Firmly committed to the cloud-only option, Plex Systems has defied many opinions in the market that:
1. Cloud is only for small companies.
2. Manufacturing cannot be supported in the cloud.
No doubt there are challenges and we discuss them in other articles, but here, let’s take a look at what makes Plex the success it is.
Economic Game and Gains for Manufacturing
In spite of the negative aura about US manufacturing losses (in jobs), the US is still one of the largest manufacturing nations in the world. And the most productive. But manufacturing is growing globally, a product of global economic consumerism in the rising middle class in the BIRKs, as well as in emerging economies. Manufacturing is a highly competitive business. So the question is how to achieve the most agility and productivity. We all know the answer—Technology. Additionally, managing costs is an obsession in manufacturing—nothing new there. But what is new is the ability for manufacturing to have cloud solutions options for their ERP and manufacturing systems. Thus, our discussion today about Plex Systems.
Twenty Years of Manufacturing Expertise
Plex has been a long-term player as a solution provider. Manufacturing prowess can express itself in depth of capability in complex manufacturing processes, including product management/product lifecycle, production, engineering, supplier management, quality, and order management. What sustains this complexity for Plex is a truly robust and highly configurable data model.
Let’s take a look at an example, one element of the all-important master data for manufacturing—the part. Visualize a multi-dimensional approach to parts from product conceptualization through end-of-life as the part is designed, defined, renamed, priced, renumbered per customer, has new features added, and is graphically rendered in each of its revisions. Each attribute of the part as it goes through its life can be entered in the parts master database. These parts masters are configurable for each Plex customer. Customers can create their own glossary of field names, and determine data access by field, or determine the behavior of the display (data on screens and reports). But wait, there’s more: the universal attachment system that allows documents such as specs, sales orders, and compliance information to be attached.
Once you have the part, you can see all about parts—in operations, its supply sources, its current inventory status, who buys it, how much it is sold for, and the sales orders. Then you can track it—from source material (supplier, batch, and even the package or container it arrived in); and what ingredients were added (and their sources); through manufacturing transformation, to packaging, and shipping. The data granularity can be batch, lot, or serialized level data.
Having had a comprehensive and intense demo of the Plex system, I see that the heart of Plex’s success is the focus on this Master Data Management approach. Many systems have great reference systems—parts, customer, and so forth—but these are distinct from operations such as current inventories or orders. So those systems are not ultimately providing users a cohesive enterprise single version of the truth.
With this configurable Master Data Management approach, Plex can support both discrete as well as batch process manufacturing modes: engineer-to-order, build-to-stock/available-to-promise modes. They make a strong showing in verticals that have a high need for deep data management (i.e. lots of products and variants that are highly configurable, sold by a variety of channels) such as Automotive, Metal Formers, Aerospace, Food and Beverage, Electronics, and Industrial Equipment.
Firmly Committed to Cloud
Plex, at this point, stands alone as the manufacturing-centric ERP in cloud. SAP, NetSuite and others that have ERP have manufacturing, but Plex just seems to breathe manufacturing. Cloud does support today’s manufacturers by reducing operational costs and, most importantly, helping with global process management. Many firms struggle to implement consistent processes to achieve ‘build anywhere, ship any way’ capabilities that provide them surge capacity and agility. Having a cloud approach (i.e. central management) can help improve process integrity in the enterprise. Global operations that support global customers are more easily served with the cloud where you can see how the customer is cared for on a global basis—from sales to services.
So Plex, with its multi-tenant architecture, can support small to large enterprises (Figure 1) and can provide global visibility to all its customers. Ironically, this type of capability is often not present even in the largest global manufacturers, who are often stovepiped in their processes and systems investments.
Figure 1 - Plex Position in the Enterprise Market
One question that arises concerns the performance criteria needed for manufacturing environments and whether or not cloud truly can support them.1 Most environments do fine with local internet performance, but for some customers, Plex partners with Akamai for their internet platform accelerator technology (Dynamic Site Accelerator or Web Application Accelerator).
Recently, Plex has taken on some channel/implementation partners who can provide more extensive implementation and process support, so that more local needs can be addressed.
What Is the Future for Plex and Manufacturing in the Cloud?
Recently, Plex’s ownership changed hands from Apax Partners (read Who Owns the ERP Market?) to Francisco Partners, a growth equity firm that states its role is to help their companies at their inflection points—clearly an upward path for Plex. As more economies emerge as players on the global stage, they naturally will develop a stronger need for more robust manufacturing solutions. So the global outlook for Plex can only improve—and has improved—since their decision to go cloud. Will we see an IPO, too?