PLM industry has a problem. It called legacy data migrations and updates. The stories about migrating data and systems are notoriously painful. He is just one story told by Engineering.com about Ericsson failing to get up to speed with 3DEXPERIENCE implementation.
In general, it can be stated that the toughest problems associated with such a system swap are about migrating legacy data; information that already is in existing systems. This is a delicate and difficult task that partly concerns the quality of existing data and partly requires extensive translation and consulting efforts in connection with the migration of the legacy data.
According to my sources, this data may have become corrupt and distorted in part. “Every time we have tested the migrated data, all use cases failed,” says my source within Ericsson. “Not once has it been possible to migrate old data. This, the CIO [had] been fully aware of when he repeatedly confirmed that ’the timetable holds, we will deliver …’ This is an extremely important piece [of the project] and taking care of [data] history has always been high on the agenda.”
Do you think PLM is kind of unique about migrations and updates problems? I don’t think so. In my view, every large IT project with long lifecycle will have probably the same problem. Try to upgrade from an old ERP system to a new one and you will fill no different from complex PLM migrations. So, why PLM companies are failing to migrate data and upgrade from one environment to another? Complexity is an obvious root cause. But is there a better way?
Aras Innovator can be credited for a number of innovations in the last decade of PLM development. One of them is “migration of customer environments and upgrading of Aras”. Check the recent Chad Jackson video blog from Aras conference.
I capture two things from the video about Aras upgrade process. First step- customer send his database to Aras and, the second step – scripts are run on customer site to upgrade the environment. I found the whole process to be very clever. First, you get customer databases and engineers have an opportunity to research what actually customer did in the database. It can be anything… usually, customers are capable “to break” most of the things engineering organization does. Once the research is done, an update script will do a job (I guess under supervision of Aras engineers or support).
So, what is unique here and can it be replicated by other vendors to solve PLM industry migration problems? First, let’s talk about what is behind such interesting technological and business innovation.
1- Data model abstraction and automation. Aras is almost 20 years old, but their data modeling abstraction is well defined (XML modeling language) and preserved across the board. Until very recently, Aras was not involved in M&A activity, so engineers have the freedom to keep it clean without distortion of multiple codebases that inevitable during mergers and acquisitions.
2- Holistic approach in engineering, QA and customer support. The process described by Chad Jackson about Aras upgrade solves many engineering and QA problem. There is a legit way to run all customer environments and test code even before it released to a customer. Just by doing that Aras potentially decreases the cost of running Engineering organization. By eliminating customers running old versions, Aras is actually decreasing support and maintenance cost as well.
3- An attractive marketing and sales differentiation. In the world of “most PLM systems do the same”, the message about free upgrades included in the subscription is a very attractive offering makes sales job much easier.
There are two questions that remain not answered in my view. Is Aras upgrade procedure sustainable? Can Aras model be replicated by other vendors? It is hard to answer these questions. I don’t have access to Aras engineering cost, so I cannot speculate how much cost to run Aras upgrade program. The minimum number of seat you can buy directly from Aras is 250 (), so draw your opinion about the average size of customers using Aras subscription and draw your opinion. It is not clear if Aras will perform an upgrade to your system if it is purchased from a partner (if you have such info, please let me know). From a technical standpoint, updating a database is not a big deal. The problem starts when you need a balance between application abstraction level and functions. And goes back to engineering. If you break API compatibility, eliminates functions, it will fire back, obviously. So, it is a process rather a permanent solution.
Economic is still the main factor in my view to support Aras update process. As Aras will grow and the number of customers on subscription will grow the question of how to maintain PLM upgrade and balance it with automation can become a factor of what minimum customer size can be supported.
What is my conclusion? What is Aras upgrade? Is it PLM innovation or just following the engineering script? In my view, it is a mix of both. Aras upgrade service stands out in PLM world, which is today run by top 3 vendors – Dassault Systemes, Siemens PLM, and PTC. it is an interesting architecture and a process that must be learned by PLM architects. In my view, this upgrade process will become a standard very soon as PLM industry is moving to cloud-based environments (private and public). The last two decades of cloud innovation demonstrated that having multi-tenant databases in the cloud can be a big advantage when it comes to customer support, operations and migrations. So, expect this innovation to come to PLM space. Majority of PLM setups in production now are single tenant systems. A big challenge and opportunity ahead. 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.