PLM: The New Digital Transformation Platform

PLM: The New Digital Transformation Platform

Manufacturers will never return to how they operated in a pre-pandemic world. The pandemic itself is not the sole reason companies are now intensifying their focus to digitally transform, but it did expose many vulnerabilities that triggered the way they think about how they’ll design, make, service, and sell their products and services moving forward.

During the pandemic, 97% percent of businesses experienced disruptions to their digital transformation (DX) projects. Decision makers do not believe these disruptions will end as the pandemic does—with 76% of global businesses expecting further business impacts. The pace of change, the amount of data, and the convergence of emerging technologies and disruptions are only accelerating. Additionally, companies are increasingly saddled with growing legacy infrastructures and technologies, which are the major causes for digital transformation failures.

My belief is that we’ve reached an inflection point where companies can no longer rely on obsolete PLM software that, in many cases, not only doesn’t encourage digital transformation, but is the very bottleneck preventing it. Instead, organizations need a digital transformation platform to continually improve the way they use data to dramatically improve the efficiency of their end-to-end business processes in order to improve the experiences of their employees, customers, and partners.

In a world becoming more disruptive with increasing complexity of products, services, and changing business models, 95% of companies believe digitally transforming is still the key to their future success. Companies are shifting their strategic priorities to include continuous transformation of their product ecosystem to eliminate duplicative work, achieve greater resiliency and agility, and achieve faster, more cost-effective, sustainable innovation. Doing so on the wrong software has been a serious problem in many failed digital transformations.

Traditional PLM

Many in the pre-pandemic world viewed PLM as an engineering tool—something that managed their parts, BOMs, and change management. Of course, that was where it all began. Now the challenge we face is that companies need PLM software to be able to incorporate the whole product eco-system, the design intent, a growing digital thread, and the ability to collaborate across the entire value chain. It needs to enable companies to adapt and digitally transform.

The primary challenge PLM software vendors are facing is they’re not resilient—not able to keep their customers current. This is compounded by the fact that many companies—through acquisition and reorganization—have several PLM systems integrated with many ERP systems, typically using several intelligent numbering systems. If this sounds all too familiar, you likely have a gaping hole in your DX strategy.

Executives are frequently unaware of the dependency of DX on PLM platforms. What is often misunderstood is that a true DX platform is an extension of the company that’s using it. In the past, digital transformation initiatives were more outside-in transformations, where top-down leadership mandated a digital strategy using an assortment of industry 4.0 technologies—shiny objects, which invariably failed or achieved less than profitable results because it underestimated the acceleration of data, the rigidness of the legacy systems, and the need to empower the workforce to adapt from within.

Add to this, over the past decade, in response to the growing complexity of products being designed, manufactured, and serviced, PLM vendors went on a buying spree and then tried to address the needs of their customers with many products on the multiple technology stacks now in their “portfolio” of solutions. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the companies drowning in their own technical debt. By selling additional add-on modules, the PLM software vendors were causing their customers complexity to increase, causing them to be less efficient and more rigid at a time where the opposite is required—a DX platform that would result in low-risk transformations and thus greater sustainability and business resiliency.

It’s now abundantly clear that companies need a platform approach—a real platform, not a portfolio of tools that you have to cobble together. A platform that expands your digital thread far beyond traditional PLM. One that enables the entire value chain to collaborate, innovate, and use data that they’ve historically never had access to.

PLM Platform Checklist

When looking at any PLM platform, everyone should be asking themselves some basic questions:

  • How does this make us more resilient, more agile, more current?
  • Can I easily configure and customize in a sustainable way and still upgrade every year?
  • Is it completely open so you can federate or connect quickly and easily?
  • Will this increase the robustness of our digital thread?
  • Will this enable greater collaboration across the enterprise?
  • Will this reduce our dependency on legacy tools?
  • Does this run on a cloud-first containerized technology (public, private) on-premises and do they offer a SaaS solution with the same exact functionality?
  • Is it an actual platform (not a “portfolio” of technologies)?
  • Will this enable us to continually transform?

Current DX are different in the sense that, by necessity, they have to move much faster and be even more connected, more scalable, more sustainable, less risky, and able to adapt as the company evolves.

PLM Platform

A PLM platform has taken on a whole new meaning—a real low-code platform, where the PLM applications are developed using the same platform services. The applications can be developed by the PLM vendor, third parties, or the customer. Regardless of who does it, everything needs to remain current in order to keep pace with your vision.

Aras Innovator is both a highly configurable end-to-end enterprise PLM solution, which includes applications for engineering, manufacturing, and maintenance for the world’s most complex system intensive companies, while also being a resilient low-code platform. Why is that important? Many PLM vendors misuse the term “platform” rather than “portfolio” or “collection of products.” In the case of Aras, you can bring up any platform service in any application. You can configure or customize anything or build applications from scratch and Aras guarantees the upgrade, which Aras performs. This is critical to connecting all items used across the digital thread and connecting to applications outside the Aras Platform, such as a CRM or ERP. This enables companies to not only be more efficient across their product lifecycle, but they can also digitally transform on the platform, sunsetting legacy technologies and incorporating more people and applications, thus reducing their technical debt and increasing their ability to collaborate and transform.

“By taking a sustainable platform approach, organizations are enabling the enterprise to get their work done in the most efficient way possible and can ensure end-to-end optimization and connectivity that is critical to an organization’s digital thread.” – CIMdata 


The platform you transform on must remain current in order to take advantage of the latest capabilities. This is the single most important factor in today’s accelerating world. Your platform must be current. This is what enables you to add new functionality and value, connecting your people with the data they need to see and collaborate with. The obvious advantage to upgrading every year is productivity, which will vary from company to company, but your collaborative productivity, ability to make data-driven decisions, improve your cost of quality, decrease your time to market, and adapt to unforeseen disruptions and opportunities will give you a tremendous competitive advantage.

It is literally impossible to compete if you cannot keep your digital transformation platform current.

“Customers of the Aras PLM platform stated that they are able to upgrade significantly faster, easier and at less costs than customers of competitive products.” – CIMdata

If you are interested in how current companies using leading PLM vendor software are, I recommend the CIMdata Upgrade study, where customers using Aras’ competitors average upgrading every 8-12 years at significant costs and time.


I cannot understate the importance of your ability to own all your own data. To an executive, this sounds straightforward—everyone owns their data. If that were true, which it is absolutely not, you could easily move the data from one system to another with ease. Companies that have tried to transform, move off legacy platforms to the cloud or, in some vendors’ cases, tried to upgrade, found themselves unable to successfully and cost effectively move data. Your people and your data are your most important assets—make sure you own and control your own data. The Aras platform has open APIs, nothing obfuscated in the database, our roadmap is public and is the same one development uses.

Digital Thread

Your digital thread enables you to graphically traverse an item bi-directionally across its lifecycle and show all related items. Aras allows users to graphically navigate their digital thread, providing efficiency and collaboration across the enterprise where, a few years ago, none existed. This is what enables a DX platform to cut across organizational silos and enable a different mindset. Knowledge elevates us all to understand each other, work better as a team, innovate more effectively, and become adaptable. Quite simply, it enables a data-driven world rather than a legacy process-driven world, and it will cause organizational change to follow.

Reducing Technical Debt

The biggest obstacle to DX is your legacy infrastructure. Those best of breed applications that were customized and got stuck, or home-grown workarounds, let you get work done in a silo, but they are major bottlenecks in terms of digitally transforming to enable your people to collaborate. For those of you that think your culture is a bigger challenge, try using archaic tools that don’t allow your people to find the data they need to get their jobs done more efficiently and collaborate in context with those they don’t yet work with because their data is stuck in separate silos. When knowledge is shared, people collaborate, and efficient teams are created. A DX platform with the low-code ability to create industrial applications to replace legacy infrastructure goes directly to reducing your legacy costs and makes everyone involved more efficient, happier, and empowered.


The pandemic hit home the need for businesses to be more resilient. According to Dell’s Digital Transformation Index 2020, which surveyed over 4000 business leaders globally, 89% said the pandemic highlighted the need for a more agile and scalable IT environment.

This is where traditional PLM fell flat on its face. To be agile, the single most important requirement of a PLM platform is a resilient architecture that can meet future unknown needs. If you’re buying to solve certain business obstacles, or because this is your CAD vendor, and you ignore how to keep your PLM platform current, flexible and upgradeable, you’re not only leaving your company open to disruption—your PLM system itself may end up being one of the bottlenecks it should be replacing.


Why isn’t your PLM system native in the cloud? There are a whole host of excuses, but the simple fact is that on-premises highly customized PLM solutions have traditionally not had the same capability as a cloud native solution. If the PLM vendor has a subset of capabilities or is going to force you to take upgrades without unlimited customizations, you simply can’t move to the cloud with any level of sophistication. This is why PLM has traditionally been such a laggard in terms of moving to the cloud.

Aras Innovator is containerized and can run in a public or private cloud or in Aras’ Enterprise SaaS offering, including DevOps, with sustainable unlimited customization, while using the same exact code and customizations that are used with the on-premises version of Aras Innovator.


PLM is becoming the new digital transformation platform, which is an extension of your company. Those that understand this will lead and achieve better bottom-line profits and top-line revenues. You will continuously transform your product ecosystem, expand your digital thread, empower your people, and create a more resilient and agile business.

“Companies pursuing a digital transformation should include Aras on their short list of solutions to investigate” – CIMdata