PLM Open Source: Strategic or Off Road?

PLM Open Source: Strategic or Off Road?

I’m watching closely everything that happens around with Open Source. The world of Open Source is changing all the time. Remember, in the beginning it was about Linux. Then it comes to other places – content management, CRM, enterprise search, mobile platforms and many other places. What happens with manufacturing and engineering systems? Is there a place where Open Source can provide some advantages? I read an article Open Source Software Hits a Strategic Tipping Point by Laurie Wurster. The author discusses what traction Open Source getting in the industry. Here you can see some information about the level of Open Source acceptance on the picture below provided by Gartner.

These numbers made me think about what possible path Open Source can take in engineering and manufacturing software segments.

Open Source Debates

I can observe multiple debates in the software community about what is Open Source and what software can be qualified as Open Source. In general I can see an open source as a model that promotes availability of the software source code to the system end users and following modification. However, the model, is not clean and transforming all the time. Some disputed models in this space are community-based development as well as mixed licensing where some of the system code is proprietary and another piece is open under one of avaialble open source licenses. Alternative, stricter definition refers to the Gartner’s definition of Open Source as a software released under Open Source Initiative licenses.

Open Source and Engineering Software Segments

In my view, Open Source might have a different potential in engineering and manufacturing software segments. It depends on the level of specialty, community size and existing software product and vendors strategy in this segment. In general, I can see an open source trend is to go bottom up from more generic type of software to more specific one. The size of the potential community is also very important. For example, CAD/CAE is a segment, which can be characterized by very specific skills, large number of mature products and software vendors. Despite few examples (Archimedes, BRL-CAD, avoCADo), I think, chance for CAD Open Source is relatively low in coming few years. On the other side, data management has a wider implementation scope. There are several mature open source products in this space such as MySQL, Cassandra and others, so a potential data management solution such as PDM can be very possible created by community of data-oriented developers. The last segment I wanted to touch is so called “software for collaboration”. In my view, this is one of the most confusing in the space of engineering and manufacturing. At the same time, there are many open source tools in this category that can provide a value and can be easy enhanced with additional features.

What is my conclusion? I think Open Source gains acceptance and making progress in diverse fields. Depending on the application field it can become strategic or get off road. However,  your organization needs to have a set of skills to make an open source happen. It is all about implementation, changes, coding, testing. It cost money and resources. Multiple tools can be combined into compelling solution. Do you think Open Source is for your organization? What flavor of Open Source do you prefer and see more applicable? I’m going to discuss it next month during my Beyond PLM panel on Aras Community Event (ACE) next month.

Best, Oleg


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  • Stan Przybylinski

    I think we need to look at how open source solutions, of any type, get to the point of real, sustainable innovation. A lot of community based work, like in standards, is “lowest common denominator” stuff.

    What is it about things like Unix that kept the “virtuous cycle” of innovation going that can happen in open source PLM? Is it community size? Vitality? I am not sure, and have not kept up on the literature around this for some time. (There is a nice looking paper from Joel West at San Jose State from Reseach Policy in 2003 that is gathering dust. Maybe I should read it.)

  • MarcL

    This is an interesting topic to me. When you get right down to it, the idea of open source as some kind of separate ‘thing’ is not really accurate. It’s another format in the great big world of software.

    There are specific benefits that companies derived from the oss structure like full control over their solution and data — as opposed to being dictated to and locked-in by the sw vendor — and a different economic structure (i.e. no license cost and optional subscription in Aras-specific case).

    At the end of the day, I believe we’ll all realize is that it’s all about the product… Is the solution a great system? Is it better than the alternatives out there? If so, what other benefits are achieve? More control, greater software innovation, better cost structure, better sw quality, etc. Don’t you think?


  • beyondplm

    Stan, There are some very sustainable projects in open source having strong community. Lucene, Solr, Xen, Drupal. We can mention Android as well. In my view “size does matter” in this case. The supporting organizations are playing a significant role also. The number of people involved, solution broadness and some other criteria are crucial to make it succeed. Another aspect is code availability. People want to see how they can control their destiny. I’m interested to see how Aras, for example, can grow the community. This is a good example of Open Source validation. Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Marc, thanks for this comment! The point of control is interesting. Take your car as an example. You have a full control of your car. However, in order to fix it, you most probably need to call a mechanic or garage service. The same is about software. To have a source code is not the ultimate goal. The point of community is important. Healthy community can provide a sustainable code ownership to all users. Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg