SaaS PLM is trending and we’re going to see more SaaS PLMs marketing and sales coming from vendors very soon. PTC is focusing on the SaaS industry following the acquisition of Onshape last year. Siemens just jumped in SaaS PLM bandwagon – check my earlier blog articles about Teamcenter X SaaS. There are independent PLM companies focusing on SaaS and PLM – Arena, OpenBOM, Propel, Upchain. I expect other PLM vendors that didn’t pay much attention to SaaS, to join the SaaS PLM Rally very soon.
The question every manufacturing company looking for PLM should be asking is how to compare different PLM offerings. And as vendors are coming with SaaS, how to compare them? Are they all the same? How to compare SaaS PLM? What are the right criteria? Below, I put a few parameters (or questions) I think can help. Answering these questions can help you to compare different SaaS PLM.
1- Instant Registration
A typical SaaS product allows you to register instantly. This is how most SaaS products work. So, when you make an assessment of SaaS PLM, check if you can create an account online. The good news if you can do so, which means the product is alive and available for users at any time. If instead of online instant registration, you’re getting a form to “Contact Sales”, it means the system requires a setup time (typically the time to set up servers or configure the environment) and the process is not free.
2- Free Trial
Another techno-business indicator of SaaS software. For a typical SaaS product, a trial service should be easily provided and you should be able to use the product for some time without commitments. A typical trial in B2B SaaS is in the ranges from 14 days to one month. The absence of free trial and replacement of free trial by demo or sales meeting is the indication that the vendor has the interest to restrict your access to the system.
3- Subscription And Cost (monthly vs annual or multi-year contracts)
SaaS usually means subscriptions online. These require cost transparency. Go to the website and check for “prices”. If you find one, it is good. It means subscription business with transparent pricing. No prices? It means the deal is annual or multi-year and you’re committed to a full period of service. What is usually behind that is high sales cost and infrastructure hosting.
4- Multi-Tenant Architecture, Access Control, and Data Sharing
Single-tenant vs multi-tenant. The first will require servers and databases dedicated to each customer, while the second one means everyone is sharing resources and data. This means a more flexible data model and the ability to share data between users, teams, and companies. While a single-tenant doesn’t mean the product cannot be used as a SaaS, it lays tons of limitations when using it online. Also, multi-tenant is a huge enabler for innovating business models.
6- Integration with CAD
Most CAD systems in the world today are still desktop applications. Most SaaS applications are web (browser) based. For a very long time, these two environments (desktop CAD and cloud web products) are not in good friendship. Cloud PLM was not providing a good solution for years. So, if your plan to get data from engineering, the integration between CAD and SaaS PLM should be in priority. The absence of such will be a big limitation.
7- Support online
Online support is part of the SaaS product experience. SaaS companies are running businesses online and therefore the support system can be an integral part of the product. Good support infrastructure includes a set of tools and technologies helping to trace behaviors and issues online, getting real-time access to data and customer problems. Check if the PLM SaaS system has one. Anything different from integrated support can be a potential problem.
8- Cloud services and REST API
Customization is an important part of the PLM SaaS experience. One of the biggest concerns about SaaS software is the ability to integrate with other cloud/SaaS and enterprise tools. Check if SaaS PLM has a REST API available. Lack of public REST API is a big disadvantage and can be an indicator of technological problems.
I hope you find these parameters useful. If you think I missed something, please let me know. I’m planning to create a table comparing existing vendors and products. I’m interested to collaborate with vendors and industry experts to compare products and technologies. Please feel free to reach me out via email or comments.
What is my conclusion?
To provide an open and easy to compare guidance between SaaS PLM will help to prevent confusion and can help manufacturing companies to make the right decision.
Keep in mind, this is not a functional comparison. These parameters will help you to compare the “SaaS nature” of the PLM offering. Features and functions are important, but the history of the engineering system demonstrated is that really disruptive systems provided 80% of what customers need for 20% of the price of the competitors.
SaaS PLM is going to have a huge impact on the PLM industry in the next 5-10 years. Just my thoughts…
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.