Is ALM-PLM Integration the Key to Successful IoT Product Development?

Janos Koppany, CEO,Intland Software
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Janos Koppany, CEO,Intland Software

In the context of embedded systems development, two topics have dominated the professional discussion in recent years: the Internet of Things, and the resulting convergence of hardware and software development processes.

“The challenge today is to unify PLM and ALM to allow the successful development of complex products for the Internet of Things”

Embedded connectivity is increasingly present in everyday products, as well as in safety-critical devices such as the end products of the automotive and medical industries (e.g. connected & autonomous cars, IoT-connected mobile and remote medical devices). That said, we’re still at a relatively early stage of IoT adoption, and there are still a lot of challenges that product developers have to overcome before the Internet of Things can reach its full potential.

First, there are certain business and management aspects of this disruptive change. Product manufacturers will have to replace or enhance their traditional business models to allow the deeper integration of suppliers in the process of development, and to enable a lifecycle-focused approach to the development of their increasingly complex products. As technological advancement opens up new opportunities, players not traditionally associated with product manufacturing will be joining the competition, trying to exploit the growth that IoT connectivity brings about.

Second, manufacturers will also need to think about new ways to generate value and profits from mobile connectivity, and thus alter or reinforce their positions in a growing ecosystem of traditional and non-traditional development companies.

Integrating Hardware and Software Development

On top of all this, there is the fundamental technological challenge of managing all the above in practice, and efficiently overseeing the entire product lifecycle with its parallel development processes. Integrating the interconnected and overlapping lifecycles of hardware, software and service innovation and development is perhaps the most pressing and fundamental challenge ahead. Finding a solution to tackle this challenge would enable the mentioned new business model and management approach to be implemented in practice.

Integrating hardware and software development is a tough nut to crack particularly because of its technical and practical implications.

Specifically, the main challenge is breaking down the inherent differences and separation between Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software platforms used to manage the design and manufacturing of hardware components, and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) solutions that are widely used to support software development. The areas (and purposes) of PLM and ALM are converging to accommodate the creation of complex IoT product systems that contain hardware, software, and service elements all at the same time. Technically, however, how to manage this convergence is still a question.

Therefore, in order to remain competitive and ahead of non-traditional players, manufacturing companies have to find a way to integrate these previously disparate software tools, enabling the implementation of a new management approach to product development.

Breaking Down Silos: PLM & ALM

The difficulty in integrating these solutions to connect the previously disparate lifecycles of HW, SW and service innovation lies in the fundamental differences between PLM and ALM.

The main objective of using PLM software platforms is to facilitate the engineering, design, and manufacturing processes of physical products. PLM tools may offer integration with CAD/CAM software, a way to manage the bill of materials, document management features, and data integration with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

An ALM tool, on the other hand, can essentially be considered “PLM for software applications.” While it provides the same product information backbone for the development of software as PLM does for physical components, it is used in an area that was traditionally entirely separated from hardware development. ALM software solutions offer corresponding functionality to manage requirements, development processes, source code, and testing, and potentially integrations with other tools used in the lifecycle.

Before the era of IoT, hardware engineers and software developers would work in isolation, at least to a certain extent. The complete product would be assembled at system integration, where further testing is necessary to determine whether the two components work together just fine. Service innovation is another parallel lifecycle.

So overall, while PLM and ALM do serve somewhat similar purposes in their respective fields, these two types of business software used to operate in inherently disparate areas. The challenge today is to unify PLM and ALM to allow the successful development of complex products for the Internet of Things.

Integrating Processes and Data

A key point to consider is that both PLM and ALM are essentially process and data management tools. These are the two very components that they were created to manage. Therefore, any integration of Product and Application Lifecycle Management will have to focus on:

  1. Connecting lifecycle processes, and realizing the unified management of interconnected and overlapping stages.
  2. Ensuring data consistency across the entire product lifecycle.

Most development software vendors today seem to be focusing on manually creating interfaces between specific types of PLM and ALM software to allow the sharing of data. While this approachdoes remove the error-prone manual effort to reconcile data across tools, it fails to recognize the importance of processes.

Therefore, any real integration between PLM and ALM will need to be tool-independent, allowing it to be adapted to fit multiple technology environments. It will also need to focus primarily on processes, allowing companies to realize a lifecycle-focused approach to product development management. Finally, it will have to allow the integration of suppliers and technologies throughout the lifecycle. Rather than having technical staff create manual integrations between specific tools, companies will have to draw from the discipline of Business Process Management to create actual integrations between lifecycle processes, rather than between isolated software tools.

Developing products for an Internet of Things-era market requires companies to gain knowledge in non-traditional areas.As the unification of ALM and PLM is such a recently emerged need, there is no silver-bullet solution to it on the market just yet. However, it’s obvious that this integration is a necessary first step that will open up an immense volume of opportunities in a market characterized by the ubiquitousness of the Internet of Things. Shifting management perspectives to focus on lifecycle processes will help unearth and take advantage of these new opportunities.

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