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Understanding Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM), Part 1: Episode 27

By April 25, 2024May 2nd, 2024No Comments

In Episode 27 of Razorleaf’s Stay Sharp podcast, hosts Jonathan Scott and Jen Ferello begin a discussion of all things configuration lifecycle management (CLM). They’re joined by CLM expert Anders Rasmussen, Senior Principal Software Developer at Configit, a company that specializes in software solutions for complex configurable products. In Configuring Success: Unpacking the Essentials of Configuration Lifecycle Management, Part 1, Jonathan, Jen, and Anders discuss what CLM is and isn’t, what you need to know to understand it, and why it’s become so important to manufacturers.

CLM Basics

Anders, whose career has focused on software that handles product configuration challenges, starts with the idea that CLM must be a company-wide endeavor. While many people think that mass-customization or configuration is primarily about how products are sold, Anders says, “configuration is actually a much, much broader picture. Getting to mass customization involves not just the sales department … it involves all the disciplines.”


The trio expands on that idea further, defining “configuration” as bigger than just a configured or customized physical product. Jonathan’s analogy of product customization as akin to customizing a meal at a restaurant helps explain how all teams in an organization—whether it’s the kitchen and server or engineering, production, and sales—need to know “what they can offer, how they can do it, what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at. Configuration is about how you do that well,” he says. Or as Anders puts it, “The product is the whole process.”

As such, “configuration” in CLM isn’t about engineering configuration or version management. For CLM, configuration means everything about the product—the requirements, the functions and features the customer wants, and even information about how the product is manufactured. That leads to CLM, because a collection of information about how a product can be configured or customized to a customer’s needs has to reside somewhere. In addition, using a CLM system for that storage means all of that information can to be tracked across the product’s lifecycle.

Anders explains CLM further, “[It’s] about the lifecycle that goes all the way through when you start designing the product, when you sell the product—that’s when your specification of what it can do turns into an instance. In that instance, the configuration or what requirements we’re actually satisfying for the customer or the description of the product they buy, lives on as it goes down the manufacturing line on the shop floor, and when it’s serviced later.”

CLM Versus PLM

One common question from companies is if CLM software is trying to replace PLM systems, and Jonathan poses the question to Anders. “The answer is absolutely no,” Anders replies. “CLM is an addition on top of your PLM system.” He goes on to explain that what PLM is good at is tracking design and engineering aspects of your product development and manufacturing process, but feedback from customers is that getting data out of a PLM system and aligning it with the rest of the organization can be a challenge. And that’s where CLM comes in.

“PLM is an absolutely essential tool for the engineering space,” Anders reiterates. “CLM is one source of truth—the technical source of the design source of truth. But you can go other places in the organization and find similar knowledge that has a completely different view. CLM is about connecting all those systems that each holds a product definition, just from different points of view in a product lifecycle.” It’s the alignment of all of an organization’s knowledge into one place.

The CLM Vision

Anders also shares the ideal end state that CLM can help manufacturers achieve—which is already a reality in some automotive companies. When everything is aligned, all of a manufacturer’s capabilities can be offered at the point of sale. The customer can select the available features they want, and then the automated process can take over, with an order or sales features expanding into technical and manufacturing features. Anders continues, “You can create your bill of materials, you can automatically find out what your prices should be, and everything rolls down to the production line. That’s the vision—it’s not fantasy.”

Learn More About CLM

The full Stay Sharp Episode 27, Configuring Success: Unpacking the Essentials of Configuration Lifecycle Management, Part 1 podcast offers more details on the appropriate terminology for understanding CLM, getting different departments on the same page for CLM, the differences between engineer-to-order (ETO) and configure-to-order (CTO), and how companies could automate their entire configuration process.

In addition, the conversation continues in Stay Sharp Episode 29, Configuring Success: Unpacking the Essentials of Configuration Lifecycle Management, Part 2, where the trio dig further into how CLM and PLM work together and the integrative tissue that binds them.

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