How to eliminate PLM customization problems?

March 28, 2014


I’m following strategic visions of the major PLM vendors 2014+ publication by Jim Brown – well known analyst and my blogging buddy for last few years. It started as a publication covering Autodesk, Dassault, PTC, Siemens (vendors listed alphabetically). Last week, Jim expanded his PLM vision publications by adding Aras Innovator to the list. Navigate here to read about Aras 2014+ vision. Aras is well known by their Enterprise Open Source strategy. One of the interesting differentiation I captured in Jim’s article is related to Aras’ strategy to break rules of PLM customization. Here is the passage:

Aras has decided to break the rules [of PLM customization]. They aim to become the PLM company that defies the conundrum, allowing manufacturers to customize their software and still upgrade to future releases without major disruption. They can do this because customers can update the data schema, business rules, workflows, and forms without jeopardizing the integrity of the system. How does this work? Aras’ XML-based, model-oriented approach coupled with their willingness to provide customers with the business flexibility and tools to make it feasible. Aras has effectively morphed themselves into a PLM Platform with solid core functionality with a built in ability to be extended by customers and partners. To put this strategy into action, they have told me they are “putting their money where their mouth is.” They now include upgrade services as a part of their subscription service. I haven’t seen that from anyone else anywhere, particularly while encouraging people to enhance and modify the package. This is a clear differentiator and makes Aras unique in the PLM market.

PLM customization is a tricky deal. Honestly, nobody is dreaming to make PLM implementation with zero customization effort. It all starts from flexible data modeling, which imply certain level of data customization. Time ago, I posted – Is PLM customization a data management Titanic? Earlier this year, I’ve been discussing options and reasons on How to de-customize PLM? The story of PLM customization is tightly related to PLM system flexibility data modeling. Typically, every PLM implementation contains some portion of customization that usually done by service organization and/or internal IT department. Lifecycle rules, data import, workflows, integration with other enterprise systems – this is only a very short list of customizations done during PLM deployment. Another huge aspect of customization is related to system upgrades. That one is actually mentioned by Jim Brown in his Aras’ review.

So, is there a way to solve customization problem? In my view, the answer is – it depends. In my view, you cannot eliminate specific implementation activities. Adding of new features and infrastructure technologies (eg. RDBMS) will require certain upgrade activity to happen. However, if you are selling services, the interest will be to optimize this work. Cloud vendors have similar incentive to optimize infrastructure upgrades and maintenance, otherwise operational cost will go up. So, smart technology can optimize cost and customization efforts.

What is my conclusion? Business and technology are going together. To have good business incentive to optimize technologies is always helpful and can put pressure on development organization to optimize cost of infrastructure upgrades. Service based offering (open source and cloud) are two great examples where business interests of vendors and customers are going at the same direction. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM Open Source Future – Cloud Services?

February 17, 2014


For the last few years, open source was one of the major disruptive factor in tech. Open source powers world’s leading tech companies. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon and many others would not exist without open source. The success of RedHat put a very optimistic business projection on the future disruption of industry by open source. Since then, we’ve seen many companies that started their business trajectory as “Red Hat of XYZ” with the objective to disrupt a particular industry segment. Many of them became very successful in what they do. However, what happened with their “open source” messages?

My attention was caught by two articles speaking about current trajectories of companies building their business model around Open Source software. Peter Levine, partner at Andreessen Horowitz started this conversation in his – Why There Will Never Be Another RedHat: The Economics Of Open Source and ReadWrite article was following TechCrunch article – Why Open Source Is Disappearing From Open Source Companies? Have a read – good articles with lots of interesting examples and data points. According to the Peter Levine, the main reasons why open source companies cannot compete successfully with their proprietary rivals are simple – money and inability to keep stabilized roadmap development. Here are two notable passages from TechCrunch:

There are many reasons why the Red Hat model doesn’t work, but its key point of failure is that the business model simply does not enable adequate funding of ongoing investments. The consequence of the model is minimal product differentiation resulting in limited pricing power and corresponding lack of revenue. As shown below, the open source support model generates a fraction of the revenue of other licensing models. For that reason it’s nearly impossible to properly invest in product development, support, or sales the way that companies like Microsoft or Oracle or Amazon can.


And if that weren’t tough enough, pure open source companies have other factors stacked against them. Product roadmaps and requirements are often left to a distributed group of developers. Unless a company employs a majority of the inventors of a particular open source project, there is a high likelihood that the project never gains traction or another company decides to create a fork of the technology. The complexities of defining and controlling a stable roadmap versus innovating quickly enough to prevent a fork is vicious and complex for small organizations.

ReadWrite article brings list of companies started as “open source” and moving now towards different messages.

In 2010, SugarCRM’s main landing page prominently advertised itself as open source. Today? Not a single mention. In February 2009, Alfresco declared itself “the open source alternative for Enterprise Content Management.” No mention of open source on the home page today. The same goes for Acquia, the Drupal company (see 2009 vs. today), and most every other significant company that sells support or software around an open-source project.

PLM industry has their list of open source companies. You can count several product today branded themselves as “PLM open source”. The most notable, Aras created innovative model called “Enterprise Open Source”. To core part of Aras was never open sourced. However, Aras developed significant community network of supporters implementing Aras Innovator software and building applications on top of Aras core platform. Aras keeps fairly large reference customer base supporting and advocating for Aras enterprise open source strategy. According to them, it brings predictable license cost model combined with open software platform, which differentiate Aras from other PLM companies.

TechCrunch article made me think what will be the future turn in development of PLM open source? Would “cloud services” become a future strategic exit for Aras and other open source PLM companies? According to Mr. Levine, SaaS and appliance business model can be a good match to Open Source projects. Here is a formula:

This recipe – combining open source with a service or appliance model – is producing staggering results across the software landscape. Cloud and SaaS adoption is accelerating at an order of magnitude faster than on-premise deployments, and open source has been the enabler of this transformation.Beyond SaaS, I would expect there to be future models for Open Source monetization, which is great for the industry.

What is my conclusion? There is no clear conclusion today. In my view, PLM industry is still waiting for big “disruption moment”. Will it come from cloud PLM alternatives, open source PLM provided as cloud services or just service projects using open source software? Time will show. It seems to me “value” and “maturity” are two main differentiations PLM companies need to focus these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM Software and Open Source Contribution

February 11, 2014


Open source is a topic that raised many controversy in the last decade. Especially if you speak about enterprise software. The trajectory of open source software moved from absolute prohibition to high level of popularization. In my view, the situation is interesting in the context of PLM software. The specific characteristic of PLM is related to a very long life span of the software. PLM system developed and deployed 10-15 years ago are continue to be in active production mode by many customers. However, the question of how PLM software can leverage the value of open source software remains open.

Readwrite article Open Source Should Thank These Five Companies put an interesting perspective of the value of open source software for enterprise community. In my view, the article brings examples of software components that can be re-used by enterprise vendors. However, technology is not everything. People and culture is another important element of open source contribution. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

"To encourage excellence, you need to do things out in the open,” Kreps [Jay Kreps of LinkedIn] said. “Engineers are like everyone else—if everybody’s watching, they want to look good. Otherwise we’re building a crappy internal tool that’s just good enough to meet our immediate needs.”

I have to admit, open source initiatives didn’t start in web companies only. During the past decade we’ve seen significant contribution to open source made by major software vendors like IBM and some others specifically if you speak about massive investment in Linux projects. Another Readwrite article is trying to establish balance in open source contribution debates. However, the main conclusion remains the same – web companies these days leads the way for open and innovative technological development. I found conclusion interesting:

"…old school" companies like IBM don’t get the credit they deserve. But it is the Web companies that are building data superstructure on the Internet".

I found the comment about data superstructure important in the context of our PLM software discussion. The replacement of Windows servers and other backend infrastructure by Linux and other open source software is just a matter of time. Also, I believe this is an active process for many enterprise IT organizations these days. However, the question of data management foundation for future PLM software remains hugely open.

What is my conclusion? Open source can re-shape the landscape and future technological trajectories of PLM software. Technologies polished and contributed by web giants to open source community can provide a solid foundation to existing PLM vendors and startup companies to develop future foundation of scalable enterprise product data management solutions. Open culture combined with public quality acceptance can be another major shift that to differentiate future enterprise software developers. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Will Open Source Databases Make PLM Affordable?

November 7, 2013


Budget and cost. These are important elements of every IT solution. PLM is not an exclusion from this list. There are lots of debates about PLM systems cost lately. Few days ago, I was discussing one element of PLM system total cost of ownership related to "up-front cost" – The Future battle of PLM upfront cost. Move to services / subscription model is clearly one of transformation in PLM TCO. Thinking more about PLM cost structure, I wanted to point on the cost of database licenses. My hunch, the majority of PLM software today runs on enterprise RDBMS platforms such as Oracle and MS SQL Server.

My attention was caught by the following article Feds Move To Open Source Databases Pressures Oracle on IW Gov blog. The affordability of open source database solutions has government IT attention. I specially liked the beginning of the article

Under implacable pressure to slash spending, government agencies are increasingly embracing open source, object-relational database software at the expense of costly, proprietary database platforms. That’s putting new pressure on traditional enterprise software providers, including Oracle, to refine their product lineups as well as their licensing arrangements.

Future in the article, there is an assessment how much companies can save as a result of moving to open source database solutions such as PostgreSQL.

Moving to open source software can help agencies slice database costs by as much as 80% because open source providers aren’t hamstrung by the conventional business and licensing practices employed by large database companies such as Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and Sybase, according to Boyajian. "The traditional, burdensome licensing practices of the big proprietary guys have really started to put new kinds of pressure on government agencies," he said. "Most of the licensing firms have come up with very inventive ways to make sure the price per year goes up and not down, and that’s in direct conflict with the way government agencies are trying to operate now."

What is my conclusion? I smell the change towards free and/or low cost software. It comes with broader use of open source and expansion of service based business models. The combination may work as well. For those companies that feel comfortable with open source, it can provide a significant cut in IT expenses. It would be interesting to see if existing PLM providers will roll out a support for open source databases such as MySQL and PostgreSQL in a near future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Future of PDM: complexity, functionality and open source

November 1, 2013


Product Data Management (PDM) is recently getting more focus and traction. You might think why so? PDM is a mature field with well known behavior, functions and value proposition. For example, if you follow Jim Brown of TechClarity, you can find a very nice infographic explaining the value of product data management (PDM). Another publication of TechClarity  – The business value of product data management can be found here. Note, the research was sponsored Siemens PLM, so you will need to get registered on Siemens PLM website to get access to the full report.

However, world is changing and so the technology around us. I’ve been reading GrabCAD blog earlier today – Interview: What hardware developers can learn from software developers. Read the full story and you will find some interesting facts related to development of Poppy Project – robot using an open-source humanoid platform based on robust, flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. The part of the article I specially like was related to how engineers at Poppy Project are using PDM and other collaborative tools such as software source control. The comparison between PDM and SCM tools was stroke me as something very interesting. Here is my favorite passage:

With software development version control is important. Our software team uses Git, for example.  Now I can’t work without it even for CAD. Our robotics project is open source so I need to use developmental branches for this type of work. I use Git flows to keep repositories organized. What else have you used to manage your files? I tried SolidWorks PDM but it’s not great. For one, its too complicated. A simple interface is important because we want to attract people to participate not scare them away. I couldn’t find anything like SVN (Apache Subversion) or any modern source control system. At this point it looks like we’re probably going to use Git for individual work and GrabCAD Workbench for sharing work with others.

It is absolutely not surprising to hear about complexity of PDM tools. Even my truly believe, SolidWorks PDM is not the most complicated PDM tool, it was still okay to say SVN is simpler. However, what is specially interesting, Poppy Project people found PDM tool lacking some important functions such as branching, forking and merging requests. The following passage is nailing down the difference between collaboration of people in traditional engineering processes compared to open source projects.

With an open source project, especially an open source robot, people are making their own modifications but they don’t have editing rights for the main repository. They need to be able to make merge requests- send notifications from their repository to ours so their changes can be merged upstream. That’s better than everyone working on the exact same version.

It made me think more about why PDM should change these days. Our working environment is changing fast. What was strictly prohibited yesterday, becomes a norm today. Open source is one of these things. The new trend is to re-use models, software code and other elements of design from outside of your organization (or in the community). This is a new field for engineering organization and manufacturing companies these days. It brings a new requirement to PDM.

CAD/PDM integration and new functional challenges

New PDM functional requirements will point back on some fundamental problems of PDM such as deep integration with CAD tools. Navigate to one of my previous articles Multi-CAD PDM integration: yesterday, today and tomorrow. The complexity of CAD/PDM integration is going to be tightly dependent on functionality of CAD that needs to be supported by PDM. The ability of branch and merge version is tightly coupled with this cross CAD-PDM functional bundle. In my view, to merge CAD models is much more complicated task than merging software source code text files. There is no reliable technology today that can help you to do it easy.

What is my conclusion? Even PDM is 25+ years mature technology, it is a time for PDM to change. The changes are coming from the huge demand for simplification driven by consumer tools and technologies. At the same time, new functionality driven by trends such as social product development, open source and development communities will be challenging PDM vendors. In particular, CAD-PDM integration will be one of them. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

GrabCAD and Open Engineering Source: Dream or Reality?

September 9, 2013

Everybody knows about open source software (OSS). The model of OSS skyrocketed for the last decade and made lots projects on the web very successful. The evolution of open source wasn’t simple. It evolved from just making software source code available to quite complicated system of open software licensing. Open source inspired lots of new initiatives. One of them is open source hardware. There are some others as well.

There are many examples of open source initiatives and products. CAD systems never been perceived as an open tools. CAD vendors are well known by protecting CAD file formats and tendency to create closed ecosystems. Similar happened in PLM with probably exclusion of open source enterprise PLM Aras. From time to time, I can hear debates about open source CAD. Here is one of them – Open Source CAD. No. Free CAD. Yes.

GrabCAD is one of the companies that innovating on the edge of open and closed. I’ve been reading VentureFizz article about GrabCAD called – GrabCAD – The Most Buzzed About Company in Boston. Make a read and form your opinion. GrabCAD was started as a community of designers and engineers. According to the vision of GrabCAD founders, website supposed to fill CAD information sharing gap in the era of free internet communication.

These days GrabCAD is a community of more than 800K engineers. GrabCAD is address one of the interesting problems – open design reuse. Here is how GrabCAD VP Marketing Rob Stevens explains that:

"If you are a designer and are designing a new bicycle," he said, "you probably don’t make wheels, you make the bicycle frame. But when you show your bicycle frame to a potential buyer, you need to put wheels on it so that they can figure out what it is."

"So, if you are using 3D CAD and have designed this elegant bike frame," Stevens continued, "you then would have to spend hours and days designing wheels just so the bike makes sense. Not that you are going to make wheels or sell wheels, [you just need them in the design] so that you can show the bike in a manner that makes sense."

With GrabCAD, Meybaum, and fellow co-founder Indrek Narusk, built a way to solve this CAD conundrum by building an open, crowdsourced library of 3D CAD models that engineers or designers could easily download and then upload to their own design and use.

As Stevens said, "So if you need bicycle wheels, you go to GrabCAD, search bicycle wheels, and up pop hundreds of different models of wheels. You ‘grab’ the one you need, add it to your own design, and then you have a fully functioning model."

The question you can scream about now – what about intellectual property? GrabCAD provided an interesting answer. Here is the passage from the article:

The projects in the vast library are only for non-commercial use. "You can’t sell a bicycle wheel that someone else has designed," said Stevens. "If you do want to produce/manufacture something, you can connect with the designer in the community and try to work together."

So, you can share designs and re-use designs, but you cannot sell it. It reminded me very well known GPL open source licenses. The same idea. By using of this GPL licensed software, you supposed not to sell your software and distribute it using the same open source license. However, if you want to sell software, you can engage with software engineers for services or alternative license engagements. It made me think about the concept of Open Engineering Source, which can regulate IP of engineers and manufacturing companies.

GrabCAD is not only thinking about open and free CAD file sharing. As a commercial organization GrabCAD is thinking about how to monetize the community. The latest development done by GrabCAD is product called Workbench helping engineers and other people in product development and supply chain to collaborate.

What is my conclusion? Open source is a powerful idea. It created lots of success in software world and, in my view, it has a potential to create an innovation in other places as well. Hardware, engineering, manufacturing – these are potential fields to apply open source innovation. It might be dream today, but who know where it will come tomorrow. Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg

Will New Jazz Product Development Model work for PLM?

April 13, 2013

The world around us is changing much faster these days. It happens in many places. Business environment are much more dynamic. New technologies are disrupting existing industries and eco-systems. PLM systems were developed to help companies to manage and follow product development processes in the companies and extended eco-system. As businesses are going through the changes, we can see a need to change the way product development processes are organized. The question I want to ask is how it will impact and change PDM/PLM development.

Originally, PDM/PLM systems were build to bring an order in a chaotic world of technical and engineering data. You probably remember the early acronyms used for these purposes – EDM/TDM. For many years, the fundamental proposition of PDM/PLM systems was to organize a centralized data storage and to define rules to store and manage data. It certainly helps in many sense to companies to move from chaos to order. However, with all modern changes in business ecosystem, it gets harder to get to the final state of the PDM/PLM implementations. These implementations are unsustainable in front of frequency of changes.

I’ve been listening to Jon Hirschtick earlier this week at COFES 2013. Jon was talking about changes in the culture of programming tools. Programming and product development methods and technologies are going through lots of changes these days.

One of the analogies Jon made resonated. Jazz product development model. I found it funny and true at the same time. To go from from closed world of controlled development systems to open source and with community of developers replacing manuals. This is a very interesting change – community and development eco system can provide much high level of agility.

It made me think about different approaches in development of PDM/PLM systems. What is the potential to use agile product development methods, open source eco-system and the power of communities.

What is my conclusion? The changes are coming. Internet and open source helped to develop a different eco system. This system is completely different from what we know many years in PDM and PLM. I’m curious if and how the new model will influence the development of enterprise software. I think vendors need to take a note. Openness, flexibility and agile methods are trending. These are important and irreversible trends, in my view. Some companies will lose the connection with the reality and disappear. However, the smart ones will evolve. These are just my thoughts. What is your take? Speak up…

Best, Oleg


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