Who should own PLM? Engineering, IT, or someone else?

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is an important part of product development and management in any organization. It involves managing all the data, processes, and activities related to the product throughout its life cycle, from ideation to end of life. As a result, it’s critical to identify the right person, team or department to own PLM in an organization.
For a long time PLM had been considered to be primarily an engineering domain. With its origin in product design and development and its widespread use in the engineering department, it was natural that engineering was also in charge of selecting, implementing, managing and maintaining a PLM system and related processes. In many companies the engineering operations or engineering services organization ended up taking on the main responsibility for all PLM related activities, in some instances supported by the IT organization for some very software and hardware specific activities, such as installation, configuration, upgrades, database maintenance, backups, etc.
With PLM capabilities progressively expanding into other functional areas, such as manufacturing engineering, quality, regulatory affairs, sourcing, procurement, sales, customer support, maintenance and service operations since the early 2000s, PLM had the promise and ability to be much more than just an engineering solution.
In many companies unfortunately nobody has really taken charge of helping PLM to break out of the engineering cage and expanding its footprint into other organizational areas. Engineering is happy, they have everything they need, but they don’t understand the needs of other functional areas well enough to know how PLM can help there. And the other departments often don’t know enough about PLM to realize that it can also benefit them. So PLM stays where it is, in product engineering and design, unfortunately to the detriment of the overall organization, which misses out on many benefits of using PLM as an enterprise solution and instead sees each functional area implement their own siloed tool for their specific needs.
So who should own PLM in organization to get the most out of this enterprise solution? Here are some factors to consider:

1. Cross-functional involvement: PLM touches multiple departments and functions within an organization, including R&D, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, and marketing. Therefore, it’s important to have cross-functional involvement in the PLM process. A PLM owner should be able to coordinate with different departments and ensure that the PLM system meets the needs of all stakeholders.

2. Technical expertise: PLM is a complex solution that requires a deep understanding of all functional areas of an organization, as well as technical expertise in IT systems. The PLM owner should have a strong background in new product development and information technology to ensure the PLM system is implemented effectively.

3. Strategic vision: PLM is a long-term investment for an organization, and it requires a strategic vision to ensure it is aligned with the organization’s overall goals and objectives. The PLM owner should be able to understand the organization’s vision and goals and align the PLM system accordingly.

4. Business acumen: PLM is a business-critical solution, and the PLM owner should have a strong understanding of the organization’s business processes and operations. This includes understanding the organization’s product portfolio, supply chain, and market trends.

Based on these factors, there are several options for who can own PLM in an organization:

1. IT department/CIO: As an enterprise-wide department, IT can represent the interests of all functional areas equally and in an unbiased fashion. And as the usual owner of other enterprise solutions, especially ERP, the IT department also has a good general understanding of the needs of all business areas and understands how PLM would have to complement, interact and work together with those other solutions. And of course the IT department with its deep knowledge of software and hardware is best suited to implement and maintain the PLM system. As a non-user of the solution the IT department may be a little removed from and ignorant of the pains of the organization and hence not drive PLM strong enough.

2. Engineering/CTO: As a major user of PLM, engineering is certainly interested in driving PLM for its own purposes and benefits, and certainly knows very well how PLM can help in product development and design. As stated earlier though, engineering may not understand the needs of other functional areas very well and be less knowledgeable of the capabilities of PLM outside of part, EBOM, workflow, configuration and engineering change management. Engineering will likely also not have the authority to mandate other functional areas to adopt PLM. Hence engineering may not be in a good position to drive PLM across an entire organization. And it will also be dependent on IT for ongoing system maintenance and support.

3. Operations/COO: As a more downstream user of PLM, operations certainly understands the business needs of non-engineering functions, such as manufacturing and manufacturing engineering, sourcing, procurement, quality, regulatory affairs, etc. However, PLM is relatively new to those functions, and hence operations may not understand the capabilities of PLM very well, neither in its own domain and even less in engineering and design. In addition, many PLM software vendors still don’t understand non-engineering functions very well. As a result, PLM may not get the attention it needs to become an enterprise-wide solution.

4. Cross-functional council/PLM lead: A team consisting of representatives of all areas potentially involved and benefitting from PLM, including engineering, operations and IT, with a dedicated PLM lead reporting to the CIO as its lead is certainly best suited to understand and address the needs of the entire organization and drive the adoption of PLM across all functional areas. A not uncommon challenge with cross-functional teams though is the decision making process. If a unanimous decision is required, progress may be slower but steady. With a majority decision progress can be quicker but some functional areas may feel excluded or forced to do something they don’t want, which may hamper acceptance and adoption.

In conclusion, PLM is a complex solution that requires a deep understanding of new product development, information technology, and business processes. If the goal is to drive adoption and maximize the benefits of PLM across the entire organization, a cross-functional council with representatives from all areas involved in PLM with a dedicated PLM lead heading the council and reporting to the CIO is the best and most effective approach. The PLM lead should have deep knowledge of PLM and its application and benefits across many functional areas, strong technical expertise, a strategic vision, and a good understanding of the organization’s business. The council should set clear rules for decision making and ensure they truly represent the interests of the entire organization.