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Product Change Management Research

Paper presented at SDM'2016 the International Conference on Sustainable
Design and Manufacturing (4 to 6 April 2016 Chania, Crete, Greece)

Product Change Management and Future Information
Architectures
Ashley Morris, Rossi Setchi and Paul Prickett
School of Engineering, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF24 3AA, UK
ajsmorris@outlook.com, setchi@cf.ac.uk, prickett@cf.ac.uk
Abstract
Implementing and managing the consequences of design change in the context of complex
products is challenging. Design changes generate significant volumes of information and product
management is becoming increasingly information intensive. It is now critically important that
information and communication technology solutions are engineered to support through life
product design management processes and the management models used to guide decision
making. The purpose of this paper is to describe the prominent challenges of providing through
life product management and the nature of information architectures needed to enable efficiency
improvements. Actions that need to be taken to make progress are proposed.
Keywords: product, change, management, industry lifecycle, paradigm, enterprise, information,
integration, interoperability, supply chain

1.

Introduction

1.1.

Through Life Product Management

To remain competitive organisations are under continuous pressure to support greater
levels of product variation with increasing agility. Consequently the designs of complex
products continually evolve. Changes occur at the time of manufacture and within their
operating lives, during which they are typically managed in multi-stakeholder
environments where many activities have been outsourced. The performance and safe
operation of complex products are priority design considerations and invariably a high
degree of regulatory compliance is required. To ensure that design integrity is
maintained there is a need for many stakeholders to coherently reference information
relating to design changes.
These issues illustrate that the efficient management of through life support is
information intensive and critical to achieving competitiveness improvements. As the
result of a growing recognition of the vulnerability of our planet, the need for greater
competitiveness must be considered from a more circumspect perspective that places
a pure focus on industrial performance in the context of environmental and social needs
[1]. To reduce process times, together with labour and material costs, increasingly
requires investment in information technology. Unfortunately, current information
architectures are based on a “point solution” approach where applications are
implemented to support specific functional areas of a business such as design,
maintenance, manufacturing and operations. One example of the impact of the current
situation is that people spend significant amounts of time searching for the information
they need for their work, which can include product design, finance, manufacturing,
inventory management, operation and maintenance. The time spent searching for
information could be reduced if product information were able to flow more easily across
organisations and made more accessible to all who needed it.

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1.2.

Information Technology Challenges

The volume of data generated is growing as a function of the increasing levels of product
variation and the use of embedded software. At the same time the Information
Revolution and related phenomena such as the Internet of Things, Industrie 4.0 and the
rapid growth of information volumes often referred to as the concept of “Big Data” are
enabling enormous changes in the way industries operate. Greater network connectivity
enables easier delivery of software up-dates, product monitoring and performance “selfreporting”.
One of the barriers to progress is that the software applications used to support each of
the enterprise functional areas (design, manufacturing, operation, maintenance and so
on) use slightly different terminology (taxonomy) and database structure (ontology). As
a consequence, the rich fully featured enterprise information flows that are required to
make efficiency improvements remain out of reach. Furthermore, the lack of close
semantic alignment between different software products makes it difficult to reduce the
time and costs of implementing enterprise software systems.
These issues collectively represent a significant and complex, pan industry level, information management challenge. This paper will explore some aspects of this topic
with a view to presenting some ideas on the product information architectures likely to
be required to make improvements to through life product management.
2.

Motivation for Research

2.1.

Industry Life Cycles

Innovation generates ideas and knowledge that stimulates the creation of new products
and as a result new markets emerge. The importance of maintaining a clear
understanding about the role that products play in industry life cycles is illustrated by the
fact that some believe there is a direct “mirror” relationship between the structure of
economies and the products produced [2]. Existing markets respond to innovation by
developing more efficient ways to operate. Markets that are unable to change fail and
die. The four stages in a market’s life are birth, growth, maturity and eventually decline
[3]. The process of change is invariably complex, challenging and often requires some
kind of intervention to overcome barriers to the guiding force of Adam Smith’s “invisible
hand”. Such intervention may require the development of new legislation, regulations
or standards.
It has been suggested that companies have increasingly outsourced between 70% and
80% of their manufacturing capability [4] and have sought to shift the focus of their
operations to meet the demands of aftermarket through life services. At the same time
product operators have sought to outsource maintenance and support activities.
The challenge of delivering through life product management is thus exacerbated by the
fact that the product change process spans many organisations in the supply chain. The
process of maintaining and monitoring design integrity requires the collaboration of a
number of stakeholders that include those bodies responsible for ensuring regulatory
compliance. The design management and change control methods used in the past,
are unsuited to the complexities of today and product change management practices
therefore need to evolve [5,6,7]. To make improvements there is a need to more closely
align through life design management processes, information technology and the
management models used to guide decision making.

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2.2.

Management Models

In the context of industry life cycles it is useful to consider the impact of innovation and
product change from the perspective of corporate life spans. The average life
expectancy of a large organisation of Fortune 500 or equivalent size seems to range
between 30 and 50 years. Analysis of the factors that limit organisational life indicate
there is an inability or unwillingness of the leaders and managers to adapt the way they
think about their companies in relation to markets and competitor challenges. As a
consequence many organisations eventually realise that they are no longer operating in
the market that they thought they were. The management decision-making models that
evolved to support successful operations, are often difficult to adapt to industry changes
and so businesses decline [8,9]. This issue is often considered in the context of
organisational development or learning. The concept of a management decisionmaking model essentially describes an integrated set of ideas and practices that shape
the way people view and interact with the world. This collection of ideas represents a
mental model. When a group of people adopt a common “mental model” it might appear
as an organisational culture or management “paradigm” [10,11].
Two prominent management paradigms currently used to consider the flow of products
and product related information and services are “Product Lifecycle Management”
(PLM) and “Supply Chain Management” (SCM). PLM describes a product management
approach that would address the issue of managing processes that span many
organisations, yet its benefits have not been realised. This could be due to a lack of
clarity that arises because “PLM” also describes a category of software application that
is used to manage product design information [12]. SCM is another model that supports
improved product flow through supply chains. It emerged in the 1980s - coincidental
with the emergence of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) technology [13]. SCM is a
model that describes a need for closer integration of processes that span product design, manufacture, operation and maintenance. Despite widespread recognition of the
benefits to be achieved little progress has been made over the last two to three decades.
This could be due to a lack of agreement of what the SCM concept stands for [14, 15].
2.3.

Product Management

The safety and performance of high-value, long-life products are often priority design
considerations and so regulatory involvement in the design process is required. Since
the knowledge and organisational capabilities required to design and manufacture
complex products cannot be replicated easily, product operators and maintainers often
rely on the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for through life product support. As
a consequence the design change process spans multiple organisations and to ensure
that design integrity is sustained there is an enduring need for manufacturers, operators
and maintainers to collaborate. This arrangement has been complicated by the growth
of the service economy and the trend to outsource the provision of maintenance and
manufacturing capabilities [4]. Thus while the ultimate responsibility for the safe design
and operation of complex products rests with operators and OEMs there is a significant
increase in reliance on suppliers to support the management and incorporation of design
changes.
These issues are compounded by the fact that the designs of complex products are all
different. When products are managed as fleets, the slight design variation between
each of the products that is evident shortly after manufacture gradually increases due to
the cumulative impact of through life design change. As a consequence the designs of

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the products in a fleet can be seen to diverge as the fleet ages [16]. Additional product
management challenges that should be considered include: the increases to product
variation that arise from the need to design products that are more precisely matched to
customer requirements; the increasing use of embedded software; the need to improve
the auditability of parts’ manufacturing and maintenance histories; and, to support
greater sustainability, the growing responsibility being placed on manufacturers to
manage the product end-of-life reuse, disposal and recycling. These factors are
creating a significant increase in the volume and importance of information and
knowledge.
2.4.

Information Technology

Significant volumes of information are generated during product development which is
then embedded within catalogues, bills of materials, inventory, assembly, test, operation
and maintenance instructions. Whenever a design is modified, there is a need to
communicate relevant information to customers and suppliers.
An additional
complication is that the modification process creates numerous versions of the same
product. While OEMs typically have a structured approach to managing the internal
product design change process, many experience real challenges when coordinating
and communicating change information to support their businesses and customers. This
process is supported by a variety of software applications that are implemented to
support the prominent process areas, or focus points. To improve through life product
management, there is a need to improve the way information systems support the
product change process. Improved software application interoperability is an important
priority [17]. This will require a departure from the current “point solution” architecture
approach where applications are implemented to support specific functional areas of a
business such as design, maintenance, manufacturing and operations. The current
approach requires users to enter product information directly into individual systems,
with little control as to the quality of that information [14,18].
These issues would be resolved if product information could flow more easily across
organisations and be accessed by all who needed it. Unfortunately, one of the barriers
to progress is that the software applications used to support each of the enterprise
functional areas (design, manufacturing, operation, maintenance and so on) use slightly
different terminology (taxonomy) and database structures (ontology).
As a
consequence, the rich fully featured enterprise information flows that are required to
make efficiency improvements remain out of reach. To overcome the lack of close
semantic alignment between different software products requires data mapping and
integration activity that increases the time and costs of implementing enterprise software
systems.
3.

Investigative Approach

To investigate how the closer alignment between through life design management
processes, information technology and management models might be achieved, a
research approach was adopted that is illustrated in Figure 1. This considers the issue

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of managing product change in the context of thought systems, industry lifecycle,
information technology and market forces.

Figure 1. Research Approach

The investigative approach used to support this research has sought to focus on the
"product change" or modification process which requires product information to be
communicated between supply chain participants - or even shared. The aim has been
to develop an improved understanding of the rates of through life design change and
generate the knowledge required to enable efficiency improvements from improved
information flows and reduced support costs. The following progress has been made:

Completion of an initial investigation to frame the research;

Survey analysis of industry challenges;

Discussion with industry specialists that considered industry challenges by setting
them in the context of rates of through life product change;

Development of a mathematical model to validate observations of industry
specialists;

Development of ten requirements or “principles” to articulate features of a new
approach that might help to support improvement.

4.

Future State

4.1.

Vision

Rapid changes enabled by innovative information technology are driving a revolution in
the way industries operate and markets behave. While the markets for complex
products, such as aircraft, trains and industrial plant will remain, the way they operate
and transact will inevitably be transformed. Competitive forces will require organisations
to make substantial adaptations. As the result of a growing recognition of the
vulnerability of our planet, the need for greater competitiveness must be considered from
a more circumspect perspective that places a pure focus on industrial performance in
the context of environmental and social needs. Product information is already a critical

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resource and this will not change. In future, the ability of engineers, executives,
business managers and accountants to work effectively across in the domains of product
design, manufacturing, operation and maintenance will be defined by the speed with
which they will be able to access and make decisions. One might argue that this is
already the case but in the future the reliance on information technology to intuitively
collect data and present accurate information (knowledge) in a meaningful way will be
complete.
There is much discussion of headline topics such as “cloud computing”, “Big Data”, the
Internet of Things and social networking, but the attainment of real progress in the field
of managing complex products will rest on establishing ways to manage information and
knowledge so that it can be more rapidly deployed to those who need it. Information
systems will need to be seamlessly integrated so that they are able to closely support
business processes in a responsive way that can adapt to business demands and
innovation in product designs. The US Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition [19]
(SMLC 2011) a US Department of Energy initiative, set-out to establish a roadmap to
identify the priorities for modernizing 20th Century factories, with 21st Century
technology and working practices. A prominent feature of this work was the need for a
standard industry data model. Further evidence of the need for progress in the
development of enhanced information management strategies which this research is
investigating is provided by a report from the US Department of Trade which identified
that as tariff barriers to trade have fallen, the need to remove standards-related
obstacles to the flow of products and product related information has emerged as a key
concern. This is an area of particular importance for complex and increasingly global
supply chains [20]. However, making progress in this area will require close
collaboration between product manufacturers, operators, maintainers and information
technology software (ERP and PLM) suppliers.
4.2.

Future Product Management

Through life product management particularly in the context of change, is a complicated
process that requires the coordination of many activities spanning design, manufacture,
operation, maintenance support and disposal. These activities constitute a set of logical
processes that reflect the nature of the product management operation. They are highly
dependent on accurate information and can have a significant impact on an
organisation’s cost base. It is clear that there is a need to promote discussion of the
issues that need to be addressed to gain closer alignment between through life design
management processes, information technology and the management models used to
guide decision making. The authors have previously proposed “Ten Principles” to
promote this discussion [21].
The pattern of current activity attempting to make progress is fragmented. There are
too many stakeholders seeking to address industry issues in isolation. Furthermore,
where leaders have the ability to drive progress, extended lines of communication with
other collaborators dilute the impact of initiatives. A fresh attempt is required in which
key industry players that have significant market gravitas, collaborate with the major
software application vendors to generate the critical mass required for action.

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4.3.

Future Information Architectures

The industry survey undertaken by this research identified that inaccurate product
information was the greatest concern, followed by the management of the product
change process, the flow of information between systems and searching for information
[22]. These issues are clearly related. If information systems were more closely
integrated, the product change process would be better supported, product information
flow would be improved and accuracy increased. The closer integration of systems to
develop a “system of systems” would also enable easier search. This requires an
information architecture that utilises some kind of standard industry data model or
common information structure (taxonomy/ontology). Such an architecture would allow
the closer integration of information systems and enable information and knowledge to
be more rapidly deployed to those who need it. The achievement of this objective will
be a critical milestone in achieving the closer alignment between information technology,
through life product design management processes and the management models used
to guide decision making. Figure 2 illustrates in concept an information architecture that
utilises a common information model.

Figure 2. Future information architecture that utilises a common information model

To make progress there is a need to develop an improved understanding of the barriers
to progress. This includes the assessment of the impact made by the effect of
inaccurate information and the benefits of improvement.
To facilitate such
developments industries must consider the role of information in their business model.
Research is required to better understand how organisations might offer through life
product management in collaboration with other organisations using a shared or pooled
information environment.
5.

Conclusion

Design change generates significant volumes of information and so product
management is becomingly increasingly information intensive. It is now more important
than ever for information technology to be closely aligned to product through life
management processes and the thought models used to guide decision making. This
paper has set-out to articulate the challenges to improving through life product

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management by considering: the role of innovation in driving industry lifecycles; the
relationship that management models and organisational learning have to corporate
agility; key trends in product management; and, finally the constraints of current
information architectures. These factors shaped the research approach taken.
Rapid changes enabled by innovative information technology are driving a revolution in
the way industries operate and markets behave. As the result of a growing recognition
of the vulnerability of our planet, the need for greater competitiveness must be
considered from a more circumspect perspective that places a pure focus on industrial
performance in the context of environmental and social needs. While the markets for
complex products will remain, the way they operate and transact will inevitably be
transformed. The ability of engineers, executives, business managers and accountants
to work effectively across the domains of product design, manufacturing, operation and
maintenance will be defined by the speed with which they will be able to access and
make decisions. Improvements in this area will require a new type of information
technology that utilises a common information model. The development of such a
technology will be a critical milestone in achieving the closer alignment between through
life product design management processes and the management models used to guide
decision making. To facilitate further consideration of the issues a Linkedin discussion
forum “Product Change Management Research” has been created. Interested parties
are invited to join and support the discussions.

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