Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Juggling Innovation and Compliance

19 Mar, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Agility 2006 takes on tough issues for small and medium enterprises

WEEE and RoHS are the newest four-letter words in manufacturing. The time you save by avoiding the long-winded versions of these environmental directives -- waste electrical and electronic equipment and restriction of the use of hazardous substances -- will hardly make up for the time you spend trying to hunt down reports from parts suppliers and offshore manufacturing partners to comply with them.

According to Craig Livingston, Agile's vice-president of Worldwide Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Operations, that was one of the hot topics at Agile's user conference, Agility 2006, in Las Vegas last week. And the lack of consensus in implementation and enforcement of these directives isn't helping either. "These directives are still changing and [new ones] are being added to them," says Livingston. "I just heard of three or four new ones I haven't heard of before. And companies also have their own compliance standards they want their suppliers to follow."

Agile's response to the European Union's regulations on WEEE and RoHS is the Product Governance and Compliance module, now part of Agile 9 (for managing enterprise product records throughout the product lifecycle) and Agile Advantage 2006 (for product lifecycle management).

Livingston contrasts the compliance needs of large enterprises and SME customers: "The largest companies of the world -- organizations with several thousand users and multibillions of dollars in revenue -- can track materials at the substance level. They are recording lead, chromium and so on. But the SMEs don't have the resources to do that. And frankly, a lot of the suppliers won't give them the information even if they ask for it, so we help them track it at the part level, and the BOM level, to determine if a part is compliant, noncompliant, unknown or not applicable."

Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO and author of The Ten Faces of Innovation, was one of the presenters at Agility 2006. According to Kelley, one of the archetypes of innovation is the Experimenter, who is willing to embrace the inevitability of failure. So how can product lifecycle management products that are designed to curtail mistakes and errors foster innovation?

Here's Livingston's observation about that: "Generally, for an SME, they're still trying to move up from paper-based processes. They spend so much time managing mistakes, dealing with lengthy processes. Even change control can take several weeks, and the process can be error-prone, so the folks responsible for creating products are not creating, but fixing problems to stay profitable. When they have a system that can help manage these, then it leaves them with more time to focus on products, on talking to customers, on finding out about market needs."

For additional reporting on Agility 2006 and Tom Kelley's thoughts on innovation, see "Narrowing Tom Kelley's Ten Faces of Innovation to Three" and "Nuggets of Wisdom from an Inspiring Innovator" by Lester Craft on Cadalyst's sister Web site, Innovate Forum.