Product Innovation Platforms: architecture options

Product Innovation Platforms: architecture options

product-innovation-platforms-future

Innovation platform is a new name in the competition of PLM and engineering software. The message is widely supported by analysts and vendors these days. Navigate back to few of my earlier articles – Sweet dreams about product innovation platforms; CAD, PLM and platform litmus test, The race towards future engineering platforms. Product innovation platform is the most widely used term companies are using to describe future development of engineering software and business practices.

Platform can be a confusing word for companies and users. It used so widely by software vendors and business consultants, that it is hard to catch up the meaning. Last week, while attending PI congress in Munich, I captured the following slide which presents a model of product platform provided by CIMdata– one of the leading analyst firms in PLM.

cimdata-platform-model

Data and process management backbone is a centerpiece of the platform. So, if you think about “innovation platform” as game changer, you can probably relax. Despite fancy words, it is still about how to manage the data and processes. And I can hear more arguments these days about complexity of data management in a modern global distributed engineering and manufacturing environment.

To manage data is not a simple thing. My attention was caught by Wired article – The Epic Story of Dropbox’s Exodus From the Amazon Cloud Empire. It speaks about the transformation of Dropbox storage architectures from Amazon cloud to its own Dropbox cloud storage platform called Pocket.

Here is my favorite passage, which speaks about the competition in the future of cloud platforms:

At the same time, there’s a growing secondary market centered around Dropbox, its arch-rival Box.com, Saleforce.com, Workday, and others. These companies fit into a different niche—offering pre-built software applications over the Internet. Like the bigger companies, they too deliver tools that businesses and developers can use without setting up their own hardware—the essential appeal of the cloud. “The next major era for this industry is a battle of platforms,” says Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box.com. “What are the next platforms that enterprises are going to build on top of?”

So, how future product innovation platforms will manage data and processes? What are the options companies will be able to choose from? What is the future computing environment CAD and PLM vendors can rely on to deliver product innovation platforms?

Here is my thoughts about 3 technological options available today for vendors developing CAD and PLM software:

1- IT infrastructure companies and hosted providers

This is probably the most conservative traditional path. There are plenty of IT companies that can help to host, maintain and operate operational environment including computing, storage, management services, etc. Depends on your development environment, databases and tools, you can run into different technological eco-systems. Most of on-premise and private cloud environment will be gravitating towards this option. Large IT organization will play the role of IT infrastructure providers by themselves, unless operational cost pressure will become significant factor to select and alternative option. Most of traditional CAD and PLM vendors are leaning towards this option as a place to host their systems and storage.

2- IaaS cloud platforms and services

Amazon, Google, Microsoft are major players in this group providing computing and storage resources. These companies are providing elastic resources and data platforms to build specific software. There are two ways CAD and PLM vendors can use these IaaS platforms. One of them is use IaaS to host traditional applications. This is mostly attributed to existing traditional CAD and PLM products. A second option is to develop native SaaS application that can use specific services and functionalities of platforms in data management, operation and other services. This option is similar to what Dropbox was doing before. Dropbox services were blended into Amazon platform.

3- Vertical platforms – PaaS

There is a group of companies that are on the trajectory to provide a specialized platform to manage data and develop applications. Wired article gives few names – Salesforce.com, Box.com, etc. Dropbox is clearly going to the same category. Among all these vendors only one – Salesforce.com was mature enough to drive attention of engineering and manufacturing software developers to provide a dedicated PLM or ERP software.

What is my conclusion? Platform is a new old name of the competition in the software and computing business. Despite fancy words, it is all about how to manage data and processes. The trick will be cost and reliability combined with functionality of systems. Globalization and other modern manufacturing trends are raising a question how to deliver a reliable global data management platform for engineers, manufacturing companies and supplies. There are multiple paths and options. The game is on. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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  • John Noone

    Are Engineering Platforms going to survive in a vacuum ? – I think that the challenges with Engineering Platforms and the various predecessor enterprise technologies (PLM, CDM, PDM, etc) is that there isn’t a simple way to integrate these solutions effectively to existing Business solutions (ERP, SCM, CRM, CMS, BI, etc). Typically the business definitions of products used by these systems are very rigid (BOMs, Part Numbers, related cost accounting, etc). Engineering needs more fluid constructs to handle the innovation and creativity to make new products and make major improvements to existing products while still maintaining the right level of control depending on the part of the product process. This becomes even more challenging when trying to collaborate with suppliers or customers. I don’t think the Engineering Platforms concept will do much more than previous iterations unless vendors figure out how to make them incorporate the right flexibility and make sure business processes for these areas are aligned (and can be integrated with the Enterprise solutions). Otherwise, they will just be isolated solutions for Engineering that do not facilitate real, cross-functional development processes.

  • beyondplm

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your great insight! Indeed, flexibility and openness to integration are two absolutely critical factors to provide a value of engineering information outside of the engineering department.

    So, this is a main reason why people are discussing “product innovation” platform rather than just focusing on engineering issues. Also, from a broader standpoint if we look on a trajectories of dev organizations, it expands into different domains – such as service and operation. By doing that so called “engineering platforms” in the past are becoming part of critical business function.

    Best, Oleg

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