PLM upgrades, release cycles and legacy software

PLM upgrades, release cycles and legacy software

legacy-software

Do you know what is legacy software? Earlier today,  Marc Lind of Aras Corp. challenged me by his twitter status about companies complaining about legacy PLM systems and upgrading. Here is the original passage from twitter here and here.

“a lot of people complains about legacy PLM and a lot of companies that have legacy PLM are throwing in the towel and switching these days”.

marc-lind-legacy-plm-tweet

The part of statement about “legacy software” is really interesting. Last week, I wasn’t able to update a game on my son’s iPad. After few minutes, I discovered that Apple is not supporting the original iPad hardware manufactured 4 years ago. Does it mean iOS software run on that iPad is a legacy? Good question. At the same time, what about properly functioning ERP software that company runs already for the last 10 years without any plans to upgrade? Is that a legacy software?

Wikipedia gives me the following definition of legacy system:

In computing a legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program,”of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system.”[1] A more recent definition says that “a legacy system is any corporate computer system that isn’t Internet-dependent.”[2]… The first use of the term legacy to describe computer systems probably occurred in the 1970s. By the 1980s it was commonly used to refer to existing computer systems to distinguish them from the design and implementation of new systems. Legacy was often heard during a conversion process, for example, when moving data from the legacy system to a new database.

Software upgrades is an important topic in engineering and manufacturing. Very often, systems can be in use very long time because of product lifecycle and the need to maintain existing data. It happens a lot in defense, aero and some other “regulated” industries. Also, because of significant investment, the ROI from upgrade can be questionable, which leads companies to keep existing outdated systems in operation. I’ve been posted about problems of PLM customization and upgrades before – How to eliminate PLM customization problems and Cloud PLM and future of upgrades.

PLM vendors are aware about the issue of upgrades and difficulties of software migrations . For long time, industry recognized it as something unavoidable. However, in today’s dynamic business environment, the issue of software upgrades cannot be ignored. Customers demanding flexible and agile software that can be deployed and updated fast. At the same time, changes of business models towards services and subscriptions pushed the problem of upgrades back to vendors.

Earlier this year, my attention was caught by CIMdata publication – Aras Innovator: Redefining Customization & Upgrades. Aras enterprise open source model is predominantly subscription oriented. Which provides lots of incentives for Aras  engineers to solve the issue of upgrades and new versions deployment. Here is the passage from the article confirming that:

For several years, the Aras Corporation (Aras) has included no-cost version-to-version upgrades in their enterprise subscriptions, independent of how the solution has been customized and implemented. This is a rather bold guarantee given the historic challenges the industry has experienced with upgrading highly customized PLM deployments. With more than 300 upgrades behind it, CIMdata felt it appropriate to find out how Aras’ guarantee was playing out, and discovered that there was much more to the story than just a contractual guarantee. Fundamentally, Aras Innovator is engineered to be highly configurable—even customizable—without resulting in expensive and complex version-to-version upgrades and re-implementations.

One of PLM software leaders, Siemens PLM is also thinking about What is the best release cycle. The article speaks about SolidEdge release cycle.

A few years ago we moved from an irregular release cycle for Solid Edge, maybe 9 months in one cycle to 15 months in the next, to a regular cycle of annual releases (of course there are also maintenance packs delivered in the interim). I believe our customers much prefer this, they can plan ahead knowing that there will be a significant Solid Edge release available to them in August each year.

At the same time, the article confirms that CAD/PLM vendors are looking how to solve the problem of upgrades. As I mentioned earlier, cloud software model is one of the most promising technical ways to solve the issue of upgrades. It is true, but can be tricky in case both desktop and cloud software are involved. Here is the passage from the same Siemens PLM blog:

Working in the PLM area we try really hard to provide our customers with a good upgrade experience. PLM software is itself dependent on both the operating system and database software, and it has to work with specific releases of CAD software  (sometimes with more than one CAD solution for our multi-CAD customers) and with office software as well! Moving PLM software to the cloud could potentially take some of the upgrade issues away from the end user, but PLM software does not work in isolation from your data files, or your other software and systems so I believe there is much work still to be done before the cloud really impacts the upgrade situation for real-world customers.

What is my conclusion? From customer perspective, the best option is to make release cycle completely transparent.  In my view, this is really high bar for PLM vendors. Customer data migration, customization and sometimes absence of backward compatibility make release transparency questionable. However, since industry moves towards cloud software and service business model the demand for agile release management and absence of upgrades will be growing. So, my hunch, in the future we will not see “legacy software” anymore. New type of enterprise software will manage upgrades and migrations without customers paying attention. Sound like a dream? I don’t think so. For most of web and consumer software it is a reality already today. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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  • Ralf

    I think I have to disagree with some of the statements in your article. I happily concede that both software upgrades and even more so migrations are often a pain in the a.. But this is because a. the environments PLM systems exist in are complex (you often have a myriad of constraints and requirements) and b. the customer expect often a 100% migration from the migration team/project, which is often easy when dealing with data created 5, 10 or 15 years ago.
    Google for example discontinued GoogleReader at some point, because they didn’t feel it made enough money (or have at least significant future perspective) for them. Gone. Also Google updated their blogger platform (more specifically the editor) without any regards to the users. There was grace period where both versions of the blogger editor existed, but at some point they just switched the old editor. Existing features not migrated. Google’s answer: “Not our problem. Deal with it.” The developers of TrueCrypt decide to stop development of their otherwise very good product. Why? We don’t know, if the NSA had their hand in it or the developers just pursue other interests now.
    What I wanted to stress is that without any contractual support or maintenance assurance, you’re very, very dependent on the moods and whims of the software company. And it is not transparent at all.
    At the same time, so called free software are very often dumbed down to some extent and stripped off more complex functionality. One experience I had with moving a blog from Google’s Blogspot to WordPress was quite interesting. WordPress offered (for free) to migrate the existing posts to their platform. This was working with all of the articles, but .. a whole lot of features including such things as correct placement of pictures or link conversion just wasn’t there. So these companies give you the illusion it’s all effortless and working properly, when actually it is not. While this is maybe acceptable for the consumer (he maybe has to update a couple of addresses when migrating/updating his contact list), but when the amount of data and the number of users dependent on the upgrade increases, it is no longer feasible.
    While I agree that the goal of seamless upgrades and migration is certainly a goal worth pursuing, the impression free software companies give that this already the case, is very often still a myth in my opinion.

  • beyondplm

    Ralf,

    thanks for your commentary and insight. I agree- consumer apps (or how you called them “free apps”) are not free from migrating problems. There are many examples of vendors shutting down services or apps (from famous Google Reader to many less famous shutdowns after acquisition, lost interest, etc.)

    You are absolutely right by capturing contractual side of the upgrade. The only way to have vendor committed to upgrade and support certain level of functionality is EULA or SLA.

    PLM software (and in general, enterprise software) is complex beast and sometimes to migrate a specific behavior or data is nearly impossible. However, the general trend is to make migrations and upgrades as painless as possible.

    Just my thoughts…
    Oleg

  • Oleg, do you have an example where software updates are completely transparent, even outside of enterprise software?

  • marclind

    Oleg – Good post, as always. I think combining upgrades and migration kind of confuses things a bit. They’re 2 different challenges. Everyone knows system migration and the related data migration is hard; data scrubbing, ETL, etc. We have tools to migrate and replace the other PLM systems just like they have for replacing each other. It’s still work though.

    When it comes to upgrades, especially for highly customized large-scale PLM deployments I think it’s important to be clear… at least about what we/Aras are doing.

    We provide a contractual guarantee to upgrade our global PLM deployments as part of our subscription – not just access to the next release, but upgrade services as well… no matter how much you customize.

    None of the other major PLM providers does this… no one else can.

    It’s because of our technology, that’s our innovation and why we can offer upgrades as part of a fixed price subscription.

    * Upgrades are ONLY scheduled based on the customer’s request / your schedule, your decision when you take an update

    * We guarantee all functionality that worked with the old version will work with the new version

    * We guarantee your data are 100% correct

    If that sounds too good to be true… would encourage asking our subscribers at Boeing, Kawasaki, Honda, XEROX, the US Army and hundreds of other enterprises.

    We put our money where our mouth is.

    You can also check out the CIMdata white paper “Aras: Redefining Customization & Upgrades” at http://aras.com/plm/002295

    Just my 2 cents for what it’s worth 🙂

    MarcL
    http://www.aras.com

  • beyondplm

    Klaus, from my experience Gmail and Google Apps are upgrading and adding features quite transparently.

  • beyondplm

    Marc, thanks for sharing the story of Aras. Even I agree upgrade and migration are two different things, the potential common is the level of openness. Customers are afraid to be locked on a particular solution and therefore to support some level of openness can be an interesting future trend. Something like Google Takeout. So, maybe Aras will lead PLM industry data liberation initiative?

  • manoj chavan

    Good Post Oleg….

  • shiva jatla

    Good analogy Oleg

  • marclind

    PLM openness and data liberation… sounds like a new tagline for Aras maybe 🙂

  • beyondplm

    Shiva, thank you!

  • beyondplm

    Manoj, thanks!

  • beyondplm

    Ha! need to check plmdataliberation.com 🙂

  • Transparency means to know about new features, when they will be applied and what consequences they have. Let me know how long it takes you to figure out what Gmail version you are on, what are the new features from the last update, when did the last and when will the next update happen. Time starts now 😉

  • beyondplm

    Interesting question, Klaus. May I ask you why should I know Gmail version if it “just works” ;-)?

  • I’m confused. I thought your conclusion was “to make release cycle completely transparent” – now you don’t care anymore as long it works? Not sure if this is a good approach for complex PLM challenges and enterprise software.

  • beyondplm

    Thanks for the comment! Interesting turn… Our understanding of release transparency is different. I think, release management will evolve into somewhat called “compliancy” or “compatibility”. What is “compatible” release? This is the most important question that IT managers are asking. In such a context to provide this information is extremely important. If compatibility is ALWAYS, then the information about release # can be irrelevant.

  • 1. Innovation, software redesign or technology changes can not be applied if software releases have always to be compatible. Even Google, Facebook and Apple has to ditch functionality from time to time. I have still to go back to the old Google maps interface to edit my personal maps, because this function never made it into the new release.
    2, That’s maybe acceptable for free apps, but not for enterprise software where businesses rely on.
    The only way how I can imagine it is to make really transparent what a release will do, but I have not seen any vendor addressing this issue in a sufficient way.

  • beyondplm

    Klaus, I think compatible releases and functional differences are separate things in my view. it is similar to “form, fit and function” in manufacturing. You can get a new feature and make another obsolete. The fact old Google maps still works just a confirmation of compatibility.

    I agree- business demand to applications is different from consumer free apps. Service level agreements is the answer to solve the problem, in my view. I think, SLAs are getting much more mature these days and it covers releases transparency.

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