Oracle Expands PLM Offering

Adds product information repository, project management apps to round out product lifecycle management solution

Adds product information repository, project management apps to round out product lifecycle management solution

Redwood Shores, CA  June 25, 2003  Oracle this week expanded its lineup of product lifecycle management (PLM) applications with the addition of a product catalog designed to centralize product-related information into a single database, as well as new project management and collaboration applications.

Oracle's PLM offering combines some new components along with some old. The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based solution provider has, in the past, offered a system called Product Development Exchange, which primarily focused on engineering collaboration and which was part of Oracle's platform created for industry exchanges.

The company spent the past year-and-a-half integrating the engineering collaboration features from Product Development Exchange back into Oracle's flagship E-Business Suite based on requests from customers for a more complete, integrated system for managing the product lifecycle, according to Kurt Robson, vice president of PLM development and chief applications architect at Oracle. . With that work done, Robson says that the company is now in a position to offer a full-fledged PLM capability with the latest release of the E-Business Suite, 11i.9.

"Many companies that provide different pieces of PLM are talking about their PLM solutions, but we've been a little conservative about that," Robson said. "We certainly could have claimed to have PLM in the past, but we felt that it really requires an integrated system for managing products through the lifecycle from concept all the way to retirement. Now, with release 11i.9 and the introduction of some of the new components, we have brought all these collaboration features over to the E-Business Suite and integrated with the rest of the suite's functions."

Not surprisingly for a company famous for its database solutions, the core of Oracle's PLM offering is the Advanced Product Catalog, a repository for all product and component information. Oracle believes that by centralizing product information, the catalog can provide comprehensive, secure product visibility throughout the enterprise, to other PLM applications and to authorized external parties.

Robson said that centralizing product information should help companies deal with the paradox of increasingly geographically dispersed development teams working on more complex products but needing to get new products out the door faster and cheaper. "Oracle's PLM applications provide a 'single source of truth' for product and component information while allowing companies to standardize and track all PLM project tasks and deliverables," Robson said. The potential payoffs: higher component reuse, fewer design errors and engineering changes, faster customer request-for-quote cycle time, and lower costs due to fewer changes and less rework.

The catalog also serves as the common source of product information for other E-Business Suite applications that manage or access product information. Additionally, the catalog offers role-based security, parametric search capabilities and "closed-loop change management" intended to reduce engineering change order (ECO) cycle times and costs.

Kevin O'Marah, a vice president with AMR Research, writing in a research alert this week, described the Advanced Product Catalog as "sort of a poor man's [product data management system (PDM)], allowing for much more complex product structure management than the basic bill of materials needed to feed a planning system." The bottom line, from O'Marah's perspective: "Advanced Product Catalog gives Oracle users a powerful supply chain view of product structure."

Other new applications in the PLM offering include Project Management, which provides project planning, tracking, budgeting and forecasting capabilities across the product lifecycle, and Project Collaboration, which allows project team members to report and track project status, publish status to project stakeholders, including suppliers and design partners, and manage changes.

Existing applications that have been rolled up under the PLM banner include CADView-3D, which provides secure visualization and mark-up capabilities for 2-D and 3-D models, as well as streamlining collaboration and information sharing beyond the walls of engineering departments with key customers and suppliers; Collaboration Suite, which provides document management, messaging and collaboration applications; Sourcing, which allows for negotiation of supplier contracts, with online collaboration to develop requirements, identify potential sources of supply and manage complex negotiations; and Configurator, which manages configuration rules for complex products and services, helping validate a company's choice of options and guiding them through the selling process.

On the question of why a company might want to go with a PLM solution from Oracle that is integrated with a broader e-business suite of applications  as opposed to going with a more specialized PLM provider, such as an Agile, MatrixOne or PTC  Robson suggests that the integration between development and manufacturing are so numerous that it makes sense to closely link the two together. "There are so many things that have to be shared between them," Robson said, "that the case for a more integrated approach becomes more and more compelling."

For his part, AMR's O'Marah believes that while engineers might find Oracle's PLM offering a little light, "companies that are looking for business benefits in terms of part and material rationalization or better project execution will find that Oracle's supply chain approach to PLM stacks up well against the more developed engineering-based PLM products from MatrixOne or PTC."

For more information on the PLM market, see the Global Enabled Supply Chain Series article "Product Lifecycle Management" in the October/November 2002 issue of iSource Business.