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

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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.

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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?

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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

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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

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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


Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors?

August 26, 2014

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Unbundling is an interesting trend in many industries these days. It is relatively new marketing and business activity that helps to create new business offering, packages and product configurations. In many situations "unbundling" is a disruptive factors in many industries. Here is how it explained in Wikipedia article:

Unbundling is a neologism to describe how the ubiquity of mobile devices, Internet connectivity, consumer web technologies, social media and information access[1] in the 21st century are affecting older institutions (education, broadcasting, newspapers, games, shopping, etc.) by "break[ing] up the packages they once offered, providing particular parts of them at ascale and cost unmatchable by the old order."[2] Unbundling has been called "the great disruptor".[3] "Unbundling" most basically means simply the "process of breaking apart something into smaller parts."[4] In the context of mergers and acquisitions, unbundling refers to the "process of taking over a large company with several different lines of business, and then, while retaining the core business, selling off the subsidiaries to help fund the takeover."[5]

Enterprise software is well known by existing large "bundled" application suites. For long period of time, vendors developed large set of packaged applications. On the other side, customers’ demand was to achieve high level of vertical integration between product lines and product families. Last year, I explored some perspective on the future of unbundling in enterprise software and PLM. One of the drivers behind future "unbundling" is related to interests of customers to get better optimized software environment, focus on specific groups of users and driving faster ROI and fast implementations.

My attention caught my Aras blog post – If all you have is Teamcenter Everything Becomes a 3D CAD Problem. The article speaks exactly about the problem of bundles in engineering software. It discusses different needs of users in an organization. The split Aras introduced by Aras goes between people that need to get on 3D CAD software and rest of organization. Here is the passage, which explains that.

The 3D CAD vendors have created very complex file configuration management problems. Independent of how you manage your enterprise product lifecycle, you have to worry about breaking the configuration integrity of these fragile 3D CAD systems. Given the unique complexity of the 3D CAD problem, do you really expect that a single enterprise tool will be able to manage the entire product information data set and processes? Or is it better to manage CAD with the PDM system provided by the CAD vendor, and use a more suitable enterprise system to manage the majority of the product information and processes? Thousands of end users managing the true majority of product information and use cases have been asked to wait decades while exotic 3D CAD centric PLM systems are deployed to the specification and requirements of the few design engineers. But what is the missed opportunity cost to the business?

I can see Aras’ marketing and business message for "unbundling". As non-CAD PLM vendor, Aras is looking how to disrupt integrated suites provided by PLM vendors such as Siemens PLM and maybe others. At the same time, for customers looking how to solve a specific set of problems outside of engineering organization, to deliver such unbundled solution can be an interesting and efficient strategy.

There are lot of questions that customers will raise as soon as vendors like Aras will unbundle specific 3D CAD functionality from broader scope of process management. To achieve both vertical integration and granularity in platform and tools is very hard and this is a weak point in Aras strategy compared to integrated PLM suites. Few weeks ago, I debated that topic with Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insight. Read about debates here – CAD: Engineering bundles vs. granular apps. More of my ideas and thoughts about the same topic is here – PLM: Tools, Bundles and Platforms.

What is my conclusion? To unbundle complex engineering applications suites as PLM is not easy. Vertical interesting is very important and it will be hard to give up them. Flexibility and agility are on the top priority lists for IT managers when it comes to management of application and resources these days. It looks like an interesting topic to put on the list for PLM vendors and software architects these days. Unbundling was very disruptive in many domains. Will PLM domain can be disrupted by unbundling into platforms and granular apps. Will 3D CAD become the first tool to unbundle from PLM? It is a good question to ask. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM: Tools, Bundles and Platforms

August 11, 2014

plm-tools-bundles-platforms

I like online debates. The opportunity to have good online debates is rare in our space. Therefore, I want to thank Chad Jackson for his openness to have one. I don’t think Chad Jackson needs any introduction – I’m sure you had a chance to watch one of his Tech4PD video debates with Jim Brown of TechClarity.

Here is my post that ignite the debates – CAD: Engineering bundles vs. Granular Applications. In a nutshell, I caught Chad by saying that his idea of bundling of MCAD and ECAD in a single application might go against another idea of granular integrated application he articulated before.

chad-jackson-beyondplm-blog-fight

Here it starts! Chad twitted it a blog fight… whatever. I saw it as a good opportunity to debates what is the future engineering landscape might be. In a world where large CAD and PLM players are aggressively acquiring companies, products and technologies, the idea to combine MCAD and ECAD application can be quite disruptive.

However, my intention is not to discuss who is buying whom in CAD/PLM world. There is relatively limited number of MCAD and ECAD vendors. You can see them by navigating to the following links – 3D CAD, ECAD.

Chad’s main point – Granularity and Integration are not diametrically opposite. I agree with the statement. I also find examples of 3DEXPERIENCE, PTC and Transmagic very relevant. I found very important to clarify the differences between so called "granular apps" and "data integration". Here is my favorite passage from Chad’s article:

Granular Apps offer a limited set of capabilities that are focused on a specific job. These apps are more accessible to different roles in the company because their limited set of functionality requires less training and retention in terms of how they work. They are valuable in the network of roles that participate because they are so accessible. Data Integration means that multiple software applications work against a single set of data in a coordinated fashion. There can be value in this in propagating change and enabling collaboration across the network of roles that participate in overall product development.

The way article presents the combination of integration and granularity made me think about some interesting trajectories in future development of engineering software. I’d like to classify things into 3 distinct categories – Tools, Bundles and Platforms.

1- Tools.

The history of engineering applications goes back into development of tools that helped engineering to be more productive – drafting tools and calculation tools. You can find many of these tools in the past – 2D CAD, 3D CAD, Simulation and analysis tools. If you look on current software landscape, you can find most of the tools are still here.

2- Bundles and/or Suites

One of the biggest challenge with tools is related to the fact how customers can use them together. The topics of data integration and interoperability are very often discussed in the context of ability to use multiple tools, especially when these tools are developed by different vendors. The problem of interoperability is well recognized by vendors. One of the answers is to provide so called "suites" or application bundles with special focus on how tools are integrated together.

3- Platforms.

Platform is a lovely word in a lexicon of software developers. For most of them, this is an end game in the maturity of software tools. How to become a platform that can be used by other developers? There are so many advantages you can unlock as a provider of a platform. Easy to say, but very hard to do. The critical characteristics of platforms are hard to achieve – openness, data integration, maturity of data standards, tools and APIs and many others.

What is my conclusion? My guess, Chad is speaking about the opportunity to provide a unified product development platform that combines MCAD and ECAD tools. His statement about data integration indicates that tools can be still granular but become part of an integrated platform. I don’t think everybody will see it in the same way. I want to see mechanical engineer is using ECAD type environment for his work. I hardly can imagine some ECAD related work done in 3D environment. 3D view can be potentially cumbersome and confusing for most of electronic design. I believe IT and PLM architects might appreciate platform thing, but engineers can disagree. Where is the middle ground? It made me think more about what future engineering and manufacturing platforms will look like. I guess Chad Jackson might have some ideas about that and he would like to share them. I will work on my list to compare notes too. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD: Engineering Bundles vs. Granular Apps?

August 7, 2014

cad-mcad-ecad-bundle-future

Packages, bundles, product suites, integrated environments. I’m sure you are familiar with these names. The debates about best of breed solutions vs. single-vendor integrated suites are going long way back in the history of CAD and PLM. Some companies are ready for functional trade-off and afraid of additional integration cost. For other companies performance and functionality are absolutely important to innovate.

Service oriented architecture and web technologies are bringing a sense of granularity into application and product world. In my view, Develop3D article – Why granularity is going to rock the future brings a very important perspective on the future of products. Al Deans speaks about granularity in data management. The complexity of product and data is growing. More people should work collaboratively on the same information (what was bundled before as a single CAD file). Here is my favorite quote:

When you’re working on a system that’s remotely located on a server, whether that’s over your internal network or across the wider web, you’ll need to manage and exchange finite packets of information, features, sketch entities and such. the rise of collaborative working systems, such as Catia V6, will mean that users are working on the same data, in parallel, at the same time. If not at the same time, there will be times when design changes, down to feature and maybe sub-feature level, will need to be managed and rationalised. To do that, you need to manage and keep track of those individual parcels of data and oackets of change. That’s going to require a level of granularity that’s way beyond what most data management systems are currently capable of.

Last year I watched Tech4PD video capturing debates between well known PLM pundits – Jim Brown and Chad Jackson – CAD Granularity vs. Integrated Suites. Navigate here to watch the recording. I voted for granularity. It was well captured by Chad Jackson statement. Here is the passage:

Granular CAD applications enable many roles in the enterprise, expanding the use of the 3D asset company-wide. Granular apps are better at enabling individual roles.

Latest blog post on Lifecycle Insight (again by Chad Jackson) – No More Excuses: It’s Time to Merge MCAD and ECAD caught my attention by something that I see as opposite to principles of granularity. Chad is debating the need to bundle and unite the functionality of MCAD and ECAD applications. I found his conclusion in a slight controversy with previously introduced concept of "granular CAD applications":

Why are there two separate toolsets at all? And that’s where, despite the lack of enthusiasm and interest in the topic, I think there is potential for disruption and innovation. There shouldn’t be two toolsets. You should be able to conduct mechanical and electrical design in a single CAD application…. Call it Hardware CAD (HCAD). Call it Electro-Mechanical CAD (EMCAD). I don’t care. But don’t tell me such an offering wouldn’t be intriguing. In my eyes, there is no reason that a combined MCAD-ECAD application shouldn’t be available. Large existing software providers have their reasons for inaction. But that means there is a ripe opportunity for disruption from smaller companies.

I want to elaborate more about the last point related to disruption and innovation. I explained my point of view in the blog post last year – The Future Unbundling Strategies in CAD/PLM. I want to repeat some of my assertions from the last year:

1. CAD and PLM is too big to sustain as a one big aggregated solution provided by a single vendor. This is a polystate diversified space that needs to be covered by multiple solutions, features and vendors.

2. Vendors are never good enough to see what exact problem customers want to solve. Especially when it comes to large manufacturing companies and complicated supply chain eco-systems. That’s way armies of consulting services as well as diversified products must be applied to provide a final solution.

3. Customers often don’t know what problem to solve. For most of the situations product development is a complex problem. It requires the team of people to work on. In addition to that, large organizations are involved into politics and confrontation related to usage of different enterprise software and tools.

What is my conclusion? I see a very strong potential in unbundling of existing large product suites. Take a piece of functionality, re-invent it, provide bigger value to a customer. Cloud technologies and future focus on data will be an imperative to make it successful. Vendors’ focus is shifting towards services. It is about how to satisfy customers each day. Selling of expensive bundles can be a thing in the past. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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