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Anders Rasmussen

Customer Care

A Road Map for Implementing Configuration Technology

Establish a common vocabulary

Published: Monday, June 12, 2023 - 12:03

Enterprise resource planning (ERP), product life cycle management (PLM), and customer relationship management (CRM) systems were transformative when they were first developed. They made it possible for businesses to establish centralized data repositories for customer, product, or financial information, and to use these hubs as a foundation for expansion.

When managing products that can be configured in multiple ways to meet customer requirements, configuration life cycle management (CLM) systems are the logical next step. CLM elevates data from ERP, PLM, and CRM silos so the entire business can view product configurations and collaborate on them across systems in real time, using only 100-percent trustworthy data.

Configuration life cycle management involves effectively managing and controlling the entire life span of a configuration item for a product, from its initial planning and design to its deployment, maintenance, and eventual retirement or disposal. It involves ensuring that configurations are properly created, monitored, updated, and retired throughout their life cycle.

But how do you begin this journey? You need to create a road map for configuration, which involves several steps.

Establishing a common language

The first step is to evaluate the systems you have in place and determine which of them include data that are crucial for you to define your product. After that is finished, you can begin the main task, which starts with developing a common language—essentially, a feature base.

You need to establish this language to ensure that everyone speaks with the same voice across departments, that the same term means the same thing to all departments. Often, engineering uses terminology different from sales, for example. It’s critical to keep in mind that not every employee in your company is an engineer. Developing a common vocabulary for discussing your products that incorporates both the technical aspects and the consumer’s requirements is necessary to break down silos.

This process may sound deceptively simple, but it can be difficult. Consider this real-life example of an automotive manufacturer that had different codes for feature sets for its sales and manufacturing departments. Because each department’s codes were already firmly established, they tried to align or map the two code sets. So, “car mat” in the sales department was “floor covering” in the manufacturing department. But that became increasingly complex, because something as basic as a side mirror ended up having many variations: It could come with heating, it could be motorized, it could have a sticker that says, “Objects are closer than they appear.”

The code sets became extremely hard to map. A better plan is to determine which of the codes or terms is the predominant one and call it the winner. The other departments then adopt that code.

Determine which systems own which data

The next thing you need to do is figure out the driver of the company. Are you a market-driven, “outside-in” type of company, or are you an engineering, product-driven, “inside-out” type of company? This will determine what data flow in which direction and what will be the predominant system that gets to decide on some of these codes.

Look at the building blocks (i.e., existing systems) that you’re trying to put into this new, unified system: your sales, engineering, and manufacturing systems, and your smaller systems with their own data. Once you determine what blocks you have, get a good overview. However, this is where a lot of companies fall short, because typically they don’t even know what their building blocks are. If you look at a typical large manufacturing company, there aren’t merely three major systems—there are hundreds.

If you are an inside-out company, then you would probably start with the engineering system. And if you’re outside-in, you would probably start with your sales system and make that your authority for code. If any other system is an overlap of that, you would point to the sales system and make the case that this is your most predominant system for dictating the reality of how the company operates.

The next step is to gather all the data: configuration, sales, and any other relevant departments. That means you must define how data flow and in which sequence. So, there’s a lot about the change management processes in the different departments that decide what and which sequence.

You also need to ensure that everyone consumes the data from a centralized place. This means that instead of letting people build their own data and consume only their own data, you should let them build their own data but contribute them to a common data pool, and then consume those data from the common pool.

The road to success

To provide new products at scale, your business must respond with agility to shifting market demands. By sharing marketing and engineering data, CLM enables businesses to incorporate customer feedback and other market factors into new product ideas more quickly. This leads to better, more timely products and a competitive advantage.

But CLM is only as good as the data it’s given. Creating a road map for configuration requires some upfront work, but the results will be worth the effort. Use the guidelines discussed above to remove silos, define a common language, and get the data flowing.


About The Author

Anders Rasmussen’s picture

Anders Rasmussen

Anders Rasmussen is a senior principal software developer with Configit, an advanced configuration solution for guided selling, engineering configuration, and for manufacturers of complex products.