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The foundation for next PLM platforms

by Oleg on August 29, 2014 · 0 comments

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Platform. This is a sweet word in a lexicon of every developer. The desire of software vendors is to become a platform to fuel the development of other products and serve needs of customers. In my debates with Chad Jackson about granularity and integration earlier this month, I outlined what, in my view, can differentiate tools, bundles and platforms. That discussion made me think even more about what PLM platforms are made today. In my view, there are two major foundations for most of PLM systems and tools developed today: 1- 2D/3D design platform and 2- object database modeling abstraction. Let me speak more in details about each of these foundations.

2D/3D design platform

Geometric paradigm provided strong foundation for design and engineering since early beginning of CAD/PLM. Therefore, CAD systems are deep in roots of PLM vendors today. Historically, all major PLM vendors today developed their software and businesses from CAD and related engineering applications. As a result of that, 2D/3D geometry, design, modeling and related information is a foundation of their products. Geometry modeling combined with PDM (product data management) created core foundation of these platforms.

Object Database Modeling

Object data modeling paradigm used by many CAD agnostic PLM vendors. Many of these vendors started as PDM companies expanded to support product development processes. Therefore, flexible data management approach became a main foundation layer for these products. Most of these systems were developed on top of relational databases (RDBMS). The flexibility of these platforms to manage any product information and related processes is a key strength.

Next PLM platform

What do you think will happen in the future of PLM platform? Are we going to see new elements and technologies to fuel future PLM development? In my view, last decade of innovation in open source, data management, web and cloud technologies created a new foundation for future PLM platforms. At the same time, the maturity of product lifecycle management implementations can provide a better understanding of functional architecture of PLM products. It made me think about what can become a foundation of future PLM platform development. Below, I put my four candidates to play a role of next PLM platform foundation.

1. MBSE (Model Based System Engineering).

As products are getting more and more complex, the approach that helps us to support product development becomes more visible and important.  Product is going much beyond 3D mechanical design and contains information about system architecture, requirements, functional decomposition of mechanical, electronic and software elements. From that standpoint, MBSE is a good foundation to create a platform and I can hear many voices these days about future of MBSE approaches.

2- Unbundled 3D service

3D was born as part of CAD design. Engineers need to use 3D CAD system to create actual product. However, there are many people in manufacturing ecosystem that just need to consume 3D data or information in the context of 3D data.  Think about 3D service unbundled from CAD system providing ability to visualize and re-use 3D information, combine it with other non-3D information. In my view, such approach can create a good foundation for future PLM platforms. I can see PLM vendors taking some elements of this approach today.

3- Product Development Standards

The level of dependencies in a modern manufacturing eco-system is huge. You can hardly find a single manufacturing company solely responsible for the development of their products. Companies are relying on development partners and hundreds of suppliers. Therefore, standards are getting more and more important. Some of product development and vertical industry standards can provide a functional foundation for future PLM platforms too.

4- Database technologies, big data and web infrastructure

Data technologies is a key element of any PLM system. We need to be able to manage a diverse set of information about product – visual, structured and unstructured. Functional requirements are different from the ability to create and maintain the information as well as ability to make analysis and re-use the information in a very scalable way. Modern data management software stack can become a foundation for future PLM platforms.

What is my conclusion? Product and technological development are going together. New platforms can arise from as a result of maturity of product and technological innovation. I see these four sources as a list of core elements of platform innovation sources. This is of course not an exhaustive list. I can see potential mix of these approaches together as well.   These are just my thoughts and I’m looking forward to your comments.

Best, Oleg

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Engineers and email workhorse

by Oleg on August 27, 2014 · 1 comment

email-workhorse-plm

We love and hate email at the same time. Since early beginning (back in 1962) email remains one of the fundamental ways of electronic communication. One of the major email transformation back in 1990s was influence of internet and significant expansion of email content and functionality.

In the world of software vendors banking on collaboration, the death of email was predicted long time ago. Engineering software (CAD and PLM) vendors are part of that group. The need to transfer large CAD files was on of the most critical reasons used by companies developing PDM/PLM software against email in communication and collaboration.

Nevertheless, despite all predictions, email is alive and transforming. I’ve been reading Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet. Article explains why email will never die and provides a very good set of arguments to support that statement. Here is my favorite passage:

You can’t kill email! It’s the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing. Email is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built. In that way, email represents a different model from the closed ecosystems we see proliferating across our computers and devices. Email is a refugee from the open, interoperable, less-controlled “web we lost.” It’s an exciting landscape of freedom amidst the walled gardens of social networking and messaging services.

Speaking about email transformation, I want to mention (again) the strategy of “unbundling” of email. The article brings few interesting examples of email unbundling – newsfeed, identification platform, direct social communication, digital package delivery service, business and work communication, etc. However, one of the key issues related to remaining popularity of email is the role email plays as a communication platform. The main point here is how to make communication smarter. Here is an interesting explanation from the same article:

This change might be accelerated by services like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, which sorts mail neatly (and automatically) into categories, or Unroll.me, which allows users to bundle incoming impersonal communications like newsletters and commercial offers into one easy custom publication. That is to say, our inboxes are getting smarter and smarter. Serious tools are being built to help us direct and manage what was once just a chronological flow, which people dammed with inadequate organization systems hoping to survive the flood. (Remember all the folders in desktop email clients!)

I found the topic of “smart communication” interesting. This is can be a refreshing idea. At the end of the day, engineers are looking how to make communication easy and smart. At the same time, the adoption of new communication tools can be hard and limited if you need to communicate across multiple organizations and individual networks. I was discussing some aspects of unbundling in the field of 3D, CAD and PLM. Email or let’s call it engineering communication platform can be another “unbundled” service.

What is my conclusion? Efficient collaboration and communication is a key. PDM/PLM vendors are trying to find a new innovative way to re-invent collaboration. Internet, cloud, social… we’ve heard many names and buzzwords for the last few years. To re-invent communication leveraging email communication platform by making your email inbox smarter can be a refreshing approach. What do you think? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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How much cost to build PLM software?

by Oleg on August 21, 2014 · 2 comments

plm-startup-cost

The new normal – we need less money to build software these days. My attention caught Andreessen Horowitz article The Happy Demise of the 10X Engineer. In a nutshell, we live in the era when infrastructure cost is going down and the cost of software engineers is going up. The following passage is important:

As the leverage of the individual software engineer increases, the barriers to becoming a code creator are falling fast. The same software foundation (open source software, development tools like Github, infrastructure as a service provided by the likes of Digital Ocean, and more) that allowed Whatsapp and Imgur to scale, means that experience and skill writing software become less important. An individual can now scale a web app to millions of users with Digital Ocean, Heroku and AWS (perhaps coordinated by Mesosphere). It no longer requires a sophisticated understanding of MySQL parameters to scale a database on Google App Engine, just as it no longer requires a knowledge of the CPU chip it’s all chugging away on.

Nowadays, the open source software foundation, Amazon (AWS) and web distribution allows you to build software and ship it initially without significant upfront expense. Another article by ReadWriteWeb – You Don’t Need To Be An Engineering Genius To Start A Billion-Dollar Company compares the cost of hardware and storage with the cost of engineers between 1998 and 2013.

infra-vs-eng-cost-plm-software

In 1985, storage was a key expense, running $100,000 per gigabyte, while a developer could expect to get paid $28,000 per year. By 2013, things had changed considerably. Now storage is cheap, costing $0.05 per GB. Developers, on the other hand, are expensive $90,000 per year.

Both articles made me think about what is the cost of building PDM and PLM software today. Does new normal rule of building web and mobile startups apply to the world of engineering and manufacturing software? The world of enterprise software is probably different from web and mobile. At the same time, changes I mentioned above in development eco-system and infrastructure cost apply to PLM world as well. So, the answer is far from yes or no. Here is more structured answer related to building of PDM/PLM software.

1. Foundation and Development Infrastructure

Web and open source eco-system created a huge software foundation stack. As a new company, you have a huge opportunity for re-use. This stack wasn’t available 10 years ago. In the past, enterprise companies didn’t tolerate open source software. The situation is completely different today. From that standpoint you can build new software with near to zero development infrastructure cost.

2. Private vs. public cloud

Public cloud is the best world for web startups. Most of them can run in production on AWS or similar public cloud hosting services and scale as usage will increasing. However, many manufacturing companies are still sitting on the fence of private vs. public cloud decision. So, you need to choose. You can either cut your potential customer audience or will be required to incur an additional cost of private cloud configurations, data centers and infrastructure.

3. Domain expertise

You need to get your hands dirty into engineering and manufacturing business. It is different from web photo sharing, messaging and mobile games. There are less people available in this field, which will obviously bump your cost up compared to some other industries.

4. Distribution and sales

To go viral is one of the most desired way to distribute web and mobile software. You go viral or die. The applicability of “viral model” for PLM is questionable. Speak to enterprise sales people and they will explain you the difference between software that needs to be sold vs. software that can be bought. Sales and marketing expenses in enterprise space can be huge.

What is my conclusion? It is easy to build technology and product. However, it is very hard to build business. The technology is getting cheaper. The best part of this trend – it allows you to experiment without significant investment to find product-market fit. PLM industry has its own domain ecosystem and specific rules. Engineers need to be familiar with use cases, existing software, tools and environment to succeed. The last one can push engineering cost of building PLM software even higher than average. The last and the most critical part is distribution and sales. Be prepared to pay huge cost for that. The good news – you don’t need to do it upfront. Enterprise software space is changing dramatically these days. So, I’d agree with Excite founder Joe Kraus and his 2005 article - “There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur because it’s never been cheaper to be one”. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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3 reasons why size won’t matter in PLM future?

August 20, 2014

The debates about small vs. large PLM implementations are probably as old as PLM software. Joe Barkai recently came with several very controversial blog series – Is PLM Software Only for Big Guys? One of these posts – Do PLM Vendors Think SMBs are Just Like Large Enterprises, Only Smaller? Note the following passage: In my market […]

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PLM upgrades, release cycles and legacy software

August 19, 2014

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 […]

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Why now is the right time to reinvent PDM?

August 15, 2014

Product Data Management (PDM) isn’t a new domain. The first PDM systems were invented 20-30 years ago with a simple objective – to manage product data. The scope of PDM was heavily debated and included design, engineering BOMs, ECO and even supply chain. However, the most widely accepted role of PDM is to manage CAD […]

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CAD: Engineering Bundles vs. Granular Apps?

August 7, 2014

Packages, bundles, product suites, integrated environments. I’m sure you are familiar with these names. The debates about best of breed solutions vs. single-vendor integrated suites are going long way back in the history of CAD and PLM. Some companies are ready for functional trade-off and afraid of additional integration cost. For other companies performance and […]

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Will public clouds help enterprises to crunch engineering data?

August 6, 2014

The scale and complexity of the data is growing tremendously these days. If you go back 20 years, the challenge for PDM / PLM companies was how to manage revisions CAD files. Now we have much more data coming into engineering department. Data about simulations and analysis, information about supply chain, online catalog parts and […]

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The end of single PLM database architecture is coming

August 5, 2014

The complexity of PLM implementations is growing. We have more data to manage. We need to process information faster. In addition to that, cloud solutions are changing the underlining technological landscape. PLM vendors are not building software to be distributed on CD-ROMs and installed by IT on corporate servers anymore. Vendors are moving towards different […]

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Here is why CAD in the cloud is more than mainframe terminal

August 1, 2014

Cloud is one of the topics that I’m following on my blog for a long time. I can see lots of changes that happened in CAD / PLM world for the last few years with everything that related to cloud. I’m sure you remember very turbulent announcement about SolidWorks future in the cloud made during […]

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