PLM vendors battle for downstream users

PLM vendors battle for downstream users

Think about information creators and consumers in manufacturing organizations. Old PLM sales assumption was projecting 10 information consumers on one information producers in an organization. Once information is created (eg. CAD system) and placed under control, the value of the PLM system was always to distribute accurate information downstream. But downstream usage was a long time problem for most of PLM vendors. These systems are complex and expensive. You want to have something cost effective and simple. PLM vendors failed to deliver it for many years, but the love for PLM is usually going extremely down as you walk out of the engineering department doors in any organization. 

In the last few years, PLM vendors were working on how to adopt a new practice, technologies, user experience, and deployment to provide a system for downstream usage.  

My attention was caught by Design World web event advertising – Making Product Data More Accessible for Downstream Teams: EAG’s Success with ThingWorx Navigate. I look forward to listening to what PTC does with Navigate. I wrote about PTC Navigate earlier. Here is an interesting passage:

Many manufacturers need to put valuable product data in the hands of downstream stakeholders. But that’s difficult when the data lives in a product lifecycle management (PLM) system geared to engineers. Many casual users outside of engineering find these systems too complex to use. And their organizations balk at the cost of buying more PLM licenses, and training and supporting these additional users.

I captured another example of information downstream usage demand – supply chain. At recent Aras event (ACE 2019) I captured the following slide from Aras CTO Rob McAveney who was talking about digital thread and supply chain access. 

Both Aras Innovator and Windchill are emphasizing the value of information distribution. In the following picture, you can see Aras demanding “to own the lifecycle”. 

What are the chances of PLM vendors to win over downstream usage? In my view, current PLM architectures have several challenges to support downstream information delivery – (1) user experience, (2) global access, and (3) multi-tenancy. Let’s talk about each of this one.

User experience. Product information is really complex. Very often, PLM systems are pushing the information complexity downstream. Applications like PTC Navigate, Teamcenter ActiveWorkspace, and 3DEXPERIENCE are putting much more attention to this problem, but it is still a big problem for many of them. Companies are exporting data into Excel-like spreadsheets and distribute it for many users. 

Global access. In a modern manufacturing world, companies are not located in a single building. To get systems accessed globally without scary IT resources can be a big deal for most of PLM architectures developed 15-20 years ago. At the same time, the IT world moved much forward with SaaS and cloud-based infrastructure.

Multi-tenancy. In a nutshell, multi-tenant characteristic of the system allows sharing resources such as computing and databases while providing granular access to data for different companies (eg. Suppliers).  I captured the following slide about PTC Navigate architecture here. Check this out below. You can see single database architecture. It is not clear how multi-tenancy can be supported by PTC Navigate. And if it is not, such architecture will be a limiting factor on how to make information easy and affordably available downstream.

What is my conclusion? Manufacturing companies are global these days. Downstream access will become a big deal for manufacturing companies in the next 5-10 years. And whoever will win this battle will control the supply chain and business relationship in the future of the manufacturing industry. Just my thoughts… 

Best, Oleg 

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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