It is 2022 and SaaS is pretty much a lingua franca everywhere. GenX and GenZ are slowly, but surely replacing boomers and it brings a fresh wave of technological changes and openness to adopting SaaS applications. A typical representative in that age is asking “what URL to use to get the app” and Google everything before making any decision about their application purchase. This group of people will check G2 before choosing one and will not be afraid of checking multiple options of the software before buying from a familiar CAD VAR.
SaaS market development is amazing. According to the BMC blog, the SaaS market is currently growing by 18% each year. By the end of 2021, 99% of organizations will be using one or more SaaS solutions. Nearly 78% of small businesses have already invested in SaaS options.
All these sounds really amazing and bring a lot of interest and opportunity to SaaS PLM software. It is hard to find any PLM vendor these days that doesn’t speak or think about SaaS PLM solutions. However, here is the thing – the same “SaaS” word means different things when you speak to Aras Corp., OpenBOM, or PTC Windchill.
If you’re looking for SaaS PLM, you may be wondering which PLM (product lifecycle management) software is right for your business. Selecting the right SaaS PLM software can be tricky, but it’s important to choose a platform that fits your needs. In this article, I’d like to provide you with a simple and actionable guide about how to become familiar with SaaS PLM circa 2022. I will give you a quick look into the SaaS PLM market and help you select the right platform for your business. We’ll also discuss some of the key features to look for in a PLM system. So, if you’re ready to make a selection, keep reading!
SaaS – common lingua franca in PLM?
It is hard to find any PLM solution in this world that doesn’t do something with cloud and SaaS PLM. Any mindshare PLM vendor from DS to PTC Windchill is selling you a SaaS solution. Check this out. And this is just a shortlist – 3D EXPERIENCE on Cloud, Teamcenter X, PTC Windchill Cloud on Azure, Aras Enterprise SaaS, and many others. You can check other vendors and products on G2 PLM (Arena, OpenBOM, Propel, etc.), which provides you a great perspective on different vendors including customer reviews.
Why SaaS can be different?
However, the simplest test shows you that – (1) the devil is in details, and (2) Not every SaaS is the same. Especially when it comes to PLM SaaS Software. So, you probably scratching your head and asking the question – what is the best SaaS PLM? Don’t go so fast. You need to understand what is under the hood of each “SaaS” PLM.
In my classification, I differentiate between 3 main groups of PLM (product lifecycle management) software – Hosted PLM, Enterprise SaaS, and SaaS Platforms. Let me speak about each one and bring you some examples.
Hosted PLM Solutions
The first group of product lifecycle management software is “hosted” PLM software. The idea here is very simple. Vendors take the existing PLM software solutions and host them using available IaaS platforms. It can be AWS, GCP, or Microsoft Azure. It also can be a different cloud infrastructure (PTC provides a highly secured hosting infrastructure as part of their solutions for the defense industry).
What is typical for this type of software is that it is not different from the same on-prem solution from the same vendors. The solutions are typically hosted by a vendor, but sometimes they can be hosted by their partners. The main thing you need to pay attention to is how much control over the administration you will be getting from a vendor and how to executive this control. You don’t want to go to the vendor each time you need to add a new column to the database.
Some PLM vendors coined a new terminology – Enterprise SaaS. Although it is not widely used (yet), I can see how this term is moving upstream and is supported by a larger portion of vendors. One of the most visible partners in enterprise SaaS is Aras Corp. It is important to remember that Aras playbook to add the word “enterprise” and redefine the meaning of SaaS (or anything else) already happened many times. In such a way Aras coined another term – Enterprise Open Source. However, I can see Enterprise SaaS also on the website of PTC.
Enterprise SaaS is an interesting “animal” to deal with. On one side, it is the same software (PLM) that provides a very traditional business process support for product lifecycle management software, document management, project management, and covers many other topics including supply chain partners, manufacturing, and many others. On the other side, PLM vendors developed an entirely automatic process of deployment their existing PLM stacks to IaaS infrastructure, providing deployment and monitoring tools. The important thing to watch in these solutions is their customization capabilities that can be often cut off by vendors.
Cloud-Native SaaS Platforms
This group of product lifecycle management software is represented by solutions that developed especially to be SaaS products or platforms. These PLM tools are typically multi-tenant, rarely provide an option to be hosted in a dedicated hosting environment, and are sometimes dependent on other SaaS platforms (eg. Propel runs exclusively on Salesforce.com). In my view, this is the most promising type of solution because of the following reasons:
- The multi-tenant architecture allows a high level of flexibility and scalability. All these platforms usually provide high availability and global service coverage across the globe.
- Usually, it is a global platform that serves multiple companies and therefore should provide easy data sharing and access “across the borders”.
- From a functional perspective, these systems are usually superior to their “non-born-in-the-cloud” counterparts hosted, especially when it comes to customization and configurations.
What is my conclusion?
Three groups of SaaS solutions give you plenty of space to decide what is the right platform for them. For most of the parts, you should be able to select SaaS PLM by analyzing the following 5 criteria: (1) Global and/or multi-tenant; (2) Advanced and collaborative user experience; (3) Enabling easy data sharing; (4) Flexibility, configurations and customizations and, finally, (5) Data analytics and data intelligence. In the next articles, I will speak about more details of these platforms and give you some additional ideas about the future development of SaaS technologies and software in the PLM industry. 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.