What cloud PLM cannot do for you?

September 19, 2014

no-cloud-magic-plm

It has been already few years since I started to discuss cloud PLM opportunities on my blog. I found one of my early blogs about PLM and cloud – PLM and cloud: hold the promise?

So, what changed since then? Actually, quite a lot… We’ve seen massive adoption of cloud and mobile by businesses in many domains. PLM cloud adoption is growing too. Cloud is on the roadmap of all PLM vendors. It is really a question of "how to implement cloud?" rather than a question of "do we need to support cloud"? We also seen few very interesting examples of cloud applications in CAD/PLM space. I want just to mention few of them – Autodesk design tool Autodesk Fusion360, Dassault SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual, Autodesk PLM360. Siemens PLM made their TeamCenter PLM available from IaaS infrastructure. Aras announced cloud strategy and introduced cloud product available via partnership with Infor ERP – Infor PLM Innovator. Cloud PLM pioneers, Arena Solutions, introduced several new cloud tools (BOM control and Quality management). Last but not least, GrabCAD, an open community of mechanical engineers released cloud PDM tool – GrabCAD Workbench. Earlier this week, GrabCAD was acquired by 3D printing company Stratasys. According to TechCrunch, article the deal was around $100M. I’m sure missed few products and companies…

Here are things that I discussed back in 2010 – cost of the solution, delivery model, global access, faster implementation, scaling. We learned a lot of about PLM and cloud for the last four years. Today, I want to make a reality check for list of things I discussed before in lights of what cloud PLM can or cannot do.

1- Cost

Cloud PLM made a mental switch in everything we knew about PLM before. According to Engineering.com article, cloud affected negatively on-premise PLM market. Cloud PLM created expectations for alternative pricing models and pushed all vendors to think how to turn PLM into service offering. Today, you can buy cloud PLM subscription with no upfront cost and hardware investment, which is a very good thing. However, I don’t think, total cost of ownership is different if you will calculate it on the period of 5 years. I’d love to see and learn more about that and love if you can share your comments.

2- Deployment, scale and IT

One of the best thing delivered by cloud PLM is related to deployment and IT cost. You can buy and deploy it instantly – almost similar to how you can open a new Gmail account. As a customer, you don’t need to worry about servers, setup cost, ordering hardware. You don’t need to negotiate with IT installation time. However, you cannot eliminate IT completely, especially if you are large company. For most of situations, you will have to discuss and make an alignment with IT about issues related to security and information access.

3- Faster Implementation

So, you can buy cloud PLM without upfront cost, you can deploy it overnight. What about PLM implementation? Implementation is an interesting thing. I’d like to speak about two aspects of implementations – 1/Configuration and customization; 2/ Implementations of business processes.

Four years ago, many companies were concerned about capability of web/cloud applications to deliver the level of flexibility, customization and configurations similar to on-premise PLM deployments. It is true, for most of situations, you cannot hack your cloud PLM with simple SQL script. However, I think, the flexibility of cloud PLM tools today is similar to on-premise PLM systems. However, flexibility of cloud PLM tools cannot provide real advantages compared to on-premise tools. Thanks for virtualization and modern collaboration technologies you can run your implementation remotely also for on-premise PLM systems.

Implementation of business processes is an interesting aspect of PLM implementation. In practice it means to define data structures and business processes. Cloud PLM won’t provide any advantages here. It is all about people, processes and organizational changes. So, the ugly truth is that cloud PLM won’t reduce your need of implementation services. In case of on-premise PLM, implementation will be done on site and collaborate with IT – installing, configuring and debugging customized software. In case of cloud PLM, you will need to work with cloud PLM vendor or hosting provider.

What is my conclusion? Cloud computing changed a lot in our life. PLM on the cloud can do many things differently. With much lower upfront cost and simple deployment, it opens PLM doors for many companies that never thought can buy and implement PLM systems before. However, when it comes to implementation and services, cloud PLM won’t do much different from on-premise PLM systems. You still need to implement it. It will require business process planning and implementation cost. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How long will take GrabCAD to develop full-blown PLM solution?

August 18, 2014

grabcad-plm-beyondplm

Time is running fast. It has been two years since I posted GrabCAD: from Facebook for engineers to PLM. If you are in the engineering community, the chances you will come to PLM are very high. Like in the past all roads lead to Rome, I guess all future development roads for PDM solution lead to PLM. Even if you don’t like to brand your solution as PLM… Nevertheless, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Just few months ago, GrabCAD moved into "PDM" segment by introducing GrabCAD Workbench. Earlier today, GrabCAD made another "quack" towards PLM by adding BOM support. Navigate your browser to the following link to read – BOMs Away! Workbench Adds BOM Management. The following passage outlines what GrabCAD BOM can do today:

We’ve added an easy-to-use BOM export capability to Workbench, enabling any Workbench user to generate a Bill of Materials with just a few clicks. This means that your engineering team and manufacturing team will always be on the same page. Now your purchasing manager or supplier liaison doesn’t need to bother a CAD engineer to generate a BOM, and doesn’t need to enter items individually into Excel each time you change a revision. It’s as simple as two clicks to get the list of components into Excel!

grabCAD-bom-plm

Introducing BOM functionality is a very logical step many PDM systems did. However, it doesn’t come easy. The complexity of system is growing. From what I can see now GrabCAD is an early beginning and just touching BOM functionality to balance customers demand and complexity of full-blown BOM management solution.

What is my conclusion? To extract BOM from CAD drawing is a very neat functionality. My hunch it was requested by many GrabCAD users. However, BOM functionality introduction was a challenge for many PDM systems in the past. The complexity of Part management, multiple BOMs – this is only two visible parts of the iceberg. GrabCAD strategy reminded me what SolidWorks did in the past with PDM – added functionality when it was absolutely requested by majority of customers. I think it worked for SolidWorks… It would be interesting to see how it will work for GrabCAD. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why now is the right time to reinvent PDM?

August 15, 2014

re0invent-pdm-now

Product Data Management (PDM) isn’t a new domain. The first PDM systems were invented 20-30 years ago with a simple objective – to manage product data. The scope of PDM was heavily debated and included design, engineering BOMs, ECO and even supply chain. However, the most widely accepted role of PDM is to manage CAD files and their revisions.

For long time, PDM was recognized as somewhat you only need to consider if a size of your engineering department is large enough. Even starting price to implement PDM solution went down significantly for the last 20 years, my hunch average PDM solution starting cost for engineering organization with 10-15 people will be about $30-50K. Cost and implementation complexity made PDM business limited to larger companies and was mostly handled by resellers with special skills and knowledge. Most of them associated with a specific CAD vendor channel.

CAD vendors recognized the need and complexity of PDM. For most of vendors the answer on PDM demand was to develop (or acquire) a dedicated PDM system bundled with their CAD software. As a result of that, most of PDM players were acquired. Most of existing (remaining) PDM vendors are either focusing on a specific geographical niche or developed additional solutions usually branded with "PLM" buzzword and strategy.

My hunch is that until last year, PDM market was somewhat stalled and focusing on replacing of outdated versions of PDM software as well as support of new CAD software releases. Then something happens… For the last months, I can see an increased interested in PDM software. I noticed few focused researches and articles in the field of PDM – Expert Guide to the Next Generation of PDM; TechClarity Expert Guide for Basic CAD management and few others.

Also I want to mention few activities by vendors focusing on basic PDM functionality. It started from more traditional OOTB approach made by PTC Windchill PDM Essentials, SolidEdge SP focusing on SharePoint platform leverage and GrabCAD Workbench using "cloud platform" as a differentiation strategy.

Consilia Vector published CAMScore report for GrabCAD Workbench where CAMS stands for Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social. In my view, these major trends are making a renaissance in the space of PDM.

As I mentioned before, because of cost and complexity, PDM software was out of reach for many smaller companies and engineering departments. DIY (Do it yourself) PDM approach combining network file share, Excel files and FTP is a solution for probably 60-70% of market. For many years, to share files using network and USB drives was "good enough solution". But the era of file sharing changed forever with coming trend of social networks, mobile and cloud. So called YAPSA (Yet Another Photo Sharing Apps) became widely available in our everyday life. The question why PDM is so complex and why we cannot manage and access CAD data similar to what we do with photos and videos brings PDM solution back to the innovation room.

What is my conclusion? Cloud, web and social technologies in consumer space reached the level of maturity. It comes to the point where new tech and awareness of cloud and social approach are going to challenge a traditional PDM space. In addition to that, looks like an existing approach to use network drives and file sharing to manage CAD files is coming to logical end. People will be looking how to copy YAPSA approach into PDM space. So, it is time for PDM to change. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


What makes “cloud” a good alternative for PDM system?

June 20, 2014

cloud-pdm-selection

It has been a year since I published my How to select PDM system in 5 simple steps? Engineering.com article The Difference Between Cloud-based and Traditional PDM made me think it is a good time to re-evaluate my writing and see if I need to correct my recommendations. Note, Engineering.com article is paid promotion by GrabCAD. However, as stated in the bottom of the page – GrabCAD haven’t had an editorial input to the post.

The article makes a comparison between traditional PDM and Cloud PDM for three different customer segments – small, medium and large. It brings some very good characteristics of these environments in terms of how companies work, IT capacities, process maturity, etc. Nevertheless, with different pros and cons, after all, the conclusion is simple and straightforward – Cloud PDM maybe an option for all these companies. Here is a passage which explains that:

Whether you are a part of small, medium, or large business, it is clear that cloud-based PDM has a lot more to offer than file system management and in some cases more than traditional PDM. While traditional PDM has been around long enough to be a mature product, there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf installation. Traditional PDM requires experts trained in the front-end and back-end administration. It also requires significant investment in hardware and infrastructure.

The article is long and contains comparison tables. It took me some time to review all of them. I’ve been looking how to capture the enhancement of my simplified PDM selection process. After few reads of the documents, I finally got what I need. Here is my +3 points to PDM selection process:

1. Global access to CAD data: If global access to CAD data is important, you can get significant advantage from cloud PDM system. You will have much simpler access including mobile application option.

2. CAD / PDM integration. Cloud PDM still requires integration with CAD environment and this is important for all types of companies (in my view, this is a missing point in the article, which points on integration needs only for medium-size companies). So, in case, there is no specific CAD plug-in for cloud PDM, you might prefer traditional PDM environment.

3. Cost. Cloud PDM will shift your PDM expenses into operational cost. It is hard to say something about TCO and ROI, but clearly, you will be able to run PDM environment with much lower upfront cost.

If you are interested to read more about Cloud PDM alternative, I can recommend you the following article – Lightweight CAD Management using the Cloud by Jim Brown. The following passage is my favorite:

Living in an unmanaged, manual environment is highly inefficient and prone to errors. For companies that have outgrown chaos and are tired of crossing their fingers and hoping they don’t order or produce the wrong part, it’s time for a practical solution. Fortunately, there are more options available today than ever before, including new cloud-based tools. It’s time for a rational discussion to explore the basic requirements for CAD data management and discuss whether they can be achieved without the cost and complexity that make traditional solutions impractical for many smaller manufacturers.

What is my conclusion? If you have reliable internet connection and not very complicated IT landscape you can find cloud PDM gives you overall advantage in terms of cost and accessibility. If you have complex integration requirements, traditional PDM will be a better option for you. Larger companies might decide to implement multiple PDM systems anyway to match multiple CAD systems environment and/or facilitate work with suppliers via cloud PDM options. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture courtesy of GrabCAD.com


How to re-invent CAD / PDM integration?

May 19, 2014

cad-pdm-integration-future

In the beginning was CAD and CAD was the only important system for engineers. Then came PDM… In my view, the topic of CAD/PDM integration is one of the most fascinating ones in the history of CAD, data management and collaboration. From many standpoints, PDM makes sense to become a best friend to CAD and engineers – don’t lose CAD files, manage revisions, re-use previous designs, collaborate with peers. However, it is not happening easy… For the last 10-15 years, most of PDM systems introduced a huge headache to CAD sales, engineers and corporate IT managers. Yes, some of PDM systems misbehaved less than others, but the trend is clear.

The integration between CAD and PDM was one of the key elements for PDM system to success. Bringing PDM system into CAD and accessing PDM system from CAD (File) menu was considered as the right way to integrate CAD and PDM. CAD vendors always tried to provide a better PDM / CAD integration to their own CAD tools. Nevertheless, integration story in Multi-CAD world was and still is a challenge. I covered it in the past in my Multi-CAD & PDM integration: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. In my view, even after two years, that blog post is still very relevant.

I can see CAD API openness as one of the key elements of future trajectories of CAD / PDM integrations. Opposite to that, the option to build CAD / PDM bundles is possible and CAD vendors are trying to push towards that (examples from Dassault Catia Enovia and SolidEdge SP are probably the most relevant).

However, do you think a traditional multi-CAD PDM option is done? Apparently it is not done yet. Usage of advanced viewer and 3D collaboration solution was the most straightforward way to solve the problem in multi-CAD PDMs. However, integrate into CAD interface was always a challenge.

Last week announcement by GrabCAD about licensing of Siemens PLM Parasolid library is an interesting refresh is CAD / PDM world. Navigate to the following link to read the announcement press release by Siemens PLM. Siemens blog article GrabCAD demonstrates cloud based collaboration for engineers at SEU14, selects Parasolid puts some more lights on what GrabCAD is planning to do -

GrabCAD has licensed Siemens’ Parasolid® software to provide 3D model interrogation, inspection and visualization within their Workbench application for cloud-based product data management.

Another GrabCAD article – Everyone calm down, we are not going to develop CAD system brings additional explanation. Here is an important passage:

How can we use a geometry engine to improve the PDM experience? There are actually a lot of things you can do with geometry that don’t require a CAD system. For example:Precise measurements, Interference checking, Mass properties; Projected geometry calculations; Boolean operations.

Time will show what does it mean in details. My hunch is that 3D model interrogation can add few additional points to GrabCAD Workbench in the way Workbench integrates with Parasolid-based (and not only) 3D CAD systems. I can see clearly SolidWorks and SolidEdge are on the top of the list.

What is my conclusion? To find an efficient and easy way to integrate CAD and PDM software was a significant challenges for many PDM companies in the past. It looks like GrabCAD are trying to innovate and find an unusual way to do so. Will GrabCAD end up by developing a very advanced geometrical solution to collaborate with 3D data or build their own CAD system? Time will show. What is clear that to find a way to unlock CAD data for better collaboration remains the first priority for PDM developers. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD Collaboration & Cloud: Chat With GrabCAD’s Hardi Meybaum

March 12, 2014

hardi-oleg-collaborative-collage

I had new kind of experience yesterday. It was on demand webinar. To me it was more like live blogging conversation. In case you following my twitter closely, you probably noticed Engineering.com webinar yesterday – CAD Collaboration & the Cloud: On-Demand Webinar with GrabCAD & Beyond PLM. I had a chance to meet and talk to GrabCAD CEO Hardi Meybaum. That wasn’t our first meeting. Hardi and I had many conversations in the past. The first one was back in October 2010 when we spent couple of hours in nearby Starbucks shop speaking about what GrabCAD is up to. This is an old post with my thoughts after that conversation. I’ve been blogging about GrabCAD and related topics such as CAD files sharing, Collaboration, Cloud and others a lot. Somehow, Hardi and I developed an intensive conversation via blogs and twitter. So, yesterday webinar was a first experience to turn our online social experience into live conversation.

If you want to listen to the record of our conversation, navigate your browser to this link with webinar recording. I found myself in agreement with Hardi about many related to CAD, Collaboration and cloud. I captured top 5 things to outline my agreement with Hardi:

1- CAD collaboration is very relevant and cloud is a right way to improve the collaboration among individuals in engineering and manufacturing companies. The fundamental questions related to how people can work together are still with us.

2- Globalization create an additional need to improve collaboration. Even small companies these days are not located in one place. Engineering and manufacturing can be done in multiple places to optimize for the cost. Individuals can work from home. This is an absolutely different environment and eco-system compared to what we had 10 years ago.

3- Expectations of people about collaboration, usability and speed of communication are changing these days. The reason is a lot of technologies and products developed in consumer, social and mobile space for the last decade.

4- Engineering workflow is absolutely important. CAD collaboration tool must be focused on how to make collaborative workflow painless and simple.

5- IT and other parts of organization must be focused on how to simplify communication and collaboration and stop behave as "police force" and focus on policies and restrictions to make collaboration more complex.

One of the feedback I’ve got after webinar is that it went too peacefully. It was also final Hardi’s conclusion – we need to disagree more. So, to inspire future conversations, I wanted to bring top 5 things to outline my disagreement with Hardi:

1- Hardi: File is primary things people are working on and file will be still important.

I think by keeping "files" in focus, we’re increasing the complexity of user workflows. If you think about social tools and web today, files are getting less and less important. Think about photo sharing. It was complicated when the scenario required to download files from SD card and publish it on the website. With development of modern mobile applications, photo sharing skyrocketed. One of the reasons – the ability to bypass "file" representation and publish directly from phone/camera. So, file must disappear and software vendors must do it by deep integrating with CAD and other tools.

2- Hardi: There is no technical challenge to get CAD data to the cloud.

The challenge of getting files to the cloud is significant. CAD and engineering data is very complex. Today it is resided on PCs and corporate network drives. It is huge (in size) and complex (in terms of dependencies). To make this data available online for collaboration via slow speed connections is one of the major competitive differentiation specialized vendors can develop against mainstream collaboration tools like Dropbox, Box.net and others.

3- Hardi: Goto market & price is a challenge

Price is not a challenge- cost is a challenge! The challenge is how to keep cost of CAD collaboration services low. Despite the common perception of web as a free resource, cloud is expensive. Storage, viewing, communication, global access, etc. – this is only short list of factors that can push cost of CAD collaboration services up. Dropbox and other mainstream vendors will use scale as a factor to bring cost down. So, to succeed in CAD collaboration and compete with mainstream vendors, every vendor needs to develop technologies to keep cost of the solution down.

4- Hardi: To develop tools with good user experience sounds like an ordinary development task.

User experience is never easy. To get data to the cloud seamlessly is very complicated tasks. Most of CAD engineers today are using Windows based desktop CAD tools. Majority of people are saving data locally. Asking engineers to bring data to the cloud can be a challenge. Another challenge is how to make desktop based design tools seamless connected with cloud environment without disrupting traditional engineering CAD desktop workflow.

5- Hardi: Local PDMs are not allowing to non-engineers to use the data.

I want to defend existing PDM technologies and products. So-called "local PDMs" developed multiple tools to allow people outside of corporate firewall to stay connected with data. Most of them developed web clients or mobile apps. In SolidWorks community, e-Drawing is another successful tool to share and collaborate on CAD data. Yes, these tools are not ideal. But companies are using them a lot in production these days.

What is my conclusion? I think CAD Collaboration is very interesting and still very relevant. There are lot of challenges and lot of opportunities. Seamless communication and efficiency are clear priority for companies and individual. The demand for new business models and pricing will push company to develop cost-effective services to support it. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD, Engineers and Online Communities

February 19, 2014

cad-engineers-community

Remember our life before internet? The meaning of community was about social group that shares common values. Actually, the history of communities is longer than history of CAD software :). So called "Community Rules" were mentioned in one of the first scrolls found in Qumran Cave. Community word often explains common geography or environment. However, in human communities it is usually comes down to needs, belief, intent, risks, etc. Internet expanded borders of social groups and made possible to create virtual communities. The result – massive creation of online communities (social networks). Some of them, such as Facebook, started as a virtual continuation of physical social groups (academic organization). Social networks today represent huge segment of online internet activities.

The success of social business and social networking raised multiple questions among developers of business software. Collaboration still remains one of the biggest problem in organization. Geographical distribution is another reason why companies are looking how to improve communication. Software vendors are coming with the ideas of software to collaborate similar to social networking web sites. In addition to that, community creation is related to customer activities. This is where a potential to link collaboration in an organization and customer activities.

So, what is the secret of successful community creation? I was reading The collision of communities few days ago. Article brings some interesting perspectives on community organizations and some driving factors behind community work. Among them, article speaks about Jelly (Q&A search), Wut and Secret (anonymous status apps). These are communities too. Author compares these communities with communities companies are creating these days. Fundamentally, in order to be successful, communities are sharing the same common behavior and interest. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

Every social startup that launches hope to have a large, organic community organize around their product. They hire community managers and product managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase engagement. Jelly, Wut and Secret, each different in application, have at it core, the need to build and cultivate a vibrant community to succeed, and in order to do so, they must remember the first community rule: He shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder and truth in the midst of the members of the community, so that they shall behave decently with one another in all that has been revealed to them.

Engineering software companies are joining the bandwagon community building. Social CAD, Social PLM, Social Collaboration – for the last few years we’ve heard a lot about how community driven (social) software will change the way we do business. We can only speculate about successes and failures of social software. However, I want to bring two examples of communities related to engineering software – SolidWorks Users and GrabCAD.

SolidWorks has large and successful community. Nobody can argue. The common interests and needs among them is to share knowledge and experience of how to use SolidWorks. In my view, it was extremely important to all participants since it allowed to them (engineers) to get CAD system support. Most of SolidWorks users are working for small firms that had no budget and engineering IT to help them.

GrabCAD is an interesting example. Started few years ago as "Facebook for Engineers", it succeeded to gather about 1 million engineers to share CAD files online. Here is my pure speculation how it was done. Re-use is one of the fundamental engineering behavior. You can save a lot of time by re-using existing design even if you will modify it. Back in my university years, to have an old similar project was a huge time saving factor in every project I did. GrabCAD provided to engineers models to reuse CAD models for the best price – free. In addition to that, it helps engineers to self-promote their work.

Think about these two examples. In both cases, focus on identification of "community rule" was a key to success. It should be something that will drive common interests and benefits of all participants. Wikipedia article about organizational communication can be a good source of learning and additional information. Here are few assumptions I captured:

All we really need to understand communication in organizations is (a) observable and replicable behaviors that can be transformed into variables by some form of measurement, and (b) formally replicable syllogisms that can extend theory from observed data to other groups and settings. Organizations are mechanical things, in which the parts (including employees functioning in defined roles) are interchangeable. What works in one organization will work in another similar organization. Individual differences can be minimized or even eliminated with careful management techniques.

What is my conclusion? Ask two engineers about how to do a project – you will get 3 options. To work with engineers is like herding cats. Nevertheless, the focus should be on identification and capturing of behaviors that can help engineers in their everyday life. Be prepared to discover something different from traditional organizational goals like "improve quality" or "decrease cost". By capturing and replicating engineers’ behaviors you can find a recipe to organize a successful engineering community. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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