Cloud PLM and Battle for Cost?

January 31, 2014

plm-cloud-cost-battle

PLM companies are switching to the cloud. Software vendors are taking different paths and technical strategies – IaaS, PaaS, private clouds, public clouds with high diversity of options and marketing messages. Navigate to some of my previous posts to get up to speed with the topic – Cloud PLM and IaaS Options, PLM PaaS, PLM cloud strategies.

Public cloud and specifically Amazon Web Services is one of the options to explore the potential of new PLM technologies, delivery and business models. To use elastic infrastructure provided by Amazon is compelling to newcomers in PLM industry as well as for established PLM vendors transforming their PLM portfolios. A potential disadvantage of Amazon is that it can get a little pricey. Many cloud companies discovered "cost issue" especially when they come to the point of scaling customers and data.

Earlier this week, I was reading an interesting article by Heap – “How We Estimated Our AWS Costs Before Shipping Any Code”. Heap is an iOS and Web analytics tool that captures every user interaction. Interesting enough, Heap helps you to estimate their AWS cost to decide if product / project/ website has a sustainable business model. Here are few interesting examples provided by Heap article:

Cost reduction: CPU. Our queries involve a large amount of string processing and data decompression. Much to our surprise, this caused our queries to become CPU-bound. Instead of spending more money on RAM, we could achieve equivalent performance with SSDs (which are far cheaper). Though we also needed to shift our costs towards more CPU cores, the net effect was favorable.

Cost inflation: Data Redundancy. This is a necessary feature of any fault-tolerant, highly-available cluster. Each live data point needs to be duplicated, which increases costs across the board by 2x.

This article made me think about possible trajectories of cloud PLM options. PLM vendors thinking about transforming and adapting their existing PLM products for cloud must be aggressively making assessments about their cloud cost on Amazon or alternative platforms. Startup companies developing new generation of PLM products have a very good opportunity to check their costs and viability of their future business models.

What is my conclusion? The battle about cloud viability has strong cost relation. Software companies are moving from "CD shipments" to "service providing". This process will be painful for many of them and sooner they validate and build their future business models is better. For PLM companies, the best association should be "cost model for manufacturing" – the earlier in the process of product design you can see the cost – the better chance this product become successful. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why PLM cannot adopt Big Data now?

January 30, 2014

plm-big-data-reuse

The buzz about Big Data is everywhere these days. From 2011 and up today, we can clearly see skyrocketing interest in Big Data as well as to what is behind this buzzword. Companies around the world are trying to figure out what Big Data means for them and how they can leverage it now. Engineering and manufacturing software vendors are doing this as well. I’ve been speculating about opportunity of PLM vendors to dig in Big Data last year. So far, I’ve heard lots of talks, but never seen much practical results of how Big Data can help to improve PLM products as well as influence product development processes.

I stumble on AllThingsD article – Big Data and the Soles of Your Shoes. Take 10 minutes and read the article. It speaks very nicely about modern customer-manufacturing e-commerce driven interaction. The overall process of information flow is interesting – product configuration, ordering system, materials supply, financial transactions, transportation and many other aspects. You can only imagine of how many data pieces should be moved behind this scenario – product information, bill of materials, manufacturing orders, shipment tracking, manufacturing process, delivery shipment. I specially liked the following passage coming as a conclusion of the article:

Big Data always comes across as “Big” first and “Data” second. What I urge you to do is think about the “small data.” This type of data is what happens every moment of every day. The humble pair of shoes represents small data. It’s a pair of shoes. It doesn’t pretend to be a space shuttle. But that pair of shoes has generated a massive quantity of data in its journey to you.

Small data represents the constant dripping faucet of information you generate every day. From ordering food at a restaurant to visiting a Web page to buying a pair of shoes, this faucet never stops. The amount of small data out there trumps the amount of Big Data.

The article made me think about interesting term coined by social scientists – Ambient Awareness. It refers to the information that surrounding us online – social networks, e-commerce other websites producing so-called activity streams. These streams creates business specific contextual information. The problem is that despite wide adoption of social networks in consumer spaces, organizations are still in a very premature phase of understanding how to use and leverage this information and how it might be relevant.

The challenge for most manufacturing organization is how to use right snippets of Big Data. Let’s take product design and cost assessment process. In my view, the opportunity is to see how product configurations and variety design options are impacting product cost. The pieces of data to make this analysis are in the data flow between vendors, suppliers, shipments, material cost, etc. Now think about engineer option to live in the ambient awareness of information driving towards right design for cost process. The main question that comes to my mind is related to ‘relevance’ of every bit of big data coming from outside. What is relevant to cost? What impact every bit of information has on overall cost? How to calculate it and how to put it in front of engineer at the right time?

What is my conclusion? Big data is a big opportunity for many companies. However, "big data" is too big and too abstract for companies to understand and use. Companies need to develop a way to use small bits of data coming from different sources to drive decision process and choose options. This is not simple and will not happen overnight for most of manufacturing companies using PLM systems. PLM vendors need to come with the approach how to inject small chunks of Big Data in the product development process. A task for PLM strategists and product managers. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Professor Direct?

January 29, 2014

plm-social-education

Engineering and Manufacturing software requires some learning. I hope even biggest promoters of to make "single button PLM application" would agree with me that you need to have industry background, understand product development practices and get familiar with application and tools. So, basic and specialized education is required. The trend is clearly goes towards making it easier and more efficient.

My attention caught an interesting enterprise efficiency article Professors Don’t Need Schools Anymore. Not connected to PLM industry, article speaks about opportunity for professors to provide courses without specific school affiliation. Thanks for the internet, new platform Professor Direct allows to sell course online and establish new business model for eduction.

It made me think about social education opportunity in PLM space. I know very small amount dedicated instructors dealing with training in PLM world. However, the biggest value in product development eduction and PLM training can be provided by practitioners and people from manufacturing companies that ready to share their knowledge and experience. Online social education platform can setup a framework and helps to provide flexible PLM educational options.

What is my conclusion? I can see huge opportunity in using internet for eduction. To share unique knowledge can be a unique opportunity for many engineering and manufacturing people working on PLM implementations. Today, in person on site education is complicated and expensive. By cutting travel time, location dependencies and associated cost, we can open new world of PLM education opportunities. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD-PDM Integration, Transparency and Cloud Pain Killer

January 28, 2014

cloud-pdm-integration

CAD/PDM integration is a very important topic. It is a piece of software that helps to establish a connection between core engineering world using CAD systems and rest of the world using design data. It was a place where lots of data management innovation happened in the past. It is also one of the most frequently debated topic, especially when it comes to how manage connectivity between CAD and PDM/PLM system. It created lot of successes to companies introducing data management to engineering departments and probably created as many failures to companies that didn’t do it well or messed up with management of PDM and CAD releases.

In my view, it remains hot topic these days. Cloud brings new stream of innovation into CAD-PDM space. Cloud and CAD files management is heavily debated among different communities these days. Navigate to read my What end of local storage means for CAD? and catch up on CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems. One of my active opponents in the discussion about how to introduce cloud to CAD data management is GrabCAD’s Hardi Meybaum – Debunking the cons to CAD file sharing tools.

Earlier this week, GrabCAD made an announcement about GrabCAD Workbench availability for SolidWorks. It came aligned with SolidWorks World 2014 that is taking place these days in San Diego, CA. The following two articles provide good coverage of what SolidWorks GrabCAD Workbench integration does – GrabCAD workbench rolls new CAD file management features and Busy Week in the Cloud: GrabCAD and Autodesk 360 . Here is an interesting passage

…GrabCAD Workbench provides a cost-effective and easy-to-implement PDM/PLM alternative for small- to mid-sizes businesses. GrabCAD Workbench now also offers a SolidWorks add-in and neutral file translator, opening up even more options in file types for users. Workbench users can now upload and download files as well as resolve conflicts from within SolidWorks…

SolidWorks user community is hot PDM opportunity for the cloud. I remember my post two years ago SolidWorks, Cloud and Product Data Management speaking about potential cloud infusion of PDM in SolidWorks eco-system.

The interesting part of GrabCAD Workbench / SolidWorks plugin is the way it was integrated in SolidWorks. Below I put few screenshots of different PDM systems providing integration to SolidWorks. All of them are integrating PDM plug-in immersively into CAD (SolidWorks) environment to simplify user experience:

GrabCAD:

GrabCAD-SolidWorks-Add-in-copy

SolidWorks EPDM (formerly Conisio)

pdmworks_enterprise1_lg

SmarTeam:

solidworks-smarteam

Siemens TeamCenter:

Teamcenter-Integration-for-SolidWorks

It made me think about the way cloud is probably going to be introduced to engineering community of CAD users – painless plug-in connecting CAD system you are familiar with to the cloud infrastructure, servers and eco-system. The beauty of the approach is that it helps to hide from engineer "cloud nature of the system". CAD user experience remains the same – familiar to engineers for many years. The potential danger is plug-in behavior in case of network low speed and cloud connectivity outage.

What is my conclusion? Data management transparency is a key for success. To serve users with familiar user experience and to sneak cloud servers into CAD system is a very nice approach that can provide a lot of potential. It holds the same risk old PDMs have – failure of servers or disruption / slowdown of CAD user experience. If it happens, user will boot out PDM system of CAD environment doesn’t matter of future cloud potential. It happened in the past with old PDM systems and won’t be different these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


The future of PLM vendors differentiation?

January 26, 2014

plm-vendors-differentitation

Differentiation. Competitive advantage. Value sales. I’m sure you’ve heard these buzzwords many times. Competition is part of everyday business life. Usually, I don’t speak about competition. I searched across my blog and founded only one reference to competition related writing – PLM Competition Toolbox. But I want to look in my crystal ball today. Here is the article that made me do so. Over the weekend, I’ve been reading Joe Barkai’s blog post – How To Win Without Differentiation. Article speaks about how to develop differentiation strategies and what to do when differentiation is not coming easy. I liked the following passage:

When value differentiation is too vague and difficult to demonstrate, price competitiveness does not work. Potential buyers seek other ways to drive their decisions, and, as Vermeulen points out, they rely on other factors, such as the seller’s brand, status in industry, and prior relationships. In other words, the buyer switches from assessing and comparing features and costs to differentiate based on the brand’s credibility and trustworthiness.

The article made me think about PLM vendors competition and differentiation. PLM industry is dominated by small number of large vendors (namely alphabetically – Autodesk, Dassault, Oracle, PTC, SAP and Siemens PLM). There are some specific competitive niches each of these companies were developed for the last 10-20 years. However, looking on websites and public marketing materials about PLM solutions, I can see less visible difference. These companies are targeting similar businesses and within time it is not simple to get value differentiation between brands.

Enterprise software is an interesting business. One of the characteristics of software for engineering and manufacturing is lifetime customers and legacy software. The lifecycle of customers in this domain is relatively long. It goes from extremely long in defense, aerospace programs to long in automotive and others. To get familiar with engineering software (such as CAD and PLM) takes time and effort. You need to cross educational barriers. So, when you already “in”, the entrance barrier for competitor is getting bigger. Overall investment and significant amount of customization play another role. This business is different from selling smartphones. After spending few millions of $$$ on a specific solution, it is very hard to justify the replacement of this solution with a competitor.

So, what will differentiate PLM vendors in coming 10 years? What will become future competitive advantage? Technology will obviously play some role, but I mostly agree with Joe – “Don’t oversell technical wizardry. Buyers of enterprise software and services consider your product roadmap and long-term commitment to the space as much as they do to your product features and engineering skills. So, it is very hard to create sustainable technological advantages in this market. Very few companies succeeded to do it in the past and kept it for a long time.

However, there is one thing that getting more and more value points. I call it “vertical experience”. Sometimes vendors call it “industry practices”. However, it can go much more beyond what vendors are doing today in this space. I can see specific vertical solutions focused on design patterns, bill of material management, change management, services, suppliers related to particular segment or industry. The niche can be big enough to serve business of service providers as well as provide an impact on overall vendor business. This is a place where PLM vendors will be able to show big value to customers and fast implementation ROI. It is not simple and it takes time and dedication.

What is my conclusion? Vertical (or industry) specialization can become a future goldmine for PLM vendors and solution providers. To develop deeply integrated solution including specific behaviors in data and process management is not a simple task. Customer experience is something that very hard to gain. However, once achieved it can be leveraged for a long time. Industry verticals can become a future differentiation factor for large vendors and startup PLM companies. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to Combine Engineering and Software BOMs?

January 24, 2014

PLM-ALM-software-BOM

I remember a conversation that happened to me a decade ago with fellow engineer from one of leading telecom companies. The question I asked him was – how do you know what version of software to load into device? The answer was- "Hm… actually we don’t know much about it. It happens magically". I have to say this company is not doing very well these days. No surprise.

The importance of software lifecycle management is growing enormously. Modern manufacturing products contain mechanical, electronic and software components. To manage data lifecycle for all types of components is getting more and more important.

There are quite many software packages these days to manage software lifecycle. Some of them belongs to respectful software companies and some of them are open source packages. The software category called ALM (Application Lifecycle Management). Navigate to the following wikipedia link if you want to learn more. Here is the definition I captured there:

Application lifecycle management (ALM) is the product lifecycle management (governance, development, and maintenance) of application software. It encompasses requirements management, software architecture, computer programming, software testing, software maintenance, change management, project management, and release management.[1][2]

Recently PLM companies started to be more interested in how to manage software lifecycle too. I can track back PTC MKS acquisition. Also, I was able to Google multiple links about TeamCenter and ALM tools integration. I don’t want to endorse any specific package, so I won’t provide links here. However, you can easy Google them too. I didn’t find any that officially supported by Siemens PLM.

I want to go down from formal ALM marketing buzzwords and speak about Bill of Materials. How software BOM is different from Engineering BOM? Can we use similar tools? Can we share the same set of BOM management practices when it comes to software compared to components? How we can present overall product lifecycle? Browsing various forums, I found an interesting passage on Jboss forum about how to use bom with Maven:

A bom is a so called bill of materials – it bundles several dependencies to assure that the versions will work together. JBoss has boms for many of it’s projects, including Arquillian and the JBoss AS itself.

The statement made me think how actually engineering BOM can be different from software BOM in terms of product lifecycle management as well as how both software components can (or should) appear in unified bill of materials and, even broadly, should we have unified BOM containing mechanical and software components?

My attention caught The Manufacturer article Silos changing: PLM and ALM for Smart Products. Article speaks about how to merge together both application lifecycle and "traditional product lifecyce". The following passage seems to be interesting:

Until now, software engineers have tended to use their own design management tools such as Rational DOORS for requirements management; Rational ClearCase for Software Configuration Management and HP Quality Center for Testing. These tools are often bundled together as the Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) category. Physical product design teams for the other disciplines have used Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tools for design management.

We can confidently say that no single vendor provides every design management and design development tool needed in a single suite. That means there will have to be a best of breed approach. There are several issues to consider. Where is the master of the product requirements maintained? Should the change management of software and physical artefacts be combined in a single system? How will derived requirements such as signals and dependencies between software and hardware components be managed? How will product variants be handled?

PTC’s purchase of MKS and its Integrity product line provides, for the first time, a single vendor PLM and ALM solution.

The following link leads to PTC Integrity software white paper (formerly acquired MKS). I downloaded ebook for free. It doesn’t contain any word about software bill of materials (BOM). There are bunch of quite useful information about value proposition behind ALM. I was looking for something that can hint how we can have unified product lifecycle and representaiton of information between Product Link and Integrity. Here is what I found.

PTC Integrity has an open architecture that integrates disparate tools into a streamlined engineering process, allowing orchestration of engineering change and collaboration across the technology supply chain. With PTC Integrity, engineering teams improve productivity and quality, streamline compliance, and gain complete product visibility, which ultimately drive more innovative products into the market.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t say much about combined BOM usage.

What is my conclusion? I wonder if manufacturers are interested to have unified product lifecycle management for both (more traditional) mechanical and electro-mechanical parts combined together with software bill of material. From traceability and completeness standpoint it sounds reasonable and logical to me. However, open publications didn’t bring much examples of such usage. Just my thoughts. I’m looking forward to discuss it online.

Best, Oleg


CAD Collaboration: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous?

January 23, 2014

cad-collaboration

Collaboration is not a new buzz in engineering domain. CAD and PLM companies are using this term already few decades in order to explain how their products can help designers, engineers and other people in a company to communicate and be efficient. Recently so called "social technologies" came to disrupt this space. For the last few years, we’ve seen many tries to introduce new type of "social collaboration". However, most of them didn’t change much – it was still about "how people can work together".

At the same time, social technologies and (specifically) communities of users raised again an important question related to the value of "asynchronous collaboration". On my long redeye flight back from San Francisco tonight, I was reading 3DCAD World article – CAD Goes Social. Article speaks about challenges of synchronous collaboration using CAD systems. Here is the passage, which explains potential challenges of "working together on the same 3D CAD model".

Nanosoft’s Evan Yares said, “Previous collaboration features were technically interesting, but they failed to impact the market. However, improved standards along with other more advanced enterprise applications might now make the concept more realistic. In fact, current research at Brigham Young University uses existing high-end CAD packages and ties them together with a ‘game engine’ framework. Students work together as if in a multiplayer game to edit 3D models while wearing headsets that let them talk together as they work. The researchers claim that such simultaneous group access leads to significant productivity improvements.”

To understand the concept better, consider the simple analogy of editing a document in Google Docs, a cloud-based application that lets enabled users simultaneously open and edit a document from anywhere. The approach works well as long as measures are in place to prevent users’ edits from “colliding.” But editing a CAD model poses more challenges because models are often built using a recipe of uniquely related and ordered features. Any change in a defining parameter by an uninformed user could cause the model to crash.

Social networks, photo sharing, professional community and online communication are raising question of increased value of asynchronous collaboration. GrabCAD is a community of engineers, open engineering marketplace and provider of GrabCAD Workbench (Collaborative Product Development) tool. The following passage explains some differentiators of GrabCAD approach (including quotes from GrabCAD VP Marketing Stevens):

“From the collaboration angle, our users are professional engineers who want to share their designs with a small group and work together on a project,” said Stevens. So that everyone in the world can’t see the work, we launched Workbench, a private visualization tool for CAD. GrabCAD is almost like a Facebook because it includes a stream of comments about a design. Users can leave for a day, come back, login and see that ‘Bob’ uploaded a new version of a design, ‘Sarah’ didn’t like the color, and ‘Henry’ says it’s too expensive to manufacture. All this is happening in a secure location.”

According to Stevens, the company provides some synchronous tools that let users see who is online, but users are more interested in asynchronous features. “That’s because it’s rare for everyone to be online at the same time,” he said. “What companies are really worried about is how to move projects forward faster by avoiding the lengthy delay of getting busy engineers to take screenshots.”

These two examples made me think about two approaches and use cases that might stand behind. After all, I don’t think synchronous and asynchronous are mutually exclusive.

The main driver of synchronous approach is to put everybody on the same page at the same time. Time is important because not everything can be written. Sometimes, you need to explain the problem and actually show it in the model / assembly. Complex geometry, decision making, analysis, design suppliers situations – these are typical examples when synchronous access to CAD models will provide huge value. It doesn’t mean people will be actually editing models together.

Opposite to that, asynchronous approach can help people to collaborate around the same context regardless on their time and location. This approach can be invaluable for teams working on large projects to improve communication, track decisions and change management. Asynchronous tools can help to crowdsource ideas and sparkle discussion in global teams.

What is my conclusion? Seamless collaboration is key to success in a team. Global teams is a reality in a modern engineering and manufacturing world. The situation is not going to change in foreseeable future. So, companies will continue to invest in how to improve collaboration. The scenarios and use cases can be different and it will require variety of approaches – synchronous and asynchronous. The simplicity and cost are two key elements of successful collaboration. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 252 other followers