Mobile CAD and PLM development options

December 10, 2014

mobile-web-cad-plm

Mobile PLM is one of the topics I’m following on my blog. You probably remember my post – How PLM vendors can find mobile moments. Today I want to speak about technological aspects of mobile development. For the last few years, mobile development took us into the world of multiple platforms and device compatibility. I posted about challenges of mobile and native web development in the past – Mobile PLM: Apps vs. Mobile Browsers? and Mobile PLM Native Apps Challenge.

If you think, mobile development is “native apps” now, there are some of good news on the horizon. ReadWrite article – What Google Has In Store For The Mobile Web brings few interesting data points about underline mobile development from Apple, Google and Microsoft. Article mentioned Apples WKWebView inclusion in iOS 8 as well as Microsoft’s WinRT. Google’s Chrome team is working to improve performance. If you want more technical details, the following article – The future of Web according to Google can give you deep insight. I found the following passage capturing the momentum well:

In other words, Google is about to bring the Web back to parity with native. In some ways, actually, it’s making the Web better than native, because the Web doesn’t have the same problem with app distribution that app stores have. As Google makes the Web a first-class citizen on mobile, there will be less cause to worry about Apple and Google duopolizing our newly mobile world.

One of the main aspect of to be in love with native mobile apps is offline. It is a huge factor and today native apps have an advantage here. However, it won’t stay that way for long time.

Offline is a big deal, it’s one of the most defining features of native apps vs. web in today’s climate. As Alex Russell put it in his talk: “It isn’t an app if it doesn’t run when you tap.” Once ServiceWorker lands [around the end of 2014], it’s only a short time later that we’ll see Push Notifications in the browser (they use ServiceWorker to coordinate). This will mean that, with a simple permission opt-in, a website will be able to notify you days, weeks, or months after you visit it. With the growing importance (and interactive nature) of notifications on mobile platforms, it’ll be great to see the web get to participate.

What is interesting that even today some iOS and Android apps are not purely native. Here is an interesting chart I captured from another ReadWrite article – HTML5 has a new best friend –and it is Apple, not Google.

native-web-dev-in-mobile-apps

These mobile web news made me think again about what it can give to CAD and PLM developers in a near future. PLM vendors invested in mobile development and you have mobile app for almost every PLM today. It added lot of complexity to development team – getting back to web can be a good news for development and product managers working to align mobile and web features. Offline wasn’t supported for most of mobile app, so it was never a case. However, offline work can be a big deal, especially for CAD tools.

What is my conclusion? CAD and PLM development (as well as most of enterprise software) has longer lifecycle compared to consumer application. To cut development cost can be interesting option for engineering team. Users will have benefits of better alignment in functionality between mobile and web versions. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How CAD and PLM vendors will compete with “Facebook at Work”

November 18, 2014

facebook-at-work-for-engineers

Social software was hot topic in engineering software ecosystem for the last few years. The results are somewhat mixed. Start-up companies and well established CAD/PLM vendors learned by mistakes, some of them failed and some of them is still in process of developing new type of collaborative engineering software. I captured some of my thoughts about that here – Why Social 1.0 failed

One of the most famous messages of social software was to create “Facebook for XYZ”. Many companies tried to deliver this message in variety of forms in engineering software. The most impressive one was GrabCAD, which created a community of about 1.5M engineers sharing 3D CAD files. Even so, GrabCAD put their focus on development of cloud PDM software – to find a way to monetize. Some of my comments on what GrabCAD did are here – GrabCAD – from Facebook for engineers to PLM. GrabCAD is probably a company that unofficially can own the tag of “Facebook for engineer”. Google search is a good confirmation for that.

A very interesting news came from “original” Facebook. Earlier this week, Facebook leaked the information about Facebook’s intent to create so called “Facebook at Work”. Forbes article gives you some details about Upcoming Facebook at Work service will rival LinkedIn and Slack.

Facebook is preparing Facebook at Work, a service aimed at enterprise customers that will allow them to chat with colleagues and “collaborate over documents,” according to a new report in the Financial Times which cites anonymous sources.

Social business wasn’t an easy job for many companies. For the last few days, I see many speculations and reports about how easy (or not, actually) Facebook can capture a new business niche. Here is the article from ReadWrite – Why Facebook For Work Will Be A Hard Sell To Employers. This is my favorite passage:

Users will be able to chat with coworkers, collaborate on projects, and build catalogues of colleague’s contacts, with each of these services directly competing with Microsoft’s Yammer, Google’s Drive, and LinkedIn. All the services Facebook at Work will offer already exist. Slack, Google Drive, and LinkedIn already do these features well, and have the market for these respective services cornered. If Facebook at Work is going to have a chance of competing, it’ll need to extremely improve on its competitors’ services. And from the little we’ve seen of the service (with Facebook declining to comment), it’s hard to tell if Facebook for Work even has a chance.

“Facebook at Work” news made me think about what it means for engineering software ecosystem? First of all, it reminded me how is dangerous profession of industry analyst. It is still unclear how successful Facebook at Work is going to be, but Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity should be probably concerned about his 5 years old statement – We are not Going to Design an Airplane on Facebook!

All engineering vendors (CAD and PLM companies) just got a new mindshare competitor in everything that can be considered as social and collaboration. In my view it will be hard for Facebook to focus on “project collaboration” for design and engineering teams. The space is too narrow. At the same time, “social collaboration pond” is not as safe as it was before such a big fish as Facebook jumped into it.

My special attention caught by feature related to document sharing and collaboration. In my article – The path towards ubiquitous CAD cloud drive, I mentioned few examples of companies working on how to leverage cloud for CAD files storage and collaboration. Cloud file storage is an interesting place and I expect to see many changes in this domain in coming years. Every engineering company will have to think about pros and cons to have a special CAD files sharing tool. Facebook is just another behemoth convincing companies to store files on their servers and developing slick user experience to collaborate and share project information.

What is my conclusion? Facebook just captured a piece of attention for social project collaboration from everyone. “Facebook at Work” won’t compete directly with engineering software businesses. However, most probably, CAD and PLM vendors have to review their sales and marketing presentations. How to differentiate engineering collaboration software from Facebook? I will put security and CAD viewers on the top of my list of differentiators. Facebook won’t be able to change security perception overnight. Also, it will be challenging to develop 3D viewing solutions. Some specialized vendors can decide to jump and partner with Facebook about 3D CAD viewers. At the same time, there is one thing, which will challenge CAD and PLM vendors already tomorrow. Together with Google, LinkedIn and other web giants, Facebook will challenge engineering teams by setting even higher bar for project collaboration user experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: aldoaldoz via photopin cc


The path towards ubiquitous CAD cloud drive

November 4, 2014

cad-files-cloud-drive

I’ve been talking about future of cloud file system and CAD data trajectories the other day on my blog. It goes back and connected to multiple discussions about future of file system. What will be future of file systems and file paradigm. Can we announce the death of file system? So, file system is dead, long live cloud file system. The cloud eco-system is developing fast and I wonder how CAD companies will keep up with the speed of changes, environment, technologies and adoption. One of the things is related to cloud storage. Navigate to one of my earlier posts to read more – CAD companies and cloud storage strategy. One of the main points – storage is a temporarily market.

It looks like CAD companies are certainly following the trend. Autodesk just recently released a completely refreshed version of Autodesk A360 Team version of project based collaboration tool. Navigate here and you learn more about how to share documents and cloud storage. Here is a short passage, which summarize A360:

Our customers are in the business of creating things and they organize people and data around their business and their projects. A360 is a tool that brings together people, design and project data, ensuring everyone is informed and involved.

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My attention was caught by another announcement few days ago – MySolidWorks Drive. According to SolidWorks blog MySolidWorks drive provides a way to collaborate on data located on public cloud – Google and Dropbox.

Connects cloud-based file storage services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive with MySolidWorks. MySolidWorks Drive enables SOLIDWORKS users to view their designs online with the eDrawings online viewer and easily share large designs files with manufacturers, colleagues and vendors from anywhere.

I captured few screenshots showing more details about MySolidWorks drive from Michael Lord’s blog.

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solidworksdrive-2

Both examples made me think again about transition of design environment to the cloud. The biggest challenge here is to operate in the environment with mixed data. Existing design data is heavily persisted on engineers desktops and company shared network drives. At the same time, new products are providing customers with the opportunity to improve design collaboration using new modern cloud environment. The third factor is related to mainstream cloud providers. Cloud storage is a temporarily market and cost of storage is decreasing very fast.

Autodesk and SolidWorks examples are not unique. Recently, on my blog, I was talking about cloud file sync features developed by Kenesto. In addition to that, you might remember by discussion with Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD about CAD file sharing collaboration tools.

What is my conclusion? We are coming to the point of potential collision between CAD vendors strategies and giant cloud vendors strategies. Customers are tempted to move their data to Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Box.com and other non-CAD specific cloud storage. At the same time, CAD and other engineering software vendors are developing cloud collaboration software with specific value proposition tailored to engineering and CAD specific data. How new CAD collaboration and data management products will navigate in such environment? This is a good question to ask. My hunch, cloud file collaboration will be in a focus of all CAD vendors in a near future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to build online community around CAD/PLM software?

October 13, 2014

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There is one thing that seems make everyone interested and listen carefully these days – online communities. To build a successful community is a tricky thing. To make a money out of community is huge. Successful online communities can provide a lot of insight about how people are communicating, what is the value of community for different users and businesses. Communities are also a good reflection of business and software vendor ecosystem.

I’ve been discussing communities and marketplaces earlier on my blog. One of the most earliest discussion about that was Marketplace and Engineering software back in 2010. The interest of people to stay in the community is one of the most interesting factors to watch and learn. What will keep users to stay in the community and how to make it grow? Some of my earlier thoughts about that is here – PLM communities and let go threshold.

Online activity is a good indicator of community potential. I’ve been using blogging community as one of my own checkpoint about potential of users and customers to form a successful online community. Go online and try to find number of blogs about specific topic and their traffic. Do it for well-known MCAD packages (CATIA, Creo , Inventor, NX, SolidEdge, SolidWorks) as well as for PDM/PLM products. Google is of course not the best reflection of community size and activities. But it can give you some idea anyway.

CAD-PLM-communities-google-trends

Another interesting observation is related to how customers are sharing their knowledge. You can see very different behavior models. One of them is practically – share everything. This model is creating high viral content online. For this group it is not unusual to see how users are sharing their best practices and problems. Another group is conservative and closed. It is hard to get people to speak about this software. Most of information about it is curated either by software vendors and customers.

So, what are examples of successful in creating CAD/PLM communities? I can come with few examples. The list below is alphabetically sorted and I’m sure miss few communities (so, please don’t hesitate to suggest me additions to this group)

Aras. Back in 2007, Aras Corp. turned their Aras Innovator PLM product into so called “Enterprise Open Source”. This community demonstrated steady growth and I can see lots of information about Aras customers, open roadmap and open source development.

AutoCAD. The community of AutoCAD is big and reflect wide spread of this package in a very diverse set of verticals. I can see some association with community of users working with DWG. However, these users have the tendency to follow specific CAD packages developed around DWG formats.

GrabCAD. This is an interesting example of 1M+ engineers sharing 3D CAD models and related work online. GrabCAD website contains about 400K CAD models and this is probably one of the biggest in this kind.

SolidWorks. The community of SolidWorks is not a typical online (web) community. It was created around SolidWorks software back in before-web days. Nevertheless, this community demonstrated very high engagement level and shared lot of their work online in for the last 10+ years.

I guess “one million dollar question” is how to create a successful online engineering community. One of the myths of engineering world is that engineers are representing very anti-social group of people. The CreativeEngineer blog – A Few Common Myths About Engineers is actually bringing some opposite facts.

If you are thinking of being an engineer, you need to think of yourself as a leader, not a cubicle dwelling, anti-social, door mat. Here’s an except from Geoffrey C. Orsak, Dean of Engineering, SMU: In today’s reality, engineers are the new leadership class. Don’t believe me? Well, consider a recent survey of the S&P 500 CEOs by the global executive search firm SpencerStuart. Of these 500 key corporate leaders, nearly a quarter (23%) were educated as engineers and computer scientists.

So, is there an opportunity to create a larger community for engineers and users of CAD / PLM software? I guess the answer is yes. The shift towards online work is in a very beginning. My hunch existing engineering communities were just a beginning of future online working environment. The real community can be build around economic or social interest. In my view, the center of gravity will be moving from a specific CAD/PLM software towards companies and individuals. Internet is a new platform and community is a form to run business relationships on this platform.

What is my conclusion? Think about existing online communities: shoppers, open source software developers, education and many others. Try to make an analogy with manufacturing world. The economic and social interest is driving the most successful ones. I guess we just in the beginning of huge shift of engineering and manufacturing community towards online work. Economic interest will lead people to find new forms of business relationships and create new forms of CAD/PLM communities. Just my thoughts….

Best, Oleg


Google Drive third-party apps and cloud PDM foundation

October 1, 2014

cloud-folders-z-drive-cad

Designers and engineers working in manufacturing, architecture and construction firms are familiar with the idea of Z-drive. Usually, this is a name of drive that accessible in your local network (LAN). Usually, the same drive can be available also via WAN, but it is not always reliable because of latency, which can make your CAD system fail. I guess every company experience the period of time CAD and other related engineering files are floating around via Z-drive. Some companies achieved a high level of sophistication by managing data using spreadsheets, PDF files and other files.

The work environment is different these days. The idea of "cloud" computing is changing the way we work. LAN, WAN and other old terms are dismissed by new technologies and tools. Sharing files online is getting more popular and not only for your private photos.

I already posted about Dropbox, OneDrive and pros and cons of specialized CAD sharing technologies. My attention caught by Official Google for Work blog post Google Drive + third-party apps = files at your fingertips. It speaks about how Drive for Works can integrate with 3rd party application while maintain security at the same time.

Drive for Work enables collaboration and content sharing for businesses large and small and helps them share and access their files — even from different cloud applications. Google Drive extends the reach of business applications by taking content that previously was only available in a single application, and making it available across multiple applications — all while maintaining security.

Google-drive-connect-app

The list of application is interesting – CRM, Project management and others. The idea of browsing documents managed by other systems is interesting and can provide advantages to engineers and other users of CAD tools. It made me think about CAD data is getting exposed to Google Drive via 3rd party. Navigate to Google Dev site to get some examples – What Can You Do with the Drive Platform?

open-app-from-drive

For long time, CAD/PDM topic was banned from cloud. Not anymore. Cloud PDM ban lifted and companies are going to explore how to manage CAD data by leveraging cloud in a most efficient ways. Google Drive and some other technologies from companies focusing on cloud file sharing can provide a foundation to make your native file system transparent to the cloud. Existing desktop CAD tools will leverage it by accessing files. Web API combined with CAD API can be used to develop new type of PDM solutions.

What is my conclusion? Technology will make difference. CAD vendors are on the path of bringing new cloud CAD systems (few examples – Dassault zero file strategy, Autodesk Fusion 360, OnShape). At the same time, desktop CAD systems represent mainstream community of engineers demanding better data management and collaboration tools. These tools have to require little to no IT and integration into existing cloud eco-system to share data. So, Google Drive for Work technology has a chance. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD, PLM and Top 500 cloud app vendors list

September 5, 2014

top-cloud-apps-cad-plm-500

The cloud is growing. Few years ago, some of us had a concern if cloud is fad and it will over fast. Since that time, we can see many new companies in cloud space as well as many companies turned their development efforts completely towards the cloud eco-system.

If you like research, ranks and comparison of vendors, you may find the following list of vendors interesting. Apps Run The Cloud web site published the list of Cloud Top 500 Applications Vendors. You can see list of companies and detailed information about top 50 vendors for free. More detailed information requires subscription.

I’ve been trying to see what companies from CAD/PLM space made it to the list. Here is the list of companies with rank (assigned by Apps Run The Cloud) and domain (CAD or PLM):

120 – Autodesk (CAD)

158 – Altair Engineering, Inc. (CAD)

291 – Dassault Systems (PLM)

377 – Arena Solutions (PLM)

407 – Siemens PLM software (PLM)

What is my conclusion? Cloud is here to stay. The question is not "why the cloud?", but "how and what cloud vendor to choose?". I’ve been blogged about it before – PDM/PLM: Why the cloud? Wrong question… The growth of cloud software is fascinating. The fact 3 top CAD providers are in the list confirms the commitment of companies to cloud strategies and development. I didn’t find few names from CAD/PLM domain that I expected to see. I hope we will see more analysis and comparison of cloud strategies and cloud platforms in CAD/PLM space.

Best, Oleg


What the Dropbox price drop means for engineers and cloud PDM?

September 2, 2014

engineering-cloud-storage-pdm

Cloud storage is an interesting place these days. In my article CAD companies and cloud storage strategy few weeks ago, I discussed the aspect of cloud storage business. Cloud storage companies want your data and for that purpose they will make it very easy for you to sync your data into cloud storage.

Dropbox just made another move and simplified their cloud storage pricing model. Navigate to the following Business Insider article to see some interesting aspects of comparison between cloud storage providers. The most interesting part of the article speaks about specific cloud storage features – view only, password protection, time expiration and remote delete.

Dropbox’s new Pro plan also offers a few collaboration features, including “view-only” permissions, which is helpful for freelancers and contractors that want to show mockups to their clients without letting them make any changes. Dropbox Pro also lets users password-protect their links to any folders or documents, and even apply expiration dates to those items. As PCWorld’s Zach Miners points out, this would be useful for wedding photographers that only want to allow access to a particular album of photos for a limited time. Finally, Dropbox Pro will also let you delete any Dropbox files from a lost or stolen device while keeping those same files backed up in Dropbox’s cloud, which will be a relief for many who have ever worried about losing sensitive data on a misplaced device.

1TB is a lot of data. Even if you think about heavy CAD files, it is a lot. My guess 1TB can cover a storage for CAD and related Office files in many companies. But features differentiation is more important in my view. Dropbox price drop and attempt to introduce important features made me think about future trajectories of cloud storage and how it will related to engineers and growing number of cloud PDM solutions.

1- Cloud sync. Cloud storage will be free very soon. It will not be a differentiation factor to decide what solution to choose. The ability to bring your data to the cloud and bring it back at the time you need in a secure manner will be a key thing to evaluate. You can see how Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox and other vendors are trying to simplify the cloud sync story for their eco-systems. So, think about your tools (CAD systems first!) and they way you work with your data before deciding to sync your files into one of major cloud storage service. To simplify data sync for CAD and other tools can be a first place to show advantages of cloud PDM.

2- Data access control. This is another fundamental functionality. Engineering data contains lots of dependencies. People are re-using the data between projects, working in teams and with different outsource providers. To support access control schema that can support individuals, small companies and teams in large companies can be a challenging task. This is a place where cloud PDM vendors can show a second advantage vs. generic cloud storage providers. For many companies, this is a showstopper to move into cloud solution.

3- Viewing service. It is extremely important to view files and data remotely without downloading file(s) to your computer and mobile devices. Engineering data stored in a very specific formats. To be able to access this data when it located remotely in the cloud can be a third important advantage of cloud PDM tools.

What is my conclusion? The time to pay for cloud storage is almost over. The next battle in cloud solutions competitive race will require to show functionality specifically tuned for engineering data. Cloud sync, access control and viewing is top 3 elements of any cloud PDM solution. The solution that will get it right, has a chance to win cloud PDM competition game. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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