A storm is brewing: revealing the disruptive effect of PLM in the cloud

Posted on 4 Apr 2012 by Malcolm Wheatley

Richard Tinsdeall, Autodesk PLM sales director EMEA, discusses how Autodesk’s new cloud-based alternative offers all the benefits of PLM at a fraction of the cost of traditional systems. Does this development represent a disruptive technology shift for the PLM market?

While some large OEMs may still be willing to spend their budgets on traditional product lifecycle management (PLM) systems, for most of the manufacturing industry, investment in such complex and expensive products is out of the question. In this era of cutbacks and austerity, the risk of major upheaval and openended commitment, considered inherent in most enterprise IT implementations, is too much to contemplate – besides, the time and the cash are simply not available.

And yet, in an industry fighting its way out of recession and eyeing its global competition with apprehension, the promises made by large PLM vendors still sound enticing. UK manufacturers tend to be open to strategies to streamline operations, improve product quality and stay ahead of the market. They have been quick to adopt ideas such as 3D design and digital prototyping, but as these become standard, they are starting to look for the next advantage.

Now, it seems, the answer lies in the cloud.

Never say never

Until now, the concept of PLM has polarised opinion. On the one hand, any method that helps optimise operations and makes reliable product data constantly available across an enterprise is worthy of serious consideration. Increasingly, manufacturers also need ways to handle the explosion of digital data and to convert this valuable asset into business intelligence.

However, traditional PLM is not without its drawbacks. The expense makes investment a board-level decision, which in turn means hours of debate and presentations. For this reason alone, it’s never going to provide the immediate fillip many companies need at the moment.

Because of the complexity and configurable nature of many PLM systems, implementation itself can also be a challenge, requiring teams of specialist consultants and unlimited patience from those whose day-to-day work may be affected.

A few years ago, when the trend for large enterprise-wide software implementations was at its peak, some software vendors went against the flow and, unconvinced that this overblown form of PLM was right for their customers, made the decision to step away from this particular market. But, this didn’t mean they stopped thinking about what PLM could do for manufacturers – if the technology was right.

“With the growing takeup of cloud computing, Autodesk sensed that the time was right to revise its policy on PLM” – Richard Tinsdeall, Autodesk PLM sales director EMEA

Cloud computing makes it possible

Autodesk was one of these vendors reluctant to enter the PLM market, despite the fact that its position in the CAD and data management markets, together with its policy of “democratising” technologies to enable any size of organisation take advantage, made it a natural contender for this particular territory.

But the need was still there. Many of its customers were still trying to store product information in Excel spread sheets, but because of the rise in the amount of data produced, this process was becoming unwieldy and unmanageable. If they could bring together all information such as project, requirements, quality and compliance and supplier management data into one, easily accessible place, the efficiencies would be significant; ultimately resulting in better-informed decision making and bringing together better quality products faster.

The emergence of the cloud has taken the heat out of the PLM discussions just at the right time. It means that PLM software can, for the first time, be offered as a service, sitting on someone else’s server and accessed remotely from anywhere in the world. This comes at a time when the dispersal of project teams across the globe or on the move – has made fast and secure access to reliable data a real requirement to maintain a smooth workflow.

With the growing take-up of cloud computing, Autodesk sensed that the time was right to revise its policy on PLM, recognising that the cloud could transform the way PLM was implemented and delivered and open it up to almost any manufacturer.

Game-changing technology

The result is Autodesk PLM 360. Quickly implemented and accessed by a web browser, its user-friendly interface makes it easy to enter and navigate. Instead of every detail being configured, every module or template is included in the subscription and can be switched on when needed. With many traditional PLM systems, only a fraction of the available capability is used, so this arrangement has been designed to encourage users to try different functionality and get maximum value from the system.

Users and managers will never again have to worry about upgrades and broken customisation; the application is always up to date and compatible with any customer-specific configuration. Furthermore, IT professionals are freed up from non-strategic system management since users access PLM 360 from a fully-managed data centre that provides security, high performance and disaster recovery.

Autodesk PLM 360 is agile, scalable and affordable enough to be procured without a protracted, top-down process. It is also the first cloud-based PLM solution focused on business applications beyond engineering and bill of material management. As a result, employees in a range of roles – from planning and product development to quality and compliance to service and more – can better access product and project-related information to help them continuously enhance the products they design and manufacture.

In fact, PLM 360 is so straightforward that it can be deployed without outside consultants or even an internal IT department and the system can be up and running within hours or even minutes. It is estimated that costs will be only around one tenth of those incurred using a standard system.

There’s such a difference in time scales and costs between PLM 360 and legacy PLM systems that Autodesk believes it could totally transform the market. And thanks to the cloud, this market is now much larger than ever before. Running PLM in the cloud will bring benefits for small companies eager to deploy PLM for the first time and large enterprises disenchanted by traditional systems. PLM is dead. Long live PLM!