What's the Difference between Product Lifecycle Management and Specification Data Management™?

By Matthew Wright

What’s the Difference between Product Lifecycle Management and Specification Data Management™?

Posted on January 21, 2020
  • January 21, 2020

What’s the Difference between Product Lifecycle Management and Specification Data Management™?

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Specification Data Management (SDM™) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) share similarities, but the two terms are far from interchangeable. By definition, PLM software is a repository of data used in the design and manufacturing process of a product throughout its lifecycle — development, rollout, growth, stability, and decline. The idea behind using PLM software is to facilitate both the manufacturing and marketing aspects of a product to inform decision making. 

Specification Data Management software is fundamentally different in that it starts at DNA-level data and is designed for everyone in the supply chain who is responsible for bringing a product to market. It’s akin to taking the high level processes and product-related information in PLM and putting them under a microscope. 

SDM looks at products on a granular level to reveal their DNA makeup — materials, suppliers, sources, dimensions, and all the specific components that go into each product. Companies can then use this data portfolio to run a more intelligent operation, improve sustainability, increase profits, and protect resources.

Definitions aside, the functionality, purpose, and the resulting impact on the supply chain affect business operations in different ways. Let’s do a side-by-side comparison to uncover the most important differences between SDM and PLM.

Foundational Purpose

DNA Helix Product Data

SDM takes a unique approach to product development and management.

When scientists first discovered they could sequence the human genome, the revelation had a huge impact on the medical world. Now, instead of treating the symptoms of a disease, scientists are able to discover and treat the root cause of an illness. 

We compare SDM to this medical milestone. SDM allows companies to dial in on their product-related data at the spec level and fundamentally change how they do business. From the way you track quality to how and where you source materials, SDM enables companies to move further upstream and identify issues before they become problems. SDM isn’t a solution that is marginally better than what companies are using today, but rather a completely different approach and purpose to product development and management.

For comparison, while PLM has a much longer tenure in industry it serves a different purpose: to manage a product’s lifecycle at the surface level. Companies can see at a glance where products are in the development stage, how they’re being produced, how they’re being marketed, and whether they’re selling, giving companies data-driven insights they can use to make key business decisions. However, PLM lacks the finer level of detail that SDM provides to help gain even deeper development, production, service, promotion and sales insights into each product.

The Intended User

PLM was originally developed to be used by engineers on-site to design and collaborate on products in development. In the past, PLM technology was on-premise, so it was only used by internal employees. Today’s PLM has moved into the cloud and is now leveraged by other organizational roles, including sales, marketing, and customer service. However, PLM still maintains the original structure and functionality that was made with the engineer in mind. The complexity of PLM software’s interface and features aren’t designed for other users who would benefit from the data it contains.

By contrast, SDM was designed to be shared across the organization and with external partners through an intuitive interface, accessible across computers, tablets, and mobile devices. It can also integrate with other enterprise systems, such as ERPs. SDM was designed as a cloud-based platform and caters to roles inside and outside of the organization, including vendors and suppliers, engineers, designers, sales and marketing teams, quality assurance, procurement, and art departments. All of these supply chain functions need to access product and packaging specifications to bring a product to market. The fact that many of these organizations operate in siloed systems today results in losses, inefficiencies – even product recalls. 

Even companies with multiple locations – domestic and international – can tap into a single source of truth with no loss of information or productivity. 

Product-Focused vs. Process-Focused

PLM vs SDM Image

When product details are managed correctly, other systems become more efficient.

As the name implies, Product Lifecycle Management focuses on the product’s journey throughout its life. From the early stages of development until the product leaves the market, PLM helps companies optimize the production process, streamline their time to market, eliminate bottlenecks, and reduce errors and waste. 

SDM can offer these advantages, but with a more granular approach that enables more robust business outcomes and decision-making. Rather than look at the product as a whole, SDM focuses on the individual specs and the processes associated with each.

Let’s say you have a new snack product. Your PLM will help you create all the parts of the product (in this case, the packaging and the snack itself), create a prototype, plan the production process, deliver the product, monitor its success, and remove the product from the market. 

Now, let’s say you’re also using SDM software to create your new snack product. SDM will digitize each element that goes into the product, such as the raw materials, ingredients, and the manufacturing line components. SDM will create a map of these specs to create relationships, such as combining ingredients to create a formula that will become the finished good. With these elements in place, you can take it a step further to see how each of your components affect each other and your company as a whole. For example, you might test a change in suppliers in your SDM platform to see how the switch might impact your profitability. 

One of the greatest benefits of using a specification-first rather than process-first approach is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when you want to create a new product. You can simply clone and tweak an existing product and immediately know where to get all of the product’s inputs. 

Once you lay out the product’s DNA, you can intelligently execute your new product and maximize your profitability, sustainability, innovation, and operations. 

Usability and Flexibility

PLM is designed to be product-specific, which limits its scope considerably. Lacking the agility to provide actionable insights right off the shelf, PLM is highly customized. This means that, from a process perspective, leveraging PLM technology involves a custom process for each product.

By contrast, SDM is much more flexible, allowing organizations to gain quick insights almost immediately upon implementation and streamline repeatable processes for quick product development or improvement to existing products. This more agile approach results in savings in both time and money, enabling organizations to bring new products to market more efficiently.

Can SDM Replace PLM?

SDM Tablet vs. PLM

SDM Enables the Needs of 21st Century Manufacturing, while PLM represents how things have been done in the past

One of the biggest questions we receive at Specright is whether Specification Data Management software is designed to be a replacement for Product Lifecycle Management software. While both systems aim to streamline processes, save money and resources, and allow you to make data-driven decisions for your business, SDM is designed to meet the challenges of manufacturing today. In fact, many challenger brands that choose Specright never need a PLM, while some of our enterprise customers choose to have them integrated. When companies choose to use both SDM and PLM systems, their PLMs are improved because of the integrity of managing product DNA using a Specification Data Management as a data workbench. 

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach: it depends on each company’s needs, business goals and challenges. 

We find that SDM also supplements and strengthens other systems, like Inventory Management Systems or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERPs) by tying inventory levels or purchasing levels to specifications or finished goods. This can enable outcomes such as better supply chain forecasting and demand planning. When all of the fine details are accurate and accessible, every other process and system automatically becomes more efficient. 

The two systems accomplish different goals, cater to different users, and focus on different objectives. To learn more about why Specification Data Management is the future of supply chain, download our ebook.

Learn how a spec-first approach is revolutionizing how things are made.

In The Evolution of Products and Packaging, Specright CEO Matthew Wright provides a first-hand account of the trends that ushered in an explosion of SKUs and an increase in supply chain complexity that plagues manufacturers, brands, and retailers still today.

Over the course of Wright’s journey, the answer to this complexity seemed simple: to keep up, the professionals would need to embrace data to make better, smarter, more sustainable products and packaging. You’ll recognize stories of the common pitfalls organizations slip into when it comes to managing their most important data and get a glimpse into the future of how data can drive the answers to some of our most pressing supply chain challenges.