How to Change Complex PLM into a Simple Experience

How to change complex PLM into a simple experience.


In a recent CIMdata position paper it was noted that “PLM has its roots in engineering, where everything is a problem that must be solved with a robust, ‘do it all,’ comprehensive solution, often over-engineered ‘just-in-case,’…” In 2020 and beyond, this paradigm doesn’t work because the product development environment has radically changed. Today OEM’s (the designers and owners of the final whole product) rely heavily on a supply chain that provides whole semi-autonomous working modules or subsystems that meet the OEM’s specification. PLM processes now must extend beyond the firewall and domestic boundaries into separate independent companies who likely work with the OEM’s competition also. How can this new complex paradigm still be managed by a PLM system and be easy enough to use, yet robust enough to ensure security?


To make the complex simple, Upchain has done the heavy lifting. We have architected our solution in a manner that it can easily adapt to an organization’s changing business requirements while still delivering a user-first experience. For Upchain, this meant that we weren’t trying to satisfy every possible use case, but rather deliver a solution that adds value and supports key users’ requirements. By focusing on the capabilities that are widely needed, Upchain has left those capabilities that most companies don’t need out of the equation and along with architectural constructs that often make PLM solutions—their implementation, use, and maintenance difficult and overly complex. Another reason traditional PLM is so difficult is that much of the capability was not architected and engineered by the PLM solution vendor, it was acquired. Acquisition of discrete solutions like IoT, SaaS Modeling, Electronic Design Applications (EDA), gives the PLM vendor an incremental revenue stream, footprint, and features but at the expense of the core PLM User Experience (UX) because the add-on wasn’t architected for the host PLM that acquired them. Everything looks and feels different despite the claims of the PLM solution vendor. The “end-to-end PLM solution” becomes a collection of disparate point solutions causing rev-lock issues (unable to migrate easily to new core PLM versions), high cost of ownership, and high cost of services to customize the PLM system to meet user/business needs. The term “Frankenstein” is often used to describe these solutions. This model of PLM deployment only survived in the past because customers were trapped using their best-in-class tool, in their organizational silo. Customers became “unwillingly loyal” to the overall PLM solution vendor. In 2020 and going forward, these solutions are too expensive and not flexible enough to cope with the dynamics of modern business. Upchain addresses these challenges with a whole new approach to PLM.


Typical Traditional PLM solutions often fail to meet expectations because

  1. Solutions were not architected and implemented for the enterprise, but rather for the engineering workgroup. The broader product stakeholder groups e.g.,software engineering, industrial design engineers, procurement and EDA use best-in-class point solutions.
  2. PLM solutions have been designed by engineers for engineers when engineering defined and dictated everything about the whole product. In 2020 this is no longer true
  3. PLM solutions are implemented to manage current processes as they exist because companies believe that they are fundamentally different. The problem is often bad processes become automated by, not changed by, PLM



Upchain does it differently. Upchain brings PLM inside the user’s favorite desktop tool (CAD, MS Office…) rather than force the user to leave their tool and go into a separate IT system to perform PLM tasks. This allows users to focus on innovation not unproductive administration tasks. 


Upchain believes very strongly that the interaction with PLM should be transparent. It should be an underlying operating system, not an application. 


Upchain users access the solution via a set of defined roles or personas—Engineer, Project Manager, Procurement, and Manufacturing Planning. These personas have a set of use cases that have been defined and enabled by the Upchain team. Again, this makes it easier and quicker to implement and adopt. Intelligent agents and other capabilities automatically inform appropriate users when data changes. Upchain can do this because it tracks what data specific users have consumed previously. As a result, what gets communicated is exactly what has changed rather than sending a notification of a change and providing links to all the data that might have been impacted. Inherently, this again simplifies the UX, as well as streamlining the interaction and use of the solution by the different personas enabled.

Beyond rethinking the PLM UX, Upchain also took the time to architect a service-oriented and modular solution that supports scalability and long-term resiliency. Their solution architecture is based on a multi-tenant cloud implementation. Upchain also implemented Edge Vaulting as an implementation option to automatically optimize for best UX experience based upon specific subscriber factors like user location, privileges, data sources, workload, type of data requested and corporate governance standards.

Upchain’s architecture is underpinned by a 16-sided data cube. This data model’s 16 core objects include Requirement, Process, BOM, Customer, Item, Project, User Profile, Supplier, Work Order, among others, and each object allows for the definition of as many relationships as needed. This has allowed Upchain to develop new modules quickly and efficiently, as well as rapidly introduce enhancements to existing modules.


Upchain’s overall implementation and support services are delivered under an entirely virtual program called “Connect the Chain” (CtC). CtC has been designed to be an innovative and repeatable methodology that leverages a set of evolving tools and best practices to quickly and efficiently on-board and train new users, add new business processes, new projects, new locations, new roles etc. PLM is an approach to business and the business is always changing, hence PLM must be able to change to support it. Upchain addressed the traditional PLM cost/time, technical and disruption issues of evolving to support the changing business, by developing CtC. User training is delivered via live, hosted sessions, using e-learning tools that closely emulate industrial users’ day-in-the-life work environment. Upchain pioneered this virtual PLM onboarding long before the pandemic forced virtual collaboration upon us.


Upchain has architected its solution to be an operating system—transparent to the user, and embedded within the commonly-used enterprise desktop tools such as MS Office and most major MCAD and ECAD solutions. Also Out-Of-The-Box (OOTB) Upchain provides commonly used forms, templates and workflow processes for companies to leverage and fast track the initial ramp-to-productivity phase. 


Upchain’s cloud architecture, data model, UX, and implementation and support methodology have all been designed to make the solution easy to implement and use, while delivering high-value functionality. Additionally, Upchain continuously adds new functionality, yet at the same time, simplifies the UX. Ultimately, Upchain’s PLM solution has been designed to drive innovation by enabling an integrated environment that allows users throughout a value chain to work in their native applications while easily collaborating with others.

At the end of the day, Upchain is focused on making PLM easy for users, not necessarily for themselves as the solution provider. We do the heavy lifting, so our customers don’t have to. Upchain sees it as our job to make the complex simple. Upchain does this in a way that allows users to easily take advantage of the capabilities when and where most needed without getting confused by having to exit their primary authoring tool.

Steve Jobs, in a 1998 interview with Business Week, was quoted as saying, “That’s been one of my mantras—focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you must work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Upchain’s underlying mantra from the beginning, making the complex simple, is hard, but Upchain’s UX and single unique architecture strategy proves that when you get it right, you can change the world.