, IBM/Dassault, PTC, MastrixOne, Agile, Intergraph and Eigner. But there are plenty of other developing aspects of the application spectrum: vendors like i2, Doumentum, fileNet and Cimage NovaSoft – see our new website for appropriate lists. Seems the PLM concept – cradle to grave use of product definition information, integrating people and information to streamline processes all the way through concept, manufacturing, maintenance and product retirement – is catching on. CIMdata believes it will continue to do so – forecasting continued 25% per annum growth to 2006, as more companies recognise the value of a product definition-centric IT backbone to themselves, their suppliers and customers and their customers. Reason for the growing interest in PLM is its basis in open web technologies and standards, like XML for remote online visualisation, collaboration and enterprise application integration. Along with its core functions (data vaults, document and content management, workflow and programme management, etc), its configuration management at every stage, its tight links into MCAD, ECAD and the rest, and its business process integration, it’s a compelling story. Says Ed Miller, CIMdata president: “In the face of the general economic downturn, solid industry growth in 2001 is an indication that companies clearly recognise PLM as fundamental to their ability to operate more successfully in increasingly competitive global markets. “Significant investments in software licenses were made in the first half of 2001, following a very strong ramp up of implementation programmes during 2000. Companies continued to deploy solutions during the third and fourth quarters of 2001, though market growth was not as strong during the last half of the year.” Could be that companies felt they had to focus on operational and business efficiencies during the ‘90s and hence the rise to prominence of ERP systems across the business spectrum. Now, however, with these in place and bedded down, attention is turning to add-ons that add specific functional value – and the obvious winners are customer-facing applications (parts only of what is unhelpfully termed CRM), supply chain software (at several levels) and PLM. Miller believes the latter has now got into the psyche of business leaders as well as engineers. If he’s right, and certainly most of the big former ERP-only boys are banking on it, CIMdata’s financial predictions could turn out to be conservative – although there are limits to adoption based mainly on company size and depth of pockets. “Managing and leveraging product information across the extended enterprise, PLM enhances business performance of the enterprise by supporting initiatives such as supply chain management, concurrent engineering, integrated product development, design collaboration… initiatives that can make or break a company,” says Miller. Being such an overall enabler for engineering- and product-centric manufacturers guarantees not only its adoption, but also the fostering of new, lower cost web-based solutions. As these emerge, smaller firms too will be able to benefit from the initiatives and the speed to market and efficiencies of ongoing support they bring. PLM will undoubtedly rank among the big ticket, mainline applications for at least the early part of this decade.