Salesforce platform and cloud PLM differentiators

August 28, 2015

cloud-plm-differentiator

Almost two years ago, I asked if Salesforce.com platform is ready for PLM. You can navigate to my old article to get up to speed my thoughts here. Some Youtube videos disappeared since then. The basic set of Saleforce.com platform functionality is mature and Salesforce is investing in additional development. Saleforce Lightning Design System I mentioned few days ago in the context of PLM toolkit post is another confirmation about that. Few ERP companies launched for the last few years on top of Saleforce platform and I’ve been following them. You can check – Kenandy, Rootstock and few more ERP on AppExchange.

It appears that I’m not alone with my conclusions about leveraging Salesforce as a platform for a new cloud PLM. The new website of Propel PLM software caught my attention yesterday. What I’ve learned from the website is that Propel PLM is based on Salesforce.com and it provides what you can imagine as a typical PLM functions – item, parts, bill of materials. The industry focus is spread between high-tech, manufacturing, life sciences, communication and automotive.

propel-plm-saleforce

According to website, Propel PLM contains three modules – Salesforce platform, Product Record and Process Lifecycle. Few additional facts I captured – it looks like capable to manage software lifecycle (in some sense). This is my hunch based on the notion of “software releases”. Also, Propel is capable to manage service data. Propel founders Ray Hein, Brian Sohmers and Ron Hess are coming with significant PLM and industry background with roots in Agile PLM, Oracle and Kenandy. It looks like they also have significant experience with Salesforce.

I didn’t find much information about the product, except of few screenshots. It looks like Propel is planning to bring more info closer to their launch at Dreamforce 2015 in few weeks. I will have an opportunity to speak to them and bring more information later.

The news about Propel PLM made me think about cloud PLM landscape. My earlier assessment of cloud PLM services and vendor differentiation led me to the conclusion that differentiation might be a tricky problem for cloud PLM vendors in the next few years. Each PLM vendor these days is offering some sort of cloud PLM solution. However, the devil is in details. Not each cloud is the same and business models can vary too.

What is my conclusion? Cloud PLM vendors will be searching how to differentiate themselves in the competitive market of cloud engineering and manufacturing solutions. Established vendors will search for a balance between existing platform technologies and advantages of cloud architectures. Newcomers will have more flexibility to innovate and build their own differentiation. Propel is coming first on top of Salesforce. Will Salesforce.com platform and technology will make a good deal for cloud PLM such as Propel to success? This is a good question to ask. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit Propel PLM

 

 


Why “collaborative change” can challenge PLM platforms?

August 27, 2015

collaboration-plm

The only permanent thing in life is change. The same is very true for engineering projects. We are changing things all the time. New products are introduced as a modifications of existing ones. Customers are demanding improvements. Mistakes can happen. There are many situations when change is required.

Teamcenter blog introduced an interesting classification of changes in the article – The Future of Change Management. One of the issues mentioned in this classification caught my special attention and it is related to concurrent or collaboration. Here is the passage explaining specific "collaborative change":

Since products can have many interdependencies, it is not always good to stay isolated. Engineers must be able to coordinate their changes. Change systems will support several types of collaboration. If changes are tightly coupled, they will have the ability to work on the same branch, always seeing the latest working versions of content in that branch.

In other cases, more ad-hoc collaboration is needed. An engineer is working on a change when the system identifies that some reference content (maybe a connected component) has an open change. The engineer will be able to pull the contents of that change into the current working context to ensure there are no conflicts.

There is also need to share working content among several changes. Engineers will be able ‘promote’ their working content into a sharable space, where other users may access all shared content. This can be used for virtual reviews, where the latest working content of the product or a system must be integrated.

Collaboration is such an interesting word. We apply it to some many situations and it comes in so many flavors. The technologies for collaboration developed intensively for the last few years and it was driven by multiple factors. One of them is the demand for more connected application behavior – our life is getting more connected. We are applying modern web and social network behavior in our business scenarios. At the same time engineering and manufacturing business is demanding better collaboration between silos – engineering, manufacturing and supply chain to improve product cost and quality.

It made me think about some potential challenges for PLM platform in supporting highly demanded collaborative scenarios. A traditional data management approach assumed data locking that prevented data from being changed by more than one users. It is an efficient technique, but it potentially can result in not very pleasant user experience or limitation on how people can address changes collaboratively. Many applications in such situations are ending up with brutal "synchronization" buttons or similar behaviors.

Another complexity aspect is related to notifications. We like to be notified about changes. Notification is a challenge for many PLM developers trying to make it user friendly. However, in a highly collaborative environment, notifications can become a nightmare of users. Who wants to get thousands of notifications every day?

What is my conclusion? Business environment is demanding higher level of collaboration and coordination. It can improve business workflows, product quality and lower product cost. At the same time, it can create new challenges to PLM platforms that historically designed to work in a transactional way and can be not ready to support new collaborative application nature. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Will PLM vendors rethink toolkit approach?

August 26, 2015

plm-toolkit

Business models and technologies can come together and create significant and painful problems. The last few years, created lot of changes and new dynamics in engineering and manufacturing domain. 3D printing, cloud software, mobile – this is only a short list of examples. Product lifecycle management software is facing few interesting challenges and opportunities related to new demands of customers for faster ROI and lean implementations. Navigate to read more about it here – New manufacturing business models will influence PLM software.

Despite all changes, PLM still has some sort of “uncomfortable” price for many customers. It leads to future innovation in this space. One of the examples in this space is related to a new business formula from Aras that includes software upgrades into Aras Innovator subscription. More about it here – Aras and search for new business models. Aras subscription model is leveraging Aras enterprise open source model.

Open source is probably doesn’t sound as loud these days as it was few years ago. At the same time, open source innovation is fueling many new solutions and business models. My attention was caught by Techcrunch article – Custom Analytics Company Keen IO Goes Open Source With Its Data Explorer. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

But the Data Explorer, which launched earlier this year, isn’t just for programmers. Instead, businesses can use it to explore and visualize their data through a friendlier interface. In Wild’s words, it lets you “point-and-click your way to analyze data.” By open-sourcing the tool, Wild said Keen IO is allowing customers to embed the interface into their own internal websites and apps, customize the interface and potentially improve it and contribute back. Wild noted that Keen IO already open-sourced its dashboard templates and he said the company plans to make more available in the future.

I found it interesting because it emphases the importance of solving core fundamental data management and collaboration problems using open source approach. In a broad sense, PLM software is the same “data management toolkit” wrapped with layers of applications, configurations and customers. Here is the thing – none of PLM vendors didn’t think about converting core platform into open source and allowing to customers to develop their applications. Aras is probably half-way exclusion.

At the same time, 10-15 years ago, PDM / PLM platforms were actually advanced data management toolkits used by large implementation services team to develop highly customizable PLM applications for aerospace and automotive industry.

What if one of the existing core PLM platforms will turn into open source toolkit? It will allow to community of developers to build solutions on top of it and sell it to customers. Actually core developers of PLM platforms will turn their focus into providing of tools and technologies to support a consistent application experience. Salesforce can be a good example of providing UX experience that can be reused by developers. Take a look at Lightning Design System allowing to 3rd party developers to design applications with the same look and feel.

What is my conclusion? The next innovation turn might require rethinking multiple aspects of PLM software – business and technical. In the past, toolkit approach proved to be successful to sell complex PDM / PLM solutions to large companies. Today, a combination of open source and toolkit approach can fuel next step of innovation in product lifecycle management. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 


August 25, 2015

ibm-computer-graphic-matrix-printer

The technology around us is changing very fast. Even if you are 17 year old, you can already find your first computer equipment or electronic toy in a museum. Last weekend, I had a chance to visit Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. If you are checking around San Francisco and Silicon Valley, try to get there. There are some great pieces of electronic equipment there such as fully functioned  DEC PDP-1 from DEC Restoration Project or Honeywell 316 Kitchen computer from 1965 that was never sold to anybody.

Usually we are concerned about the speed of technology adoption. But, visiting CHM made me think about about an opposite side of technology adoption – computers and hardware that are still in use. Engineering and manufacturing industry is one of those industry that is using technologies and products for a long period of time. There are multiple reasons for that – manufacturing programs with very long lifecycle, product that requires maintenance usually requiring to keep using the same or compatible software, some regulation requirements and others.

Among many articles about history of CAD, PDM and PLM software, my favorite is David Weisberg’s The Engineering Design Revolution. If you never seen that, take it as a weekend reading, I’m sure you will have fun. I captured few interesting examples of engineering software related equipment in Computer History Museum. The work of Ivan Sutherland at MIT is well represented there. But, I never seen the following example of mapping of Sutherland’s Volkswagen in Ca 1977.

Sutherlands-volkswagen-ca-1977

Gerber Scientific plotter advertising from 1965 as part of mini-computer promotion (btw, with attractive price of $28,500)

Gerber-scientific-plotter

Summagraphics tablet from 1980 with AutoCAD menu and samples of AutoCAD software from 1984.

Autocad-tablet-chm

What is my conclusion? The life of software sometimes is longer that we think. Still, I believe, there are few pieces of software running COBOL and FORTRAN. It made me think about some old CAD and PLM software that is probably still in use in some companies. And maybe there are are few CAD, PDM and PLM systems that running for 15-20 years without changes? It would be interesting to learn about these examples. If you know some of these, please share in comments.

Best, Oleg


PLM and enterprise silos in networked age

August 24, 2015

plm-and-linkedin-rolodex

Our everyday business life is changing. Remember sales people with rolodexes that helped you to find right contacts? I’m sure some of my friends in sales are still using them. But, be honest, how many times for the last week you checked LinkedIn to get information about company or person? According to published statistics, LinkedIn has 107 million users in United States and 97 million unique visitors every month. LinkedIn is a great source of information to find right people.

Here is an interesting news – LinkedIn Built Its New App to Replace Your Office Directory. I found it interesting. Until now office directories were part of IT stack in every company. It usually stuck between email service and abbreviation like LDAP. It was mixed and messed up with you contact lists on your multiple devices and never worked properly (at least for me).

The following passage from the article explains the problem.

“Most companies have some crappy directory service that either they’ve created themselves or they’re [paying for],” said Ankit Gupta, project lead for Lookup. “People don’t really update their internal profiles. People don’t even add a photo. So they’re actually turning to LinkedIn [already].”

You could already do this sort of searching within the main LinkedIn app, but it required a little more strategy with filters and search terms. Gupta says that people check out their colleagues’ profiles more than you’d think — when searching for people on LinkedIn, users click on a colleague’s profile about 30 percent of the time. This app is intended to simplify that search and keep it company-specific, he added.

There are a lot of tools already out there that serve a similar purpose, including Slack, which is benefiting from Silicon Valley’s propensity for sky-high valuations. Facebook is testing a business offering, too. Gupta says he doesn’t see this product as a competitor to those because Lookup is more of a directory than a communication service. (My guess is that LinkedIn may one day change its mind.)

It made me think about how companies developing social networking, communication and collaboration software are getting to the point where their functions will become operation critical for every company. Think about directory of suppliers and contract manufacturers. You may think about it as a bunch of business card in a rolodex of your “supply chain” manager. You can also think about it as a list of vendors in your ERP system. But, at the same time, you can think about it as a list of companies with contact information on LinkedIn. This is where things can get interesting, because it will have a potential to redefine boundaries of enterprise software functions.

LinkedIn might not be a software to manage contract manufacturers tomorrow. But it provides a valuable set of information that can be used and “linked” to other applications. Remember my “PLM: from sync to link” article last year? Here is the thing. In a networked era, we can stop thinking about how to get all information in our own proprietary system. We can start using existing systems and rely on other sources of information – a real paradigm shift in the way we operate.

What is my conclusion? Traditional enterprise software created silos of information. For years, vendors tried to protect the information in each and every silo- it gave them a protection from competitors tried to eat a bigger slice of enterprise software pie. The real change is coming with systems that are operating globally as a network. LinkedIn is a good example. People and companies are connected using LinkedIn. This information is valuable and can be linked and reused by other systems. Are we ready for such a significant change? I’m not sure, but it feels like the direction business will take tomorrow. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit [Re/code] article.


Integration with manufacturing robots might be the next PLM challenge

August 21, 2015

rethink-robotics-plm-collaboration

Integration is one of the most painful aspects of PLM deployment and implementations. Especially when you need to integrate engineering, manufacturing planning and shopfloor systems. Usually it comes down to large number of data synchronization between each and every system in the loop. Integration failures can slow production process and lead to mistakes. In one of my earlier post I discussed why manufacturing future will depend on solving of old PLM / ERP integration process. The earlier visibility of product information in manufacturing process can reduce cost and optimize production schedule.

As complexity of product lifecycle is growing, the role of integration becomes even more important. The following Forbes article caught my attention earlier today – In the Factories of the Future: A Conversation With Jabil’s John Dulchinos. It speaks about changes in manufacturing driven by factors such as – mass customization, shrinking product lifecycle and offloading manufacturing cost to regions with low cost labor. These trends are quite usual these days. But here is where it starts very interesting – robots. Jim Lawton of Rethink Robotics speaks about smart collaborative robots. The following passage is my favorite:

Think about it – every robot we deploy is a computer. That means, going back to what I said earlier about the role of data in production environments, is that these robots will become critical in that model. Robots will be information management systems that can collect and analyze data on the floor, in real-time and make it available for interpretation.

That represents a real break-through in manufacturing allowing us to not only see what is happening now, but able to apply predictive technologies to the information. Everything from when a machine needs to be serviced to when a process needs to be adjusted will become available to us.

With that ability, we’ll no longer be simply looking at the past, but able to see ahead – a significantly more powerful tool for increasing efficiency and productivity. More compelling though, may in fact be the contribution that it makes toward accelerating innovation and creativity.

The future of collaborative robots is really exciting. At the same time, it made me think about complexity of product data integration between systems to support that. To support predictive analytics model and many other aspect of robotics operation. the information about variety of product characteristics should be available for robot information management systems. It would be interesting to learn more about potential information and process flow- I’m sure it will impose many challenges as soon as we will demand robot to take decisions about building specific configuration demanded by customers in a real time. It might represent the next level of complexity comparing to traditional configuration to order models.

What is my conclusion? Product complexity, shortening of lifecycle and cost pressure are forcing manufacturing companies to innovate in everything that related to optimization of product planing, manufacturing and shopfloor operation. I can see a new type of manufacturing product line equipped with collaborative robots capable to produce a specific configuration of product on demand driven by customer order. It will create the next challenge for PLM systems integration. Do you think traditional PLM architectures and platforms are ready to meet future integration with robots? This is a good question to ask PLM architects. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image credit Rethink Robotics


Visual Design Collaboration: Bundle vs Unbundle?

August 20, 2015

3d-plm-collaboration

Collaboration in is an interesting topic. Whether you are a 3-person team or a 10,000 person OEM manufacturing company, some of the same rules for successful collaboration apply. The more you share what you know the more value it creates. To understand specific personal or use case context is absolutely critical to successful collaboration regardless on what technology you may use.

The rules of collaboration are changing these days. New collaborative technologies coming from web, mobile and social network experience are coming to disrupt what traditionally considered as a good collaboration practice. In the past, we used an old “mom test” for collaboration software – collaborative application should be easy enough for my Mom to use it (she is smart and well educated, but she didn’t grew up with computers). That was probably a good idea back in 1995 when desktop computers and Windows disrupted office environment.

Fast forward into 2015, many rules established by desktop computers where broken by web and mobile products. The disruption in a workspace is coming from younger generation. The Content Strategist Blog brings an interesting comparison of how differently Milleninals, GenX and Boomers are consume content. They same rules apply to collaboration. If the old “Mom test” spoke about simplicity that Mom can get, the new rules my trigger a question about what collaboration style new generation of people can get. Maybe it is a question how to bring SnapChat type of collaboration into design process?

All together made me think about what is the optimal strategy for design collaboration that will better address the needs users in engineering and manufacturing scaling from needs of individual makers to large OEM manufacturing shops.

Traditional design collaboration approach is going around 3D design. Most of the tools developed by CAD and PLM vendors for the last 10-15 basically created a way for users to access 3D product representation with additional set of functions like redline, comments, etc. The core complexity of these tools related to seamless access of diverse set of information – 3D, 2D, specification documents and contextual information coming from data management tools. These bundling made it complex to develop and use.

Unbundling is an interesting business strategy used in many application domains these days. Read my earlier blog about that – The future unbundling strategies in CAD / PLM. The potential of unbundled services can be significant. Existing bundles are complex and inefficient. People don’t use all functionality and look for something simple and easy to grasp. However, unbundle can be hard. Read my Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors? As much as people are valuing simplicity and ease of use today, vertical integration remains a very important thing for many companies.

Last year I started a discussion about PLM tools, bundles and platform. Since then, few new interesting products and came to the market that pursue the value of design collaboration – I should mention two cloud CAD products Onshape and Autodesk Fusion 360. Also, I have to mention engineering communication and collaboration tools provided by GrabCAD. However, I want to bring to examples today to show two distinct approaches in development of design collaboration products – bundle vs. unbundle.

The first one is Visual Collaboration product Aras Corp. introduced in the last version of Aras Innovator. Navigate to the following link to read more. In the following video you can get a full demo of visual collaboration fully integrated with PLM product. The approach taken by Aras to bring visual collaboration to all users is absolutely valuable. Everyone in an organization can collaborate in the 2D/3D and any other design context.

My second example came from new startup company founded by ex-Facebook product designers – Wake.io. Read more about Wake.io story on TechCrunch – Designers Ditch Perfectionism For Instant Feedback With Wake. The idea to solve a problem of collaboration in a community of product designers made them think about product that capture and share a very simple design collaboration process. The following video can give you an idea of that about:

What is my conclusion? Both bundling and unbundling approaches have pros and cons. Vertical integration is important, but simplicity and capturing a specific design workflow without overwhelming users with additional information can be valuable too. In my view, unbundling is trending. This is the way to create new products solving painful problems. The same collaboration problems engineers and other people are experiencing when designing products can be applied to other places as well. An example of Wake.io is a hint to CAD and PLM companies to think where future disruption can come from. The same way Slack disrupted existing collaborative approaches practiced by companies today, new products like Wake.io can disrupt future of 3D and engineering collaboration. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image credit GrabCAD

 

 


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