Just few years ago “cloud PLM ” was an oxymoron. A conservative position of engineering IT was that cloud is a wrong place to product IP and manufacturing companies will never trust cloud storage and technologies. Fast forward in 2016 and we can see PLM vendors are reporting about full cloud compatibility and strategy to support all versions (or options) of cloud software deployment. CIMdata commentary – T-Systems Powers Their Cloud-Based PLM Solution with Aras Innovator (Commentary) is a great example. Here is the passage how manufacturing companies are changing their mind about cloud and PLM.
CIMdata has tracked PLM’s growth on the cloud for many years. Initially, security and performance with large datasets were the big concerns. Product development organizations lagged other enterprise domains in cloud deployments due to these concerns, but that appears to be changing. Security is no longer a major impediment; sales and even financial data are commonly stored in the cloud today. Large file or data set performance can have issues, but native web-based applications and remote display technology are able to address most barriers and even improve performance due to hardware scalability.
Although, this is really good news, CIMdata article is pointing out on the following interesting fact that most of cloud PLM implementations done using infrastructure provided by IaaS providers are single tenant environment – one company per implementation.
Many of the common solutions used in heavy manufacturing industries such as automotive, aerospace, and machinery have been able to run using cloud infrastructure on public and private clouds from providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, and T-Systems as well as completely private clouds. While there is interest and products are available, CIMdata has seen few large production deployments of mainstream PLM solutions on the cloud. The deployments that do exist, typically focus on supporting development and test environments or are used as a solution to enable external collaboration. The implementations are largely single tenant, that is, with one company per implementation. Based on discussions with solution providers, many new prospects are interested in running PLM in the cloud. Of course this is anecdotal, so it will be interesting to see how deployments evolve over time.
So, what is that strange word – “single tenant” and why is that matter. Back in 2012, I published couple of educational articles explaining “tenancy model”. Here are 2 examples – Cloud PLM and what do you need to know about multi-tenancy and Cloud PLM debates about multi-tenant models. And just few months ago, I posted another article explained why today’s cloud PLM systems is a new generation of oldsmobile.
The majority of cloud PLM systems today use cloud to host existing applications. Cloud-enabled server based PLM systems still have limitations predefined by their roots – single tenant based system architecture, database technologies and administrations. In such context, my attention was caught by the article from 2012 – Chasing the wrong cloud. The report from Cloud World Forum provide a very interesting set of opinions about cloud development. It is a fascinating set of materials from 2012, especially when you read it in 2016. Watch the video inside. Here is a short passage:
“The biggest benefit you’ll get from cloud today is by adopting applications that are built on proper multi-tenant cloud infrastructure … In ten years’ time … software becomes part of the business infrastructure. A lot of companies won’t even buy software at all, because they’ll just buy services that run on top of software that someone else operates and owns … What is happening with all this private cloud stuff at the moment is that people are being sold highly expensive software licences, hardware infrastructure, with management capabilities that are really totally irrelevant in a cloud environment. They’re putting this stuff in and they’re suddenly discovering that what they’ve got can never run economically, can never deliver the benefit they thought they were getting in the first place.”
To me the key point in this passage is related to the ability to run PLM environment economically. There are not much publicly available statistics about cloud PLM deployment and cost of the environment today. Arena Solutions and Autodesk are two companies probably ahead in the game of cloud PLM deployment. Engineering.com article says – Not ”a load of crap” anymore: ”PLM 360 is way ahead of plan”, says Autodesk’s Carl Bass. But statistics about bother Arena PLM and PLM360 users are not available. Moreover, Autodesk is re-branding and transforming PLM360 product into “Fusion Lifecycle”, which in my view, represents a complex trajectory of original PLM360 and Fusion360 infrastructure co-existence. All large PLM vendors are reporting cloud-compatibility. However, similar to T-System and Aras example above, it is single tenant. Also, I’m not sure how many real production cloud deployment is available at all (btw, if you have this publicly available info, please share).
All together it made me think about what can be next for cloud PLM in 2017. One of the major manufacturing problems is so called “broken processes”. Usually it is explained as following by manufacturing companies – we have several enterprise software systems, local databases, few legacy systems and one big giant spreadsheet on top of it to manage processes. I captured the following slide during Oracle cloud PLM webinar and I like it very much. It is the best illustration of fragmentation in manufacturing environment.
The problem of broken processes is real. The same webinar speaks about Oracle cloud PLM relying on unified data foundation with built-in standardization and best practices. Such cloud PLM deployment can be problematic because of the need to keep a separate system for each company. The integration between these systems can be a nightmare. Overall, I doubt existing cloud PLM system might be able to solve the problem of broken processes because of the following reasons: 1/ high cost of infrastructure deployment can make system too expensive to be available for everyone in the organization; 2/ single tenant environment can limit collaboration and data exchange; 3/ expensive and complicated implementation process is still the reality even for cloud PLM deployment.
So, what is the answer? In my view, next step in cloud PLM evolution is unavoidable. Cloud PLM will move into the 3rd phase of cloud PLM development – multi-tenant business solutions. New PLM systems will provide an infrastructure and companies will develop “solutions” tailored to their needs. Such multi-tenant infrastructure will provide an ability to develop integrated business processes for intra- and cross- company communication.
What is my conclusion? Cloud PLM will be moving from cloud servers to multi-tenant business solutions. Old single-tenant deployment are inefficient and won’t be able to scale from economical and technical standpoint. New business solutions will provide product development support and to streamline broken processes. I’d like to re-phrase CIMdata’s question. It is not a question about future PLM system deployment. It is a question of how to eliminate PLM system deployment and replace it with multi-tenant cloud PLM business solution. Just my thoughts…
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Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased