Will Salesforce platform boost cloud PLM?

Will Salesforce platform boost cloud PLM?

Look at portfolios of all PLM vendors and you will see “cloud” tag everywhere. I’d say, for the moment, all PLM vendors are “cloud” buzzword compliant. The definition can vary from cloud-ready  to true cloud and everything in between. At the same time, analyst companies such as CIMdata mentioned in their researches that adoption of cloud PLM is slower then expected.

According to Mr. Stan Przybylinski, CIMdata’s Vice President of Research, “Cloud-based solutions are a fact of life in many other enterprise software domains, but adoption in the PLM market has been spotty. Helping to better understand why is one of the main goals for this research. This will also be the first step in documenting how and why industrial companies are moving their core product and process development work to cloud-based solutions.”

Last week I blogged about PLM and cloud infrastructure wars. The situation with cloud infrastructure reminded me the status quo of RDBMS back 1990s… Back in these days, PDM systems stopped using proprietary data management solutions and supported one or more databases. The same thing is happening with cloud now –  every (cloud) PLM solution will have to use some cloud infrastructure and DIY cloud techniques won’t work. But the question – what is the right one and how it will impact your business is hard to answer.

One topic that I missed in my story about cloud infrastructure was about PaaS. What is the role of pure PaaS cloud players such as Salesforce.com and few others? Can it be leveraged by PLM vendors? Few years ago, I wrote an article – Why Salesforce.com is a good platform for PLM… or may be not? I have to say that I still have mixed feeling about this question, so I decided to check more.

I was skimming through the comments customers left about Salesforce.com App Cloud Reviews on GetApp.com. Check this out and you will find lot of interesting information. Salesforce is clearly very powerful and capable platform. I think, it is an opinion shared by most of people provided feedback there. But, as it was mention by users, it can be complex and expensive.

If Salesforce is a good cloud platform for 3rd party developers, I’d expect ERP developers to use it extensively to develop future ERP. App store search by ERP category on Salesforce.com returns 68 apps. Among them on the top Rootstock and Kenandy.  Actually, these are not two companies any more. As earlier as in the beginning of this year, Rootstock acquired Kenandy. Check this article to learn more.

Salesforce.com search for PLM ended with 7 results (including Rootstock I mentioned above). It has Propel PLM on top of the list.

Propel PLM is a company with a very much similar strategy as Kenandy (and maybe Rootstock), but in PLM. It is developed entirely on Salesforce.com infrastructure. I wrote about Propel PLM earlier in my blog. Check these articles.  My attention was caught by Propel PLM blog – Stop, collaborate and listen with cloud PLM. The article explains Propel PLM differentiations and advantages – cloud, flexible, collaborative, customer-oriented, modern.

I found the following one a bit unusual – PDM based PLM or PLM to manage CAD files. In general, it is not a new thing. Historically PLM came from CAD data management. But, other PLM vendors (notable – Aras) is heavily using the story of going beyond CAD file management and CAD agnostic to their advantage. Propel blog brings few examples of old CAD management based PLMs. In my view, Bom.com and MatrixOne are probably not the best examples of successful CAD based PLM packages. Agile PLM also has no roots in CAD data management.

After some thinking, I came to conclusion, Propel has one big differentiator – Salesforce.com. In my view, all other PLM vendors will happily say  – cloud, modern, flexible, collaborative. But only one (Propel) will be able to say this magic thing “built on top of Salesforce.com”.

What is my conclusion? Does  Salesforce.com means Propel has extra points to challenge other PLM vendors with unique cloud PLM offering? It is a good question and we don’t have an answer yet. Salesforce.com is mature cloud-based platform. But it narrows down software development options, brings additional cost and has a potential to lock-in manufacturing company into Salesforce.com. PLM implementations lifecycle is much longer than ERP and CRM and it can be a potential showstopper for ITs. On the other hand, maturity of Salesforce is an important decision factor and if company is already running on top of Salesforce will be probably a much easier decision to take.  So, Propel is a good challenger in PLM world. Will Salesforce.com do a magic trick and boost Propel? It can be an exit option for venture based Propel PLM to sell to larger ERP such as Rootstock or to Salesforce.com. A trajectory of Propel PLM and other products on top of Salesforce.com is something to watch in the next few years. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

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.


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  • norsjo

    Hi Oleg,
    Another interesting addition to the PLM/Cloud discussion you have been blogging on for some time.
    (Note – I work for IBM!)
    Two points to add here, the name Salesforce.com no longer does justice to the company, it is already established beyond “sales” into other process domains in particular aftersales and service. Extending into the “peripheral” domains of PLM, the non-CAD/CAM/MES/PDM areas that the PLM SW vendors have been investing in to stretch their product suites into is the key battleground and Salesforce.com has an almost cult like following as well as a business model that makes it attractive for consultants and clients to engage with.
    The second point is a platform point. The dust is settling on the first round of the cloud battle and there are only 5-6 left standing, however there is also a clear picture emerging that clients are having a mixture of vendors and legacy platforms that needs integration and “aggregation” solutions on top. No cloud vendor has “conquered” a single major enterprise client -yet. So the next round will be how to work with a portfolio of cloud platforms, which has its attraction for procurement organizations, and a vendor portfolio of functional solutions around PLM pushing from the core out and from the outside in.
    It is just the end of the beginning in this war.

  • beyondplm

    Hi Derek

    I cannot agree more with your conclusion. In my view, the biggest challenge these days is a to achieve functional coordination between members of cross product stakeholder network (note – I’m co-founder of OpenBOM, so I’m obviously biased). Salesforce.com is a well established platforms that can convince some manufacturing companies to experiment. However, it is not clear how it will solve the problem of coordination between teams and companies.

    And yes… the next war is coming 🙂

    Best, Oleg

  • Lou

    A couple thoughts:
    The key thing about Propel’s case is that SF enabled them to develop a refined PLM tool very quickly. A Propel exec stated that it condensed five years of development down to one year (if memory serves). Other promising cloud PLM tools started around the same time are still hashing out the basics, when you could argue that Propel already stacks up favorably to the much more mature Arena. If they can maintain the pace of development in the future by building off of SF platform, look out.
    Another key point that Propel is emphasizing but will catch on with others is that PLM needs to shed its Engineering-only legacy. That is where a lot of the multi-layered PLM stuff is coming from. If a PLM tool can be useful for all functions but still handle the BOM processes, it is onto something. That is done with user interface, ease of reporting, better handling of marketing data, useful apps, etc. This is where Propel can make some noise in the market.

  • beyondplm

    Lou, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    I can see a point of squeezing 5 years into one year. It is important from the beginning. Especially if you want to sell to enterprise companies. However, SF.com will not give Propel any shortcuts in application development. 9 pregnant women won’t bring a child in a month :).

    Business aspect is important. The last successful big non-CAD PLM was going back into Agile / Matrix time. Aras tried no-CAD strategy and failed. Arena consumed 50-60M to get trough 20 years and sell to PE. If Propel has enterprise ambitions, they will meet Aras sooner than later.

    So, which path Propel will take?

  • Lou

    I think Propel and the other upstart PLM players like Fuse, Upchain, etc. have the new advantage of riding the cloud-CAD movement. Cloud CAD/PDM is still not there across the board, but the investment $$ is flowing in and the major players are at least trying to get there.
    It will be easier for these PLM tools to integrate with cloud CAD/PDM than it was for say, Aras to integrate with on-prem, relational EPDM ten years ago. Cloud infrastructure, REST API’s, etc. greatly simplify the integrations and reduce the need for vertically integrated CAD/PLM in my opinion. Even at this early stage, I believe Propel already has an Onshape integration, and they’ll expand from there no doubt.
    The other cool aspect is these new players have a chance to create a PLM market for small/medium sized businesses that the traditional powers cannot touch due to their girth and complexity. Will be interesting to watch.

  • beyondplm
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