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    PLM people always had a big vision. How to build a PLM for a whole company. For entire supply chain. PLM for extended enterprise. PLM for downstream and upstream processes. How to include non engineers in PLM activities. How to make all people in the company to use PLM. These and many other similar questions were on the list of PLM strategists, vendors and service companies for many years.

    For long time, the vision of PLM was to create an ultimate silobreaker to connect data, people and tasks across product development, manufacturing and service. You probably remember my – PLM one big silo blog. I can see a shift towards creating of huge monolithic vertical silos. So, PLM One Big Silo is a very possible future for customers looking for smoothly integrated systems and aligned experience. Top PLM vendors are building “platforms” covering many functional areas, products, experiences and modules.

    So, what is the future of these platforms? Where is the right model to create a a complete vertically integrated system covering an entire product lifecycle end-to-end?  PLM vendors (and not only) are speaking about “digital transformation”. I was think about about possible comparison to bring some data points and experience in building of such systems.

    My attention was caught by New Yorker magazine – Estonia, the Digital Republic. It speaks about an experience of a whole country to build digital lifecycle experience covering all aspects of government and related activities. Read the article – I found it very interesting. Taavi Kotka, who spent four years as Estonia’s chief information officer, is one of the leading public faces of a project known as e-Estonia: a coordinated governmental effort to transform the country from a state into a digital society.

    Here is the passage that can give you an idea about information management in E-Estonia project:

    “This PIN code just starts the whole decryption process,” Piperal explained. “I’ll start with my personal data from the population registry.” She gestured toward a box on the screen. “It has my document numbers, my phone number, my e-mail account. Then there’s real estate, the land registry.” Elsewhere, a box included all of her employment information; another contained her traffic records and her car insurance. She pointed at the tax box. “I have no tax debts; otherwise, that would be there. And I’m finishing a master’s at the Tallinn University of Technology, so here”—she pointed to the education box—“I have my student information. If I buy a ticket, the system can verify, automatically, that I’m a student.” She clicked into the education box, and a detailed view came up, listing her previous degrees.“My cat is in the pet registry,” Piperal said proudly, pointing again. “We are done with the vaccines.”

    However, my favorite passage is related to one step down to explanation about some technical aspects related to the E-Estonia implementation. It is relies on the concepts of distributed data management

    Data aren’t centrally held, thus reducing the chance of Equifax-level breaches. Instead, the government’s data platform, X-Road, links individual servers through end-to-end encrypted pathways, letting information live locally. Your dentist’s practice holds its own data; so does your high school and your bank. When a user requests a piece of information, it is delivered like a boat crossing a canal via locks.

    …and blockchain based integrity of information.

    Beyond X-Road, the backbone of Estonia’s digital security is a blockchain technology called K.S.I. A blockchain is like the digital version of a scarf knitted by your grandmother. She uses one ball of yarn, and the result is continuous. Each stitch depends on the one just before it. It’s impossible to remove part of the fabric, or to substitute a swatch, without leaving some trace: a few telling knots, or a change in the knit.In a blockchain system, too, every line is contingent on what came before it. Any breach of the weave leaves a trace, and trying to cover your tracks leaves a trace, too.

    PLM vision minded people will certainly like the following idea of “once only”.

    It was during Kotka’s tenure that the e-Estonian goal reached its fruition. Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system.

    How compatible Estonian example with PLM implementations. I think, we can make some assessment by comparing number of employees in some manufacturing and enterprise companies with the population of Estonia (1.3M people). To compare it Volkswagen has 600K employees, Toyota (364K), Ford Motors (200K) and Boeing (174K). Of course, these numbers don’t include suppliers, which can multiple or even triple these numbers and to make them compatible with Estonian population.

    What is my conclusion? E-Estonia seems like a good example how digital vision can be realized in a whole country to create end-to-end experience. PLM architects and strategists can find many good examples and ideas how to drive digital transformation in a single company. The key elements I captured are – C-level commitment, business strategy and right information infrastructure. While 2 first are very important, the last one can make a big difference. This is something PLM vendors should think about when they are pitching enterprises for next PLM implementations. Digital transformation is only possible with the right information infrastructure and technological platforms backed by C-level commitment. Just my thoughts…

    Best, Oleg

    Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

    Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.

    Picture credit New Yorker article