There was a sort of minor sea change in the PLM world Tuesday as Autodesk finally entered the fray. Just about five years after questioning the value of PLM, CEO Carl Bass is now convinced that his PLM on the Cloud, Nexus, is the future of this industry. I am inclined to agree with him. Whether the Autodesk solution will be robust enough for large manufacturers with complex products that can’t be modeled in AutoCAD is up for question. I think that any self-respecting enterprise software company has to be weighing in on cloud-based solutions if they want to be around in ten to fifteen years because – a major security breach notwithstanding – massive outsourcing of IT to cloud vendors, whether public or private, is a near certitude. A colleague pointed me to an interesting article in Wired that points out that the US government has a poor track record in respecting internet privacy and that this could have a truly dampening impact on the cloud revolution. That being said, private cloud vendors may be able to work around these restrictions. What is certain: when the CFO can eliminate his IT budget (and staff -sniff- -sniff-) and replace it with a monthly subscription that is relatively fixed and constant, s/he will not hesitate once they are comfortable with the value prop. If the solution responds to required due diligence and doesn’t involve massive reworking of business processes, it will be an easy decision to make.
The real challenges with PLM on the cloud as I see them are:
- The volume and complexity of the CAD data that needs to be managed
- The harmonization of the product structure with the various BOM structures so that coherency is guaranteed end-to-end from design to recycling
- The complexity of regulatory agencies and ever-changing standards
- Collaboration across disciplines, across companies, across borders
- The perceptions of security issues once data is put up on the cloud
The Autodesk announcement says basically that the first point will stay “on premises” inside the Autodesk Vault products. The Nexus will manage everything else. What was missing in the announcement was whether they could deal with heterogeneous CAD management and how exactly they would connect up to the ERP systems. Many of the details were in fact left to the imagination as the real product doesn’t arrive for another month of so. It does leave one quite curious to see how well they do with this.
The rest of the PLM vendors have dabbled in Cloud but none have taken such an intrepid commitment public like Autodesk just did. It is probably akin to Apple’s announcement of iCloud which I have already griped about variously on this blog. Not perfect, but a paradigm-shift that cannot be ignored. Movement must be cautious so as to not alienate current users. Here is the advantage for Autodesk because up to now, they were not really in the PLM space, only the PDM space. [For the novice, we usually refer to workgroup CAD data management as Product Data Management, or PDM, and to enterprise-wide product development and release to manufacturing as Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM]. They have no one to disappoint. For the rest of us, we must accelerate our cloud-based efforts but keep our core competencies intact. A formidable task.
More food for thought on these links: