“True SaaS” PLM – the devil is in details

June 23, 2015

cloud-plm-the-devil-in-details

My earlier attempt to compare PLM vendors and cloud services raised many comments online and offline. I want to thank everybody who commented and shared your insight – it helps me to build a next version of comparison table. Also, I can see an importance of open discussion for the future of cloud PLM industry.

One of the most debate topic is the definition of SaaS. The questions and opinions are keep coming. Can we qualify a particular solution as SaaS? What are characteristic of SaaS product from technological and business perspective? And finally… can we define what is “true SaaS”? I want to step back and talk about SaaS first. Below is the definition by Wikipedia. You can learn more here – Software as a Service.

Software as a service (SaaS; pronounced /sæs/ or /sɑːs/) is a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. It is sometimes referred to as “on-demand software”. SaaS is typically accessed by users using a thin client via a web browser.

This definition leaves a lot of flexibility and, of course, doesn’t reflect multiple aspects of product and technology – the core source of disagreement about what is “true SaaS”. I want to focus on some of them – product portfolio, subscription business model, IaaS and hosting, product versions and releases, upgrades and thin/think client access.

1- Product portfolio. This is a question about cloud and on-prem portfolios. Do you believe company can be providing both traditional PLM software and cloud (SaaS) software. For large companies it is mostly part of their strategy. It is a tricky balancing act of selling existing products and moving into the future. For smaller companies, it is a question about their focus.

2- Subscription business model. Most of subscription-based products are tagged with a price per user / per month. Is it a model you want to follow? Do you expect paying monthly? Is it just a way to advertise the price? What is the additional cost associated with product deployment, operation, support and services.

3- IaaS and Hosting. There are multiple sources of infrastructure for cloud software these days. You can run it using services like AWS and Microsoft Azure. Alternatively, you can host it using variety of hosting providers. If your business is large enough, the question about company datacenter can come .

4- Product versions and release. An important question about availability of multiple versions and configuration of your products. The option to keep a single version of truth for your cloud product has lot of advantages. But at the same time, it can raise a concern from IT folks thinking about how to make cloud product compatible with other software running by a company.

5- Upgrades. The topic of software upgrades is painful. Who is responsible to upgrade your environment when product is moving to the next release? Cloud software vendors are traditionally responsible for infrastructure and upgrades. But some specific customizations and configurations can complicate things.

6- Thin vs. Thick clients. Do you think “cloud” is equal “browser”? For some people, the answer is clear yes. Do you think browser access is an ultimate characteristic of “true SaaS” software? You can decide what is important for you, but consider the implication of managing software installed on mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers.

What is my conclusion? The devil is in details and SaaS definition brings many questions. I’m working on a next version of PLM cloud services comparison between vendors. It is a competitive space and vendors will have to work to explain their products and technology. To say “cloud” is not enough. SaaS has no simple definition. To understand multiple characteristics of SaaS is important to take a right decision about what is a right solution for you. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PS. If you have specific questions, please reach me out via email – oleg [@] beyondplm [.] com

Image courtesy of Suat Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


PLM vendors are in risk to follow ERP dinosaurs

June 22, 2015

old-flying-cars1

When it comes to PLM and ERP, you may always get some feeling of rivalry at the air. PLM and ERP domains are not competing. However, ERP and PLM vendors are clearly competing for customers strategic mindset. After all, it always comes to the competition for strategic budget allocation.

For many years ERP vendors came first to the corner office of CIO. These days some ERP dinosaurs are fighting for surviving in a new era of cloud computing and SaaS software. Toolbox.com article – 6 Reasons Why The Dinosaurs of ERP Are About To Go Extinct provides an interesting perspective on what happens in ERP software domain and industries today. 6 reasons in the article is the answer why traditional on-prem software solutions provided by companies like PeopleSoft are eaten by rivalry of cloud newcomers.

The article made me think about trajectory of some implementations and vendors in PLM domain. I can clearly see some similarities. Do you think some 20-30 years old PLM vendors will follow the path of the dinosaurs of ERP? Here are some of my thoughts about PLM domain and on-prem / cloud trends.

1- Old platforms need to retire

For the last 15-20 years, manufacturing companies adopted 2-3 generations of PLM software. For some of them (especially very large companies), the process of adoption was long and expensive. It took time to align processes and systems together. At the same time, technology is moving forward. To move forward, many customers need to drop old products and move to support new operational systems, hardware, devices, internet browsers, etc. It is obviously raises a question of how to retire old platforms. But this is a very painful question for many companies.

2- IT managers and upgrades

Upgrades are painful and IT is the department that traditionally spending a lot of resources and cost to upgrade all systems for a company. Cloud systems are going to change it. Since data centers and cloud infrastructure are owned by software vendors, they are also taking responsibilities for the upgrade. Some innovative PLM vendors such as Aras is including upgrades into their subscription also on on-prem installations.

3- Mobile and site independence

Our working environment is changing. 10-15 years ago, out work was mostly on site. These days the workforce is distributed. People don’t need to be at their desk to do a job. Multiple locations is a reality even for small companies. Mobile devices are in everyone pocket. To have a system that capable to work in such environment is an imperative for every company.

4- How to get small customers on board

PLM vendors made multiple attempt to provide a solution for smaller companies. It never worked. I can list number of products that were announced, retired and discontinued. However, the importance of smaller companies will only increase. New technologies and online market communities are making smaller manufacturing more competitive. It will bring an additional need for cloud PLM systems.

What is my conclusion? Manufacturing companies are slow in their adoption of new technologies. PLM never been a first place to innovate for cloud companies. But the reality of the outside world and online business are bringing manufacturing companies to the point that they will need to have a competitive software for product development and manufacturing. Old systems won’t survive and will have to retire. It is a time for PLM vendors to think about innovation and new platforms. Otherwise, it might to be too late to build and too expensive to buy. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How PLM can avoid cloud integration spaghetti?

June 18, 2015

21-centure-spaghetti-integration

Enterprise integration is a messy space. It is always complex – applications, databases, new and legacy systems, complexity of requirements. People usually need to run at least dozen of applications to run things smoothly. It is never done out-of-the-box and it is always requires circles of implementations and professional services.

I caught the following picture tweeted yesterday by Stan Przybylinski of CIMdata. It provides an excellent view of integration complexity. Unfortunately, in many situations, integration is a major challenge in PLM adoption. To get full value of PLM, company should spend a fortune integrating data and processes – CAD, Bill of materials, ECO, etc.

data-silos

Cloud is coming to enterprise these days. In many ways it creates a new way to think about data, software, services and maybe integrations too. The new technologies and eco-system of services can make a difference. It also creates a significant demand for openness and interoperability. This is a main reason why PLM need to learn web APIs. Web services and REST APIs are changing the way integration can be done.

Technology can make a difference. However, integrations are still hard. Few months ago, I shared my thoughts how to prevent cloud PLM integration mistakes. It comes down to three main things – 1/ lost data semantics; 2/ limitation of data transfers; 3/ transaction management in distributed and cross site environment.

Unfortunately, cloud is not a silver bullet to solve integration challenges. The demand for holistic integration continuum is still in the future. In practice, cloud applications today are replicating bad siloed behaviors of on premise applications. I captured the following picture earlier this week at Boston New Technology meetup.

cloud-silos-apps

This picture is the great demonstration of how bad aspects of siloed on premise applications are moving to cloud environment. Migration of applications on cloud infrastructure such as IaaS can simplify IT’s life. However, it won’t make life of users simpler. From end user standpoint, applications will still run in a silo.

What is my conclusion? The danger is to move established on premise PLM paradigms to the cloud. Technologically new cloud systems can give an advantages in terms of integrations. REST API is one example – it is much easier to code integration scenarios using REST APIs and modern web based tools. At the same time, closed data paradigms and data duplication between silos can bring well-know data spaghetti from on-premise applications to the cloud. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Vendors: Cloud Service Comparison

June 15, 2015

plm-cloud-compare

Cloud is taking PLM vendors by storm. Just few years ago, the question if manufacturing companies will adopt cloud raised lot of debates. You probably remember my posts – PLM competition and true cloud solution and PLM cloud: differentiation and anti-cloud rant. Fast forward into 2015 – I can see almost all PLM vendors are actively engaging into industry discussion about cloud solutions. Public cloud is getting more traction and I stated it in my earlier post – Is public cloud reshaping PLM landscape? Time to recheck…

Earlier today, the PTC article – Demystifying Cloud Services by Christa Prokos caught my attention. The article provides a good insight on different aspects of providing cloud services such as IaaS, PaaS, SaaS. The article is also connecting it to the notion of public, private, hybrid and virtual private clouds.

It made me think about summarizing what I know about PLM vendors strategies and cloud capabilities. I admit that I don’t have full information and can rely only on public sources of information. So, I created the following draft table. If it makes sense to you, let me know. If you have some information and think I missed something, please comment as well. I will maintain updates to this post.

plm-vendors-cloud-services

What is my conclusion? In 2015, cloud is probably not a marketing differentiation for PLM sales people. However, the devil is in details. You need to get your hands dirty to figure out what “cloud” vendors are talking about. Earlier this year, at COFES 2015, I gave a briefing about PLM and cloud. You can take a look here to learn more. There are few questions that left not answered and, in my view, will require a heavy focus by PLM vendors – cloud adoption trajectory by manufacturing, economic of cloud offering and how cloud PLM can change an existing PLM implementation paradigm. It seems to me PLM vendors made a first shot to fill a spreadsheet with cloud check boxes. But jury is out to check what and how PLM cloud cloud can deliver. Just my thoughts.

PS. The PLM cloud services comparison table is a draft. I’m looking forward for your comments – I’m sure missed some company specific points and I need your help to finalize it.

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Cloud CAD and Offline Internet

May 29, 2015

online-offline-cad

I had a chance to attend Google I/O extended 2015 event in Cambridge, Mass yesterday. If you follow up Google I/O, you might be already up to the speed with all Google announcements around Android, Wear, Internet of Things, Photo, etc. If not, check Google I/O 2015. What caught my special attention is Google’s focus on offline. Offline is starting to be important, since Google is thinking about future internet expansion. Think about questions like – how to search on mobile when Internet connection is weak? or How to navigate using Google Maps with no internet connection?

Offline is an interesting topic. We want to have our life connected and collaborative. But at the same time, we are trying to think how cloud applications will work with absence of internet connection or in the situation when internet connection is very weak. TechCrunch article Google Quest to bring the internet to 7 billion people can give you some brief about what Google plan to do. The following Gizmodo article specifically talks about YouTube offline and Maps offline.

offline-google-maps

Another thing that Google did is optimized download time for bad network connections. I’ve seen a demo and it really makes a difference.

optimized-download

It made me think again about offline topic in the connection of cloud CAD. The “offline” topic is one of those things Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape are different these days. Read my earlier post – Autodesk and Onshape disagree about cloud technology and focus. For the moment Fusion360 is an app that requires installation and it works connected with Autodesk 360 cloud platform. It can remind you Evernote – you can install it and it will sync data instantly and keep your records so you can access it from any device. Onshape is taking a different route – full cloud CAD application and it works completely in the browser. You can think about it as Google Apps and Gmail-like approach.

Al Dean of Develop3D shared his opinion on strategy and technology of both Onshape and Fusion360 in his article The cloud – a bright future ahead. Here is the passage addressing the “offline” topic.

Eventually, Fusion will be available via the browser (I’d put a fiver on that being before the end of the year). DS’ next generation SolidWorks products will get better and more accessible. Though strangely, this is the unknown in the calculations as DS is reluctant to talk about the whole thing, presumably to protect its dominance with SolidWorks.

And hopefully, OnShape will have a way of working when you’re offline, as well as internet connected. Finally, I’d hope that DS is much more open about getting its customer’s access to the tools it is developing . The excuse that “They’re using our resources so they should pay” simply won’t cut it as these tools need to be played with, discovered and explored. At the moment, they’re not getting the exposure that they deserve — leaving a whole new market open to Autodesk and Onshape.

What is my conclusion? Will CAD vendors take Google way to make cloud CAD offline? This is an interesting place to watch. Google made several attempts for offline work in Google Apps. It didn’t work in the past, but these days I can save my work offline in Google Drive and it is magically getting in sync when my computer connects back to the internet. Google Maps is a great example how to address specific offline needs. I guess cloud CAD vendors can learn a lesson from Google. It seems to me Autodesk and Onshape will be coming to offline mode from two separate directions. However, focus on customers can be a good guidance to see what is important and when. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Google I/O pictures credit Gizmodo.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Cloud PLM and SaaS sales mindset

May 22, 2015

cloud-plm-sales

I want to talk about PLM sales today. If you want to succeed in sales, a mindset is a right starting point. But, enterprise sales needs a special mindset. PLM sales is very special case. These days SaaS / cloud software is setting new rules for enterprise software. How does it influence and change PLM sales? What advantages cloud PLM can get compared to a traditional PLM products and sales model?

Few days ago, I posted about how to stop blaming engineers for PLM sales problems? In my view, engineers are on average bad sales people. Therefore, to put engineers in the spot of selling PLM and blame them for wrong articulation of PLM value is a bad idea. There are thousands of books and article on the topic of how to sell to enterprise organizations. It is a good reading for coming Memorial Day long weekend. Today, I want to talk about cloud PLM sales – a new category that has a chance to change the way we sell PLM.

I can see two aspects of cloud PLM sales. First is related to a new reality of our world – internet, online connectivity, social networks, virality. How does it help to sell PLM? It certainly helps to create a new level of awareness about what your product does. If you didn’t setup your product twitter account, blog and other social channel, do it now! But, it doesn’t change a fundamentals. Despite all social channels, selling to enterprise is still very much old-schoolers game. In my view, there is no PLM vendors that discovered a new way to sell PLM until now. You can read more in my earlier post – PLM, Viral Sales and Enterprise Old Schoolers.

Second aspect is related to the fact how PLM companies are managing enterprise sales process and new business models. My attention caught the A16Z blog post – If SaaS products sell themselves, why do we need sales? The article gives you an excellent perspective on the details of sales process. I like the comparison of enterprise sales to the process of getting a bill passed in Congress. Certainly true. Although PLM is not a new category in the market, I would consider PLM sales challenge to create a unique value for every customer as something real PLM vendors are facing every day. PLM sales are competing with many other activities in manufacturing companies and it is literally hard to take it through the all three steps of decision process – why to buy PLM, why to buy PLM from a specific vendor and why to buy PLM now.

SaaS sales are facing the same level of sales difficulties. At the same time I’ve been thinking how cloud PLM can get some advantages over a traditional PLM product sales. And the point of "customer facing activity" form A16Z blog is clearly resonating here. This is a passage to pay attention in my view:

SaaS is a winner-take-all market involving a “land-and-expand” sales strategy. However, landing doesn’t necessarily mean expanding and winning. Staffing your startup with customer-facing resources — professional services, customer support, etc. — at this stage is an investment that will pay off not only in expanding your footprint inside that account, but in building the most powerful sales tool there is: a good reference. And while new clients are great, the best place to sell something is where you’ve already sold something.

You may ask me how is that related? Here is the thing… Landing should be an easy process in SaaS PLM compared to a traditional PLM sales process. And this is where cloud PLM can provide a clear differentiation. A traditional PLM approach is to sell on a premise of changing the way customer is doing business and manage product development processes. When it is done, you can setup PLM system and prove it. But it is a very lengthy process. Opposite to that, you can think about cloud PLM first sale as a "land" process. Do it for the most painful problem customer has. This is why PLM sales should be more technical. Land it to the customer for a cost of zero dollars. After all, you can leverage elasticity of the cloud as a biggest advantage. After you done, work on expand option. New subscription business models will help you to provide a new way for customer – pay per use.

What is my conclusion? Moving to the cloud, doesn’t mean PLM can sell itself. After earlier attempts, it looks like wrong sales strategy. At the same time, landing small feature to solve the most painful problem for a customer can be a right step to start. The challenge is to have enough customer facing resources that can help to discover it and land an initial solution with very low cost and super fast ROI. In my view, it is a completely different mindset from what we had before in PLM and enterprise. It is a time for PLM vendors to retool sales teams with new skills. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Kittisak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Onshape quietly developed “Google Drive for CAD”

May 11, 2015

onshape-vision

Cloud storage and CAD files. This topic always created lot of controversy and questions. File sizes, speed, security, CAD formats and viewing. At the same time, the need to collaborate and share files is obvious. In my early blog – PLM Cloud Concerns and Dropbox Reality for Engineers 3 years ago, you can find some interesting statistics about how engineers are using Dropbox services. I don’t have updated numbers, but my hunch that usage of public cloud storage services is not decreasing.

GrabCAD was probably the first widely adopted CAD storage and share service. I debated usage of specialized CAD storage and collaboration service – 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool. You can find some more comments in my chat with Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD.

Onshape cloud storage and collaboration

I’ve been watching recording of . It is a bit long, but if you have time, watch it. Here is a skimmed version with my comments .

Onshape developed a platform that allows users to store, view and collaborate with CAD files. It allows to export and import files, manage revisions, view and edit models and drawings. The list of export and import file formats is not comprehensive yet, but in my view can easy cover the needs of many small and mid size manufacturing shops.

There are 4 main scenarios explained in the webinar – 1/ use Onshape as cloud storage tool; 2/ vendor collaboration; 3/ design review; 4/ access for people with no CAD (viewer). Slides below can be give you some additional explanations.

1-cloud-storage-tool2-collaborate-with-vendors3-design-review-tool4-increase-access-nocad

There are few interesting things that are not obvious in my view if you think about Onshape as CAD tool only.

You can upload and store any type of files to Onshape. Embedded browser viewer is available and you can see them online (you need to convert file into Onshape geometry for viewing). The ability to share and comment on files inside of browser brings “social element” into collaboration. Revisions will help you to keep baselines of files shared with subcontractors.

Onshape’s pricing model can support collaboration. I guess, as soon as somebody with paid Onshape license will share file with you (via email), it will give a free access after registration steps.

What products Onshape is competing with?

Onshape is clearly not the only vendor to support collaboration and storage of CAD files. I just want to mention few of them. I mostly focus on public cloud tools. I’m sure missed few tools, so please feel free to add them in the comments to the blog post.

[Update: 11-May 2015] As expected, I’m getting comments about tools I forgot to mention in this section. So, I’m re-arranging the list. It is alphabetical and will be expanded. Watch for updates…

Autodesk A360 is a cloud project collaboration tool that can support different CAD formats, viewing and collaboration. Navigate here to learn more.

GrabCAD (even after acquisition by Stratasys) is around and after GrabCAD announced Workbench is free, it can be an attractive option too.

Kenesto is an outfit that recently announced the availability of “Kenesto Drive” – cloud tool that can help you to collaborate on CAD files instead of using shared network drive. I’ve been sharing my thoughts about Kenesto here. You can get more info here.

TeamPlatform is a tool that was acquired by 3DSystem. More info is here. It can give you a set of viewing and collaboration capabilities with CAD files.

What is my conclusion? The think I like the most with Onshape is simplicity. The ability to follow Google Drive or Dropbox scenario of File download, Save As, Translate and browser (URL) based model is something you can appreciate if you are doing a lot of work online. Onshape feature set is limited and it is not clear how fast it will grow. It can be a good opportunity to discover what Onshape can give you, but you should consider Onshape beta status. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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