Platform is the next magic word these days. Everyone is building “platform” these days. Platform is sweet word, which sounds really nice and makes you feel much better. Read my Sweet Dreams about Product Innovation Platforms. In the old good days, platform includes a hardware architecture and a software framework that allow application software to run—for example, the operating system and programming languages. In my earlier days of working for Autodesk dealer in Israel, AutoCAD on MS-DOS was clearly a platform helping your to run practically everything.
These days the definition of platform is shifting towards something that might not be simple and easy to understand. Joe Barkai recent article says platform is actually not a software. However, what I like in this definition is that “platform is a cloud-based… something”. Here is the passage:
Further abstracting the concept, a platform is not a software. First and foremost, it is a (cloud based) virtual facility for partnering and collaboration, enabling a dynamic ecosystem where content and services providers join and leave as needed. Think about this in the context of an IoT-centric product in operation, where the value is generated by multiple content and services providers that join to realize different products and services.
A large and comprehensive writing about Dassault Systemes 3DEXPERIENCE and PLM platforms was published yesterday by Engineering.com – Dassault Systèmes Bets Big on a Product Innovation Platform.
The definition of platform in Engineering.com article is somewhat different from the one I found earlier in Joe Barkai’s post. It is clearly about software, which is so well integrated that you feel about it as a single piece of something. According to analyst Monica Schnitger:
The idea of a platform is that everything is integrated so smoothly that the user doesn’t perceive any integration steps. Users can simply set up permissions for data access and then watch while everyone who needs to have access to the data can use it.”
So, platform has a danger of become a silo. And some analysts like Jim Brown can see a serious downside in such completely integrated vertical platforms:
The downside of this fully integrated platform is that not every piece of software that a design team wants to use will be available on their chosen platform. According to Schnitger, “It’s unlikely that any one vendor has the best of breed in every application because there are too many variations, so you might have to use a non-platform solution.” As we have reported previously, not all companies are willing to give up their existing software in return for the seamless transfer of data that the 3DEXPERIENCE platform promises.
However, my engineering mind was looking for something more technical and less marketing. I found it in my the description provided by Jeff Erno of GE. He explained the biggest differentiation between old fashion PLM and new data management of integrated platforms:
He [Jeff] advocates that PLM systems should move from managing separate resolved groupings of configurations to supporting a “configurable” structure such that all options, all evolutions over time and all customer specifics would be in the same structure at the same time. The system would record the changes and automatically associate them to the changed object. “Imagine how much easier it would be to review changes for accuracy if you only had to review the net changes rather than the whole new structure,” he added.
My favorite passage from the long article and also best collection of “platform” characteristics provided by Jeff Erno:
Erno’s team at GE Power expects to see many benefits from implementing a configurable data structure, including: 1/ Allowing users to collaborate on a common model without having to take turns or check files in or out. 2/ Making data flow from application to application without having to import or export files. This in turn means that when changes are made to data, those changes are immediately updated across all applications and users. 3/ Helping users to create variants of designs without creating copies of the models. Instead, changes to the base models can propagate throughout all variants, while all parts and suppliers can be traced through the variants in a common system. 4/ Allowing data to be streamed when and where it is needed, using the permissions and cloud-based accessibility from the platform.
If I summarize it simply it will come down to the following 3 things:
1– no files;
2– streamline data flow between applications; and…
3– data sharing (access) using cloud-based accessibility.
I think, it is a great simple definition. And it lead me to an interesting thought. These things are actually an outline of the definition of “full-cloud CAD system” proposed by Onshape. There are tons of articles about Onshape online. Check this link Full-Cloud CAD with comparison between file-based desktop systems and full-cloud systems. Here is the picture that help you to see the deference as well as the definition:
Full-cloud CAD has no files or copies. Your CAD system and data always live in one place in the cloud. Everyone on your design team can work on the same model at the same time. You can actually see your colleagues making changes as they happen!
You can ask me – what about data flow between applications? To address data flow between application, I’d like to bring a video shows the ability of cloud-based applications to be integrated seamlessly using cloud infrastructure. The following video shows OpenBOM (disclosure, I’m co-founder and CEO) cloud application is interacting with Onshape in real time collaboration scenario. Both applications are running independently using public cloud application stack, allowing to users have an access to a specific subset of data. Users can be located everywhere in the world, working for different companies.
What is my conclusion? Innovation platform, Full-cloud CAD. These are different names used by Dassault Systemes and Onshape. However, behind the name we can see similar characteristics – cloud-based system, no files, data sharing and streamlining of communication between applications. These characteristics is good and simple set of what can become a future of PLM platforms. I found lot of strategic similarity between 3DEXPERIENCE and Onshape based on these characteristics However, this is where similarity probably stops. 3DEXPERIENCE is build on top of PLM infrastructure with roots to ENOVIA and MatrixOne relational databases that can be hosted using on premise, private and public infrastructure. Onshape is build on top of new cloud technological stack and run on top of public cloud IaaS infrastructure. Different technologies, different software stack and different functional capabilities. However, these 2 platforms share common strategy of 1/ no files; 2/ streamlined data flow and 3/ data sharing. 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.