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Last Samurai, PLM migrations and battle in the fog

If you are looking for a beautifully choreographed, ideologically spiced, and historically inaccurate Hollywood movie, “The Last Samurai” should be your top choice.

The movie shows noble indigenous warriors from an ancient culture resisting an evil Westernized governing clique supported by colonialists’ arms and advisors. In reality, the Japan’s imperial court clashed with the old samurai caste mostly about privileges and budgets, not about modernizing their country and collaborating with the despicable farangs.

After being “opened” by Commodore Perry in 1854, and observing how European powers utterly humiliated China in the Opium Wars, Japan rushed to obtain the latest tech from everyone who would sell it, including the Americans. The Emperor embracing old ways and rejecting treacherous Western advances? Really? At most, Japan sometimes rejected a particular vendor for a particular project.

Which of course brings us to the topic of Product LifeCycle Management systems migrations. Imagine an OEM with an aging PLM system. This system is one of the pillars of the company’s success over the last couple of decades. However, sustainment problems accumulate: it becomes harder and harder to get both new features and support for old, while integrations and security present persistent and acute challenges.

The OEM attempts to choose a new PLM system. Regardless of the choice, major soul searching begins: how much of the old processes to replicate in the new system; and how much of the old customized apps to migrate and/or adapt to the new environment.

Just like Western powers in “The Last Samurai”, PLM vendors are no friends of yours. Each of them has a distinct vision and a distinct set of capabilities for their respective product. They are as interested in adapting to an individual customer’s needs as Western advisors in 1870s’ Japan were interested in wearing kimono. They always want customers to use as much “out of the box” functionality as possible, and to focus on configuration vs customization. This is a sensible approach, except that it often blunts the OEM’s uniqueness and market advantage.

For the OEM customer in question all this feels like The Last Samurai’s battle in the fog: a lot of scary objects are closing in, and one needs to quickly choose whether to shoot, fix bayonets, or run away.

The approach we propose to the OEM, regardless of their PLM system choice, is:

  • If you can, configure instead of customizing, indeed.
  • If customize you must, do not entangle your new customization business logic into the vendor’s system intestines. Build external services and integrate the PLM system with it via standard interfaces.
  • Use industry standards for data exchange between various components of the system.
  • Avoid becoming a PLM vendor yourself, do not increase your PLM customization code base unnecessarily.
  • Work diligently on eliminating technical debt, reducing your custom code base and use DevSecOps principles and techniques. Yes, it helps in PLM context too.

Looking from a PLM project perspective, the true hero of The Last Samurai is not Captain Nathan Algren, but Colonel Bagley. Being brought as a consultant, he worked in the customer’s best interest, he assisted in acquiring the equipment, he trained the team – apparently on budget and on time. He orchestrated the winning battle against an obsolete technology stack. On the opposite scale, a brilliant jerk Algren sabotaged the project by entangling himself into corporate politics, and then lost the battle and got fired (literally), along with all his new friends.

Eventually Japan went above and beyond of what Algren, Bagley and Western powers together were able to offer. It rose over the years, going tall and falling deep and then rising from the ashes. They took the best from the rest of the world and adapted it, while keeping their unique cultural attributes mostly intact.

Dear OEM: we at Senticore will always have your back in the fog of the PLM battle. We are familiar with major PLM systems, we understand their strengths and weaknesses, and can help you build your winning PLM solution that best suits the needs of your business. We know the drill, and we have a machine gun.