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Key Takeaways from the CIMdata PLM Roadmap and PDT 2020 Conference

By Lionel Grealou

This is one of the conferences which can hardly be missed as it provides valuable agnostic insight about enterprise PLM use cases and everything digitally related (including, albeit not limited to, the current hype on Digital Thread and Digital Twins). This year’s CIMdata PLM Roadmap and PDT 2020 conference was run virtually due to the COVID pandemic. It focused on the all-encompassing theme of “Digital Thread—the PLM Professionals’ Path to Delivering Innovation, Efficiency, and Quality”.
In this post, I elaborate on product lifecycle integration and digitalization trends per the key takeaways from the CIMdata PLM Roadmap and PDT 2020 conference.


This year’s CIMdata and Eurostep jointly hosted conference was about digitalization—see the 2020 agenda here; which is pretty much a continuation of the 2019 agenda; see here a CIMdata commentary highlighting the key takeaways from last year’s conference, which can be summarized as follows:

  • Digital Transformation is accelerating in product development companies.
  • Model-based definition and systems engineering are being actively pursued.
  • The PLM industry is growing in both depth and breadth.


Speaking about the Digital Thread and the Digital Twin is not new; every consulting organization is now adopting this new language as digitalization is getting mainstream, hence more and more popular with business executives. These days, digitalization is a little bit like “comfort food”: it has the potential of fixing many things, reassuring many that more can be done with technology to mitigate business risk, but the real challenge remains in aligning people and organization with new data paradigms. Technology was a key differentiator in the past (most likely still is), however data intelligence is now the prominent value stream.

Digital solutions enable and help drive complex business models, integrating data structures to enhance business intelligence; digitalization also contributed to democratizing the PLM discipline with non-PLM professionals and business leaders (and as it is perhaps easier to talk about technology than PLM). Among other things, this was recently highlighted in a survey and white-paper jointly presented by Xlifecycle Ltd and the PLM Interest Group (PLMIG) (more here about results from an industry survey run in June 2020).

My take on this year’s CIMdata PLM Roadmap and PDT conference was the increasing use of digitalization language to describe generic concepts of integration, virtual representations and simulations; this was thankfully put aside when discussing insightful and pragmatic return-on-experience from OEMs such as: Airbus, Gulfstream Aerospace, Fraunhofer IPT, BAE Systems, Pratt & Whitney Canada, The Boeing Company and Saab Aeronautics (in order of appearance per the agenda)—a strong representation from the Aerospace and Defence industries in this conference, hence perhaps the influencing themes of the conference?


Key takeaways from the collective knowledge discussed and presented during the conference:

  1. Solutions for digital operations present both opportunities and threats when it comes to integrating enterprise platforms—a very broad statement which links to the scope of digitalization; hence the need to dive into the details to make sense of it.
  2. Opportunities include a refocus on out-of-the-box PLM platform adoption, becoming a reality with reduced requirements for complex customizations; though organizational change need to be explored further to maximize value from the wider PLM scope (a subject often underestimated, hence a possible source of confusion when it comes to tracking business value realization).
  3. Complexity appears to be shifting from enterprise digital platforms to enterprise architecture and integration layers; hence the need to mitigate possible threats with robust data governance to avoid getting “lost in integration” or, as Gartner put it, creating an “integration mess”.
  4. New integration paradigms present opportunities to maintain robust and meaningful representations of the real, leveraging the need for data continuity across business functions to ensure virtual and physical representations continue to converge (not just at the time of creation, but maintained throughout the product lifecycle); it is also essential to make it real when it comes to implementation and adoption.
  5. Interesting progress has been reported on technical platform evaluation with a number of fundamental use cases related to supply chain collaboration, EBOM-MBOM traceability and change management, covering a number of functional domains from requirements management to integrated model-based system engineering (MBSE). These comparative studies derived series of platform improvement recommendations across the MBSE scope for mainstream PLM platform vendors to include in their product enhancement roadmap—will PLM editors acknowledge, openly follow-up and implement these recommendations? Are these recommendations detailed enough to take into considerations cross-industry requirements, beyond the aerospace and defence sector?
  6. Per previous CIMdata and PDT conferences, PLM and MBSE standards were discussed at length, especially in context of data structures and formats. Also, considering how data models ought to interconnect across enterprise platforms; a number of ISO and other standards were highlighted during the conference, providing interesting insights about how to manage Digital Twins in the context of manufacturing operations and robotics. While standards are certainly useful to avoid re-inventing the wheel and aligning to minimum compliance requirements, they can sometimes be a hindrance to innovation and “out-of-the-PLM-box” thinking.
  7. Scoping integration requirements and planning the next Digital Thread implementation roadmap was discussed by a panel of analysts. During this session, it was re-iterated that the actual integration scope and priorities are contextual, hence there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to digitalization scope and business improvement prioritization; read more about the debate (which was more of a politically friendly chat) by reading this article featured on


Despite the great agenda, not having the opportunity to discuss face-to-face directly with industry experts, not even by chat, was a clear limitation with this year’s conference—hopefully things will return to ‘normal’ next time.


Suggested agenda for the 2021 edition of the conference:

  1. Digitalization standards for product development and operations are clearly a hot topic, sometimes over many years; they are certainly a mean to an end. However, are we able to illustrate how they actually contribute to improving products using practical examples in the product development phase? I would like to hear more about what worked and what did not work so well, reviewing evidence on how standards have contributed to better business operations and adoption, and in turn to improve product quality or time to market. Additionally, do they contribute to reduce platform customization, or even enable de-customization? What evidence do we have from vendors about how they integrate such standards in their digital platforms and how it directly translates into value outcomes for end-users? Are standards representing a label of ‘good practice’ or operational excellence? It is worth noting that often, innovation comes first, standards come second.
  2. If the Digital Thread is getting so popular, let’s deep dive on integration use cases, and how they link to ‘traditional’ PLM disciplines across systems? I would also be keen to hear more about PLM-ERP-MES integration use cases, associated implementation challenges, benchmarks and industry best practice.
  3. On the topic of integration and data continuity, it would be interesting to discuss return-on-experience and lessons learned from OEMs in implementing their transformation roadmaps. How do they decide on their contextual MVP and avoid “boiling the ocean”—as it was mentioned a couple of times by speakers from both CIMdata and Gartner; elaborating on do’s and don’ts at a pragmatic rather than evangelistic level.
  4. In addition, how to put the Digital Thread maturity in context of a given industry, not limiting the discussion to one sector, but expanding or contrasting with other industries? Which industries are doing better than others (how differently from others), and what can be learned from one organization or industry to another?
  5. Beyond data continuity and the Digital Thread, refocusing on PLM-professionals would be interesting (including PLM users and other stakeholders, making digitalization and integration decisions): closing the loop on IT systems and digitalization concepts… We certainly need more discussions about people, skills, learning, operational enablement, data quality to achieve homologation and certification, culture change driven through process improvements and organizational alignment.

More feedback on the 2020 conference can be found on

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Dec. 18 2020 Dec. 18 2020
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Lionel Grealou
Strategic Advisor at Processia



About the author
Lionel Grealou
Strategic Advisor at Processia

Lionel Grealou is a global PLM Thought Leader, and Strategic Advisor with Processia—focusing on business and digital transformation initiatives.  Leveraging 20+ years of industry experience in the US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Japan, and currently operating from the United Kingdom, Lio has been instrumental in architecting and growing global consulting services teams, leading strategy and practice development, operations, sales and marketing—delivering technology-enabled business change initiatives for engineering and manufacturing OEMs and their supply chains.

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