I had chance to read the story “Is PLM software OOTB Functionality a Red Herring?” by Marc Lind on Aras’ community website. I definitely can see a growing amount of debates around PLM Out-the-box story or how software vendors call it very often – Best Practices.
Do you remember the name “turnkey solution”? This is one of the previous names for out-of-the-box. Welcome! You can buy a system, turn a key on, and you are done :)… The definition of “turnkey” solution was different and changed within a time. In the beginning, it was about how to not to “rebuild” the system for every customer. Then it moved to installation option that not required 10 people work for few months to install and configured system. Finally, it comes to the point when “a turnkey” started to focus on engineering and business problems.
Engineering Foundation of Out-of-the-Box (OOTB)
The invention of OOTB system as a system that can solve engineering and business problems had very good roots. A majority of engineering and manufactures software companies were started by engineers. Engineers tried to solve problems for engineers and definitely could find a solution. After the problem was solved for more than one customer, the obvious question was how to scale up? There are few possible ways to move forward – to create a configurable and modular system or to open system to be modified and adjusted by customers themselves and partners. Vendors tried to solve both. The first seems to be complicated. The second was expensive and long in time.
At the time engineering tried to solve a problem of how to configure systems to fit needs of different customers, marketing came with a nice proposal to re-sell existing customer implementation packed as best practice solutions . Basically, it was a good idea – why not to re-use existing experience with customers? The implementations done by many of them represented state of the art and considered as best in their class. However, here the problem- engineers are not running their shops in the say ways. They strongly believe in their uniqueness and specific manufacturing practices. The marketing story becomes a story of long implementation cycles after deals were closed and money paid.
Open Source Option?
There are two important aspects of open source that can give a potential chance to PLM open source to grow in a current situation. The first is emotional – you are not paying upfront, and you pay for maintenance and support. Even if everybody understood that the same or comparable amount of money can be paid in different ways, it creates a social empathy to the solution. Second one is real – you can have a wider distribution of software. By doing so, open source creates the situation where the effect of scale can be significant and crowd sourcing will become a real option. So, I see community building as a top factor that can make PLM open source real. In the case engineers will start to collaborate, it can create a potential network effect.
What is my conclusion? Selling Enterprise Software is a hard job these days. People stopped buying marketing stories. They need software to solve problems today and not tomorrow. Out-of-the-box started as an initiative to compensate long, complicated and expensive implementation cycle. The fundamental idea was simple- you pay more, but you can take a system and work now. One of the reasons it wasn’t successful is in the nature of manufacturing organization. If you talk to PLM vendors, they will give you PDM CAD document management as an example of the successful out-of-the-box functionality. However, when it is probably easy to agree on check-in/check-out/release commands, it won’t be so easy to produce “the universal change management module”. In my view, PLM needs to run a recovery mode now to get back from spectacular marketing presentation to nuts and bolts of engineering and manufacturing implementations.
Just my thoughts…