New IBM unit to focus on data integration

A new IBM business unit will offer services to manufacturers that should help improve operational efficiencies and quality by letting them gather better information about the products they make, company officials said.

The IBM Product Lifecyle Management (PLM) unit will partner with Dassault Systemes SA in Suresnes, France, i2 Technologies in Dallas and San Mateo, California-based Siebel Systems. PLM will help companies tightly link applications for functions such as manufacturing, procurement and customer relationship management.

IBM's efforts are similar to those of vendors such as SAP AG and Massachusetts-based Parametric Technology, which are extending product data management capabilities to the web, said Ed Miller, president of CIMdata, a consultancy in Michigan.

"Some of these companies are both rivals and collaborators," said Miller.

A core part of PLM will be Dassault's web-based Enovia Portfolio 2. IBM will use the technology to enable manufacturers to deploy internet portals that allow the propagation and sharing of product data and development information among internal departments, external suppliers and customers.

Such integration will let manufacturers track and update products from concept and design through manufacturing and use by the customer, said Steve Hassell, CIO at Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), a $US1.9 billion maker of aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines in Virginia.

NNS is already using IBM's products and services in building a shared data environment that combines manufacturing and parts catalogue data with financial, procurement and business information systems.

Previously, it was possible to manually pull information together from disparate systems, such as inventory, product availability and parts performance, "but you never got a snapshot of the whole", Hassell said.

An integrated view of product data allows for "improved productivity, efficiency, quality, internal resource control and overall customer satisfaction", said Allen Lee, president of Acma Computer, a Californian manufacturer of PCs.

The company has already linked its sales order management and Californian-based PeopleSoft's enterprise resource planning software. Tying into that is web-based supply-chain software from San Jose-based Datasweep.

But pulling off integration on such a large scale poses business process challenges, warned Hassell. The most difficult of those is the "cultural aspect" of getting different units to rethink business processes and work together in a shared environment, he said.

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