The manufacturing industry is one of the last groups of businesses that are going to adopt SaaS and cloud technologies. Although cloud adoption started already a decade ago, unlike CRM, Marketing and Sales/Advertising, engineers and IT were very careful to bring cloud / SaaS to business. In my view, it happened because of multiple factors:
- Concerns about performance over the cloud/internet connection
- The extreme demand for flexibility and customization of high-end PLM deployment
- Single-tenant architecture of leading PLM platforms
- Security and IP concerns
Although, some of these factors, in my opinion, were not exactly connected to the capabilities of the system, they setback initial SaaS PLM innovators and supported a conservative aspiration of large PLM vendors that SaaS PLM is still far away from its moment and the timing is not right here yet. The second half of the 2010s demonstrated acceleration of cloud/SaaS development and then we got COVID19, which turned everything upside down.
The last two years demonstrated that all vendors were preparing for the acceleration of cloud, SaaS, and digital transformation. Massive amounts of investment were done in SaaS/Cloud PLM domains via the development of existing platforms by leading vendors (TeamcenterX, Dassault/3DX) as well as by acquisitions of independent companies (Onshape/PTC, Arena/PTC, Upchain/Autodesk, GI/Aras). These investments set the industry to a very high level of expectation, yet, the question of what will boost the acceleration of cloud/SaaS PLM is still open.
So, where do you think cloud solutions will be making a major breakthrough, and what potential setbacks can come across on the path of Cloud/SaaS PLM innovation? I identified these groups of solutions and business domains and gave you my thoughts about what can accelerate or slow down cloud development.
1- Design Features
The excitement about the unlimited power of cloud computation is huge. Simulation, visualization, generative design, and many other features promised to remove the need for engineers to deal with powerful workstations and replace them with unlimited resources. As much as the expectations were high, the outcome was moderate. The maturity of existing systems was below expected and the computing power of mobile and desktop workstation was growing with the price going down. What is promising in design is the opportunity to analyze large amounts of existing data about products and computational power to bring new ways to find better design options.
2- PDM and Data Management
The option to improve data management was always considered as low-hanging fruit for cloud adoption. The biggest success here was in the delivery of hosted solutions and eliminating the need for IT to set up, configure and maintain the systems. Most adoption successes came from non-design systems where dependencies on existing CAD tools were minimal. Outside of these two options, the development of cloud / SaaS PLM was relatively slow with companies checking their options between mature desktop CAD systems and combinations of cloud/hybrid systems with cloud data management. Speed and availability of internet connection not only accelerated the adoption of SaaS systems but also made the transfer of file-based solutions to the cloud much easier via hosted desktops and a variety of sync options.
3- Downstream Processes
Businesses are getting more connected than ever and Information availability will play a key role in future system adoption. It started from simple data extraction and continues towards providing better intelligence, analytics, and future business solutions relying on recombining data coming from multiple sources in the same company as well as from multiple companies. These solutions are very promising because of the big opportunity related to data intelligence.
Did I forget about Digital Twin and Digital Thread?
No, I didn’t forget these two promising trends. Both names are well-recognized strategies, where Digital Twin is the strategy many industrial companies in manufacturing, construction, and connected domains will be leveraging to improve operation, intelligence, and streamline processes inside companies, distributed teams, and supply chain.
What is my conclusion?
The cloud / SaaS systems are becoming more mature and industrial companies are actively looking into cloud PLM solutions to replace existing legacy systems, databases, and massive amounts of Excels. At the same time, the biggest opportunity to accelerate the adoption is to provide systems with the potential to use data intelligence in optimizing decision making, eliminating business risks, and connecting customers and manufacturers together. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.