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For PLM, a New 'Cycle of Life'

HAWTHORNE, N.Y. -- IBM  is launching a new framework to help companies better link product design and development to core business processes.

The Product Development Integration Framework (PDIF) will make use of Big Blue's many assets, from services to business process and product data management applications developed internally and through acquisitions, all tied together using an SOA  technology platform.

Walter Donaldson, general manager of IBM's product lifecycle management (PLM) software group, explained that companies have recognized that they need to innovate and differentiate their products in order to succeed in a global economy.

"This is not a nice to solve problem anymore. This is not a new problem, but what's relevant now is they can no longer not solve the problem. It has become mission critical," he said.

To do this, manufacturers have to create an ecosystem that allows them to capture and make use of data in ways that inform all aspects of the business.

"The product lifecycle process takes into account all the processes needed to make anything," he told internetnews.com. PDIF "redefines the manufacturing industry and is revolutionizing how manufacturing companies do business."

According to Donaldson, IBM has 40 customers who want to put this framework in place within the next six months.

The idea is to elevate PLM from the shop floor to the executive suites by integrating and correlating data gleaned from every part of the design, production and after-sales process to generate innovation and top-line growth.

For instance, part and serial numbers scanned into a workflow application at an automobile dealership can be used to help engineers find an inexpensive repair for a chronic problem and redesign a part for future versions of the product. That same information can be used in a variety of enterprise systems, such as inventory management or warranty tracking.

Engineers at IBM's Watson Research Center here also showed how the PDIF framework can be used to allow multiple parties to view and manipulate 3-D design models simultaneously.

Tom Hawk, general manager of the industrial sector for IBM, called PDIF a "rallying cry" for industry.

PDIF is "the most important announcement that IBM has ever made in the PLM space," he said.

According to Chae An, general manager and director of IBM software industrial sector applications, PDIF will shorten product development cycle times by improving collaboration between companies across complex supply chains, including development and manufacturing partners.

It will also increase opportunities for innovation by providing access to product information distributed among disparate point applications and enterprise repositories and help make use of existing product development data by federating product data wherever it exists in a heterogeneous, multi-vendor systems.

The Armonk, New York-based hardware, software and services giant has also roped in eight leading vendors of PLM applications who have promised to work on standards-based applications or connectors to ensure that customers can all the tools they need without worrying about interoperability.

IBM is asking other vendors to join charter PDIF participants Agile Software , Centric Software, Engineous Software, Geometric Software Solutions, MSC Software , PROSTEP, PTC and UGS.

PDIF fits with IBM's strategy of using SOA to link its various products and services. It's being designed to leverage all of IBM's software brands, including Websphere, Rational and Tivoli.

That being said, several analysts noted that IBM might have trouble selling PDIF as PLM.

Ulrich Sendler of Sendler Circle consulting in Munich, Germany, told internetnews.com that the framework is "game-changing, but I won't call it PLM."

Richard Ptak, principal analyst with Ptak, Noel & Associates, also noted that the term "lifecycle" in PLM implies there's a termination point, whereas IBM is talking about an ongoing virtuous cycle of continuous information.

"It's more a cycle of life," Ptak said, adding that we're likely to hear a lot more about PLM and PDIF from IBM in the next twelve months.

"They've glommed onto this lifecycle thing and they're trying to push it through the [IBM] organization... It's going to be one of their initiatives for 2007."