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In the past few years, there has been a lot of discussion about the current state and the future of SAP PLM. Since we often have these conversations in individual discussions with customers, I wanted to take the opportunity to make my point of view and thoughts generally available here in a blog.

History and basic principle of SAP PLM

To get started, let's begin with the history 📖 of SAP PLM in general.

With SAP PLM, SAP has pursued the basic idea of creating added value for its customers and their business processes by making SAP PLM an integral part of SAP ERP.

The advantages are obvious:

  • Seamless integration: The seamless integration of ERP and PLM enables collaboration between all departments of a company including product development.

  • Consistent data: Product information is consistently available and always up-to-date, the so called "single source of truth".

  • Better transparency: Transparency of the complete product lifecycle, the status of important objects is consistently visible, all data and processes are interconnected.

  • Efficient processes: Processes can be streamlined and automated. Product changes from development can be seamlessly transferred to procurement, manufacturing, and service.

  • Time and cost savings: The integration of PLM in ERP significantly reduces the time required for data maintenance and synchronization.

These basic principles have been expanded over the years and are the basis of SAP PLM in a tighter sense, both in SAP S/4HANA and SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Private Edition. The SAP PLM portfolio has been extended by capabilities such as the Change Record (CR) and entire solution suites such as SAP 3D Visual Enterprise (SAP 3D VE), SAP Engineering Control Center (SAP ECTR), and SAP Product and Process Governance (SAP PPG) to name just a few.

Many customers use these capabilities and solutions to map the complete and complex product lifecycle of their products in a seamless and highly integrated way.

Cloud and hybrid approaches

SAP recognized very early that the capabilities of future PLM approaches would have to be expanded and supplemented the PLM portfolio with cloud and resulting hybrid solution approaches.

In such hybrid scenarios, state-of-the-art cloud technologies integrate seamlessly with existing systems. For this reason, SAP also relies on cloud solutions in the SAP PLM environment, which complement and, in perspective, also replace the capabilities in the SAP PLM environment. SAP's solution in this domain is called SAP Enterprise Product Development (SAP EPD).

Hybrid approaches

Let's start with the complementary capabilities, from a SAP PLM perspective. The following are certainly some of the capabilities that complement SAP PLM with SAP EPD capabilities (the list is not claiming to be complete):

  • Product Innovation Management: Initiation of campaigns to collect ideas but also the evaluation of ideas and the initiation of productization are enabled with this capability.

  • Engineering: This enables Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) and supports the complete V-Model. Among other things, this also includes a solution that enables requirements management.

  • Collaboration: Here, PLM master data can be exchanged with external parties or used for collaboration. Workflows for controlling processes as well as integrations into procurement (SAP Ariba) round off the solution.

  • Configuration Management: Effectively creation, manage, and usage of baselines. Baselines are synchronized with SAP S/4HANA.

These cloud capabilities can be used to complement the classic SAP PLM. We then speak of hybrid solutions in which the processes and data are processed across system boundaries.

SAP represents this, as follows:

SAP PLM Portfolio for Discrete and Process Industries (SAP PLM and SAP EPD)

A good example of this hybrid approach is the integration of SAP EPD Collaboration in SAP Engineering Control Center (SAP ECTR). Here, data from SAP PLM as well as data from SAP EPD Collaboration is displayed and processed. Integrated into one user interface (SAP ECTR), it enables seamless and effective working with data and processes from both solutions.

SAP ECTR with SAP EPD Collaboration (Collaboration Window)


In SAP EPD there are also other capabilities (in addition to those already mentioned above) that create the basis for end-to-end PLM processes and enable a complete PLM Suite in the cloud.

Through the Product Innovation Management process and Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), the components and their structures are created, which are validated on the other side of the V-model.

These components and structures are created via a new capability in SAP EPD, the Enterprise Product Structure. This is a very central component on the basis of which further processes and capabilities exist. Among other things, there is the possibility of Configuation Management on this structure and the possibility of transferring to other structures via the so-called Intelligent Handover capability. The concept also supports the use of major and minor versions. It is also extremely important here that the structures can be synchronized with the Bill of Materials (BOM) in SAP S/4HANA. Currently, work is also in progress on a new capability called Product Data Integration, which makes it possible to seamlessly integrate authoring systems (mechanical, electrical, external PDM, external ALM, ...) and their data and information into the central Enterprise Product Structur.

The SAP EPD capabilities described here enable a complete PLM approach that is independent from the connected SAP S/4HANA. This is possible because SAP EPD is implemented on the SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) as a native and scalable ready-to-run cloud PLM Suite. More information about all SAP EPD features can be found in the SAP Community for SAP EPD.

The scope of SAP EPD and the associated main business process is described by SAP as follows:

PLM Processes with SAP Enterprise Product Development

Summary and personal assessment

In summary, the future of SAP PLM in a larger sense is very diverse and promising. Our customers have the choice of which approaches they want to use in the short, mid and long term by having a variety of options available to them. The options that are available can be summarized in the following way.

  • Option 1: Use of SAP PLM in SAP S/4HANA or SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Private Edition.

  • Option 2: Use of SAP PLM in SAP S/4HANA or SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Private Edition and complement it with SAP EPD capabilities.

  • Option 3: Use of SAP EPD as central cloud PLM on SAP BTP, integrate downstream processes to SAP S/4HANA, SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Private Edition or SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Public Edition or other cloud solutions from SAP, such as SAP Digital Manufacturing.

It is becoming clear that many customers are moving or want to move towards SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Private Edition or SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Public Edition as the basis for their main ERP business processes in the future. For customers who want to rely on SAP S/4HANA, there is still the established SAP PLM. It can also be seen that Option 2 with the hybrid solution approaches is a way to gradually extend PLM on the basis of new, efficient cloud capabilities. With option 3, all customers using SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Public Edition in the future will have the opportunity to use PLM processes completely in the cloud and participate in the benefits of cloud solutions.

From my perspective, there are currently two trends that are shaping - in general - the evolution of PLM.

  1. Expansion of the digital thread outside the own enterprise. Here, the approaches with cloud PLM in particular will help to realize topics such as Digital Product Passport and Asset Administration Shell.

  2. ERP-near PLM processes will become increasingly important and promote the basic idea of a highly integrated PLM. The MBOM (MRP-capable BOM) is particularly important here, as is important information from downstream processes, such as inventory information and prices.

The future of SAP PLM keeps all options open and tries to follow the general options from the different SAP S/4HANA Editions. The bottom line for our customers: No matter which SAP S/4HANA edition you choose for your ERP processes, there is always a suitable SAP PLM option that meets the basic virtues of SAP PLM, a highly integrative PLM.

SAP PLM option that meets the basic virtues of SAP PLM, a highly integrative PLM.

I look forward with great confidence to the future of SAP PLM in a larger sense. The SAP guiding principle of a highly integrated PLM will become even more important and will grow with new requirements and technologies.

"Quod Esset Demonstrandum" to end also in latin 😉

Further Information

Check out the SAP Road Map Explorer for further planned functions and capabilities:

Please share your feedback and thoughts in a comment.If you are interested in more PLM relevant topics, I encourage you to read other blog posts here:

About the author

Dominik Maier is Senior Vice President Products & Development and Member of the Management Board at DSC Software AG, an SAP Platinum Partner for SAP PLM. Follow him on LinkedIn to get the latest news about SAP PLM and DSC Software AG Solutions.

You can also follow dominik.maier.dscsag on the SAP Community to stay up to date!
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