Product Innovation Platform: single vendor mousetrap and agile services

Product Innovation Platform: single vendor mousetrap and agile services


Product Innovation Platform is a term that coined for the last 2-3 years to describe a new way to design, manufacturing and support productions. Products are more complex and manufacturing is even more distributed. The questions how to manage a growing complexity with new engineering and manufacturing software paradigm is on the table of software vendors and customers these days.

Platform is a fancy a tricky word. Everyone wants to develop platforms these days. Platforms strategy is an interesting and important thing. It can bring many benefits to customers from technology and business perspective. At the same time, platform is also a new old name of the competition in the software and computing business. Platform can bring benefits of openness, integration, modular and flexible architecture. The same platform can become a walled garden protecting entrance to other tools and technologies.

I touched Product Innovation Platforms topic in my earlier articles – Sweet dreams about product innovation platforms and Architecture options for product innovation platforms. Platform is about data and processes. Good platform should provide a solid foundation data data management and communication between software elements and people.

I came across LineShapeSpace article – Don’t Go Chasing Waterfall: Go Agile With a Product Innovation Platform by Stephen Hooper of Autodesk. It brings an interesting perspective on building of future agile engineering and manufacturing software.

There are two things that caught my special attention in this article. The first one is about advantages of “platform” for vertical integration opposite to buying disparate software applications. Here is the passage that speaks about that:

Previously, manufacturers of discrete products, from cars to airplanes to industrial equipment, had to acquire lots of disparate software applications with lots of individual licenses. And once they’d amassed those CAD and data-management systems, simulation applications, and CAM programs, they had to piece them together. Like trying to build a house with workers who don’t speak the same language and use completely different tools, the old process was not seamless. And in manufacturing, that piecemeal approach doesn’t lend itself to an agile product-development process. But now, product innovation platforms offer the ability to conceive, design, engineer, optimize, manufacture, sell, and connect to a product in the field—all around the same set of common data. It’s a development cycle that allows you to abandon waterfall processes for good and, ultimately, offer better service to your customers.

The second thing is about services, granularity and openness of platform approach.

Now, this may sound all well and good, but you may still be wondering if implementing a product innovation platform makes smart business sense—is it an all-or-nothing solution? The answer is no. You don’t have to adopt the entire product innovation platform from one vendor for it to work. Today’s product innovation platforms are not monolithic pieces of software architecture on a single code base, but a series of cloud-based services that can be combined to act together. It’s akin to how Amazon enables its cloud customers to assemble their own solutions by combining pieces from a collection of services for storage, database management, computing, and analytics.

I found these two messages a bit conflicting. The value of vertical integration and all-in-one approach is clear. Products are tuned to work with each other. Data transfer is smooth, compatibility between products is validated and guaranteed by a single vendor. But it is kind of mousetrap and I know many companies that don’t like to be dependent on a single vendor. If platform is represented by a set of services, that can be combined with services of other platforms, then the value of integration is not that high and buying separate software components and licenses will be a way to go.

The idea of cloud-based services is good and following modern micro-services architecture approach. The real check is to insure how services can interplay and work together in a real life. A good platform will provide enough information and support to insure services are documented, supported and maintained – this is one of core elements of successful platforms.

What is my conclusion? Platform is not about fancy marketing messages. Platform is all about how to manage data and processes in a reliable and connected way as well as providing services to other applications and tools.  Vertically integrated platform is a potential mousetrap and at the same time a software heaven from a single vendor. Granular services can provide lot of flexibility, but also to create an illusion of openness. The devil is in details. The paradigm of Amazon from the article is interesting, but I’m not sure useful. You can indeed consume AWS services in a flexible way, but I doubt you can plan your application to rely on both Amazon and Google platform at the same time. It doesn’t make sense unless it is required by some specific needs. For the future Product Innovation Platforms, the trick will be to deliver low 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. So, welcome to the age of platform competition. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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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 about BOM can be unintentionally biased.

Picture credit ardgillan-castle


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