Will PLM Benefit From “SharePoint Death”?

Will PLM Benefit From “SharePoint Death”?

PLM has love and hate relationships with SharePoint. For the last 5-8 years, SharePoint becomes a symbol of mainstream corporate portals, basic document and content management and set of collaboration tools well integrated with Microsoft Office platform. Microsoft used very sneaky freemium strategy of integrating SharePoint basic version into Windows Server license, so everybody who is buying it, was able to use basic level of SharePoint. The result – growing market share, ecosystem of partners and service providers. SharePoint business became popular.

SharePoint developed an interesting position in CAD/PLM ecosystem. The original attempt of SharePoint, to be used as a platform for PDM/PLM systems failed. After 10 years, only one company (Siemens PLM) is using SharePoint as a platform for their products – SolidEdge Insight XT (recently renamed into SolidEdge SP to emphasize tight connection with SharePoint). After big marketing campaign, PTC discontinued Windchill ProductPoint. Common PLM vendors strategy with regards to SharePoint is to report  availability of the integration with SharePoint tools. Usually, it provided to confirm compliancy with IT/SharePoint strategy and to acknowledge  significance of SharePoint install base.

However, the morning sun never lasts a day. SharePoint is lately going through the lifecycle and changes. I’ve been reading CMS Wire article – Reports of SharePoint’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated. Read the article and make an opinion. The article speaks about transformation of SharePoint ecosystem, growing dominance of Office brand and evolving of SharePoint into invisible collaborative service platform. Here is an interesting passage:

The concept of “SharePoint for end users” will go away, because end users will interface with SharePoint via Office (365 or no) or mobile apps as much as they do via browser. And speaking of the browser, what you see there can be heavily customized and made responsive. Microsoft itself has made this easier than ever in 2013, and things like device channels and variations barely scratch the surface of what’s possible. If SharePoint provides the services to all those devices … well, it’s basically a platform (again) for admins to maintain and developers to improve, but decidedly not a product aimed at end-user consumers.

Office is a well-known brand name and Microsoft clearly trying to fix problems of SharePoint in usability and amount services needed to make SharePoint work for customers. Interesting enough, I can see this problem is one of the fundamental problem behind the failure of SharePoint – PLM partnerships alliances. PLM resellers and services organizations were in competition with SharePoint and other IT service organizations.

Microsoft strategy is to fix SharePoint usability with Office 365 user experience. In parallel, by shifting towards Office from “SharePoint for users”, Microsoft demonstrates some weakness and decreased SharePoint value proposition. The following passage can give you a glimpse of what it looks like. It speaks about huge amount of SharePoint business built around problems with usability and tailoring SharePoint to specific customer-oriented scenarios:

Look, it’s great that there’s so much help out there for end users struggling with SharePoint usability. Large and thriving websites, communities and consultancies have been built around this problem. But does anyone really believe that Microsoft enjoys or appreciates the fact that a billion-dollar business has inspired so much thought and activity around its weaknesses? If they can get people to happily use SharePoint (and more importantly, purchase licenses) without ever consuming it in its native environment, you’d better believe they will. 

Similar problem exists in PLM eco-system as well. Problems with usability, huge amount of customization and services – these are attributes of aged mainstream PLM platforms and not only. PLM sales people can confirm they are competing with SharePoint based offering and services in many situations.

My hunch is that changes in SharePoint eco-system can work well for PLM business. The trend to converge SharePoint into invisible collaborative platform with Office365 facade can remove SharePoint sales focus from enterprise content management and document management. Microsoft will become more focused on collaboration and share of information for Office tools.

What is my conclusion? PLM struggled to compete with broad and extensive SharePoint presence. It created significant competition between vendors and confusion among customers. Very often SharePoint sales confused manufacturing companies with functionality SharePoint can provide to manage engineering data. Switching focus on Office365 and usage of SharePoint as a Office collaboration platform will bring clearness and improve potential competitiveness of PLM tools. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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