One of the most debated topics in PLM (and other enterprise software world) is so-called “Out-of-the-box” system. Long-time ago, PDM and PLM systems were started as a toolkit. It was nothing, but a set of infrastructure including database code, procedures, some user interface, scripting wired all together after large manufacturing company was buying the system. With 6-7 figures price tag, combined with professional services it was a golden standard to sell PDM/PLM.
Within time, the demand to make the system more flexible, configurable and easy to adopt created an idea of Out-of-the-Box (OOTB) systems. The demand is that the system will be installed and ready to use without many efforts. The idea is very much likable. Because fundamentally everyone likes to sell a thing that “simply works” without many efforts.
The idea had some legs and was used by most of PDM/PLM companies to create OOTB packages of different flavors. Some of them came as a bundle of basic functionality. Some others came as a package of specific industry functions. “Out of the box” idea created a lot of debates and split companies and vendors into two groups. The first group was selling business transformation. The idea of transforming a company to adopt new ways to run the business using out of the box tools (the way the system was designed). The second group was supporting flexibility and pretty much toolbox approach. However, toolbox had a bad historical record. Therefore, flexibility and adaptability is usually a better marketing approach to sell “toolbox”.
My attention was caught by Aras article – Is your Software Vendor Dictating Your Standards? For a very long time, Aras vision of the flexible and customizable platform is clear as a well as a market position of Aras – do what’s you want. The main point of Aras is that you can live in two worlds at the same time – a stable core that can be fully upgraded and at the same time completely flexible way to customize and integrate the systems.
The article is positioning Aras as a flexible alternative to out of the box PLM tools and especially to large vendor software ecosystems. In my recent article – Aras and Siemens are clashing in the search of next “killer PLM”, I discussed how Aras can win over a complex PLM system offering provided for Siemens with overall integration services by Mendix.
Not everybody agrees with my comparison. Here is a comment from Jos Voskuil here:
I don’t think you can compare Siemens PLM (using the old naming still) and Aras. Siemens PLM is an eco-system of connected solutions with Teamcenter as the backbone. Aras is a toolkit with fast deployment capabilities to build connected systems – connecting to Siemens tools requires coding.
Aras perspective is different. It comes from Aras strength in data management and flexible system upgrade. Here is an interesting passage:
Aras uses services to enable integrations, so upgrades don’t affect your data model or established integrations. The service-oriented architecture separates the integration process from the core applications on the platform. This eliminates the need for recreating complex coding that is traditionally required to maintain established integrations during the upgrade process.
The typical IT ecosystem has more than one system used by various groups. While Aras can’t solve all of those integration problems, we are introducing Data Federation as a core service on our platform. Aras’ Data Federation Services will allow administrators to configure data synchronization data between Aras and other systems without complex custom code. This data can be merged with information from the Innovator data model to enable agreed interfaces between system.
However, as much as I like Aras flexible data management, this technology has strong roots in a single database foundation architecture from the 1990s. A single relational database was a core of every enterprise system and it was focused on how to provide the best solution for a single company. Moving in the 2020s world, new cloud and web system architecture are focusing on flexible and scalable microservices rather than single database architecture. These microservices are capable to provide certain functionality and be configured online without much IT involvement. So much desired upgrade of the system is moving from a problem that must be taking care of software vendors and turned from customer to DevOps problem. And online services are always up to date. This is where the current customer demand is going.
What is my conclusion? Everyone has a dream. What’s your dream? If you’re a user, you would like to have a system that will read your mind. If you’re a business owner, you would like the system magically adapt to every single need you will have as you go and use the system. The users’ demand from the PLM system to be ready to use out of the box in the way they want it. Unfortunately, there is still a gap in what systems can do. In PLM world out of the box pendulum is swinging from a toolbox to out-of-the-box and back. Technological improvements can make these two positions closer, but still, the biggest gap is people heads and the way they are thinking about PLM adoption and usage. The complexity of upgradability, combined with the complexity of implementation created an opportunity for Aras to offer a unique combination of the robust platform with a toolbox level of flexibility. I can see a strong IT demands to configurable online platforms with flexible DevOps infrastructure. New technology and architecture of the cloud and online systems can remove the problem of upgrades and bring a new level of flexibility and PLM system configuration. 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.