Autodesk PLM Vision 2014+

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autodesk_header_logo_140x23Autodesk is a relative newcomer to Product Lifecycle Management, at least as many people define PLM. They also have a very different PLM footprint than the other large PLM providers. This post shares my perspective on their PLM vision as a part of Tech-Clarity’s Strategic Visions of the Major PLM Vendors 2014+ series.

A Bit of History

Of course Autodesk is not new to the world of engineering or manufacturing. In fact, if you define PLM as an integrated suite of solutions that includes CAD, simulation, and other engineering tools in addition to data and process management capabilities (as I do) then Autodesk has had a subset of PLM for quite some time. For example, Inventor for 3D CAD and AutoCAD are both prevalent in manufacturing design. In fact, a large percentage of manufacturing layouts are developed with AutoCAD. Autodesk has also invested heavily in CAE and most recently CAM solutions to provide a nice suite of capabilities for their customers.

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What was missing was PLM. Autodesk’s Vault product provides data management for small workgroups, but it was never designed to be an enterprise PLM system. Autodesk CEO Carl Bass famously said the only people with a PLM problem were PLM vendors Dassault, PTC, and UGS (now Siemens PLM). You can Google his PLM rant if you choose to, but it’s outdated and I think it’s ready to be put to rest. Last year, Autodesk officially entered the PLM market with the release of PLM 360 Nexus (now smartly renamed as Autodesk PLM360). You can read some of my first reactions to PLM360 and some more early thoughts on PLM360, I will refresh them here.

The Autodesk PLM Strategy

PLM360 Update 2013So where is Autodesk going with PLM? I was able to spend a few days at Autodesk University (AU) to hear from Autodesk execs and their customers to get an update. It was a large, dynamic conference with a lot of interesting information. As usual, I was able to participate in special analyst and press briefings / panels with Autodesk leadership and had some one-on-one time with the people working on PLM. Here are the three most significant things that I think are important about the PLM360 vision:

  • Autodesk is serious about PLM – the old rant has been put to rest. PLM gets a lot of high level support and attention at Autodesk. They are on the list. Done.
  • Autodesk is embracing the Cloud like no other PLM vendor – Autodesk has made big gets on the cloud. They introduced CAD on the cloud (Fusion360), simulation on the cloud (Sim360), and a host of other new “360″ products to join PLM360 on the cloud. As one of my analyst friends tweeted the Autodesk keynotes mentioned “cloud, cloud, cloud, and cloud.” Autodesk SVP Andrew Angnost points out that the cloud move isn’t just about typical cloud software deployment benefits though, their strategy is based on a belief that “cloud is not for cloud’s sake, it’s for changing the way people work.” Having said that, the basic benefits of  PLM on the cloud are compelling, as I shared in my thoughts on the cloud opportunity in PLM. Another key point about their cloud strategy is that CEO Carl Bass made it abundantly clear that Autodesk is not walking away from desktop products.
  • PLM360 scope won’t be that different from other PLM solutions after all - I had initial concerns about how “insanely configurable” Autodesk planned PLM360 to be. I also had concerns about the disconnected strategy between data management and process management (with Vault and PLM360). One of those issues has been fully addressed. I know longer see Autodesk trying to characterize PLM360 as both “insanely configurable” (which makes it a BPM infrastructure versus a packaged application) but also claim it is a highly capable set of out of the box applications. PLM360 is moving much more in the direction of a configurable standard product, so every customer doesn’t have to build their own processes. At this point in time, I fully believe the disconnected data management will be addressed over time as well. In fact, a newly announced product called “Autodesk360″ will offer centralized file management and collaboration on the cloud. It’s not hard to imagine that expanding to manage CAD files in a product / BOM context to serve as the data backbone for PLM360. So in the end the footprint will likely be similar to other vendors – but it will be 100% on the cloud. So the same, yet very different in deployment.

That’s what it looks like to me. Please share your views!

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  • Stan Przybylinski

    Hi Jim,

    Nice piece on the meeting. To me it had a lot more energy than the other users conferences I attend in the PLM space.

    While cloud may not be financially material yet, I think it is material in adoption. As you said, people are using these new solutions, seemingly ignoring the risks (overblown in my opinion) that seem to be keeping others on the sidelines (or terrestrial, as Autodesk stated at last years meeting).

    Let’s hope that all of us “influencers” can create a cacophony about what is going on to get everybody else in the game.

    Stan Przybylinski
    VP of Research
    CIMdata, Inc.

    • http://www.tech-clarity.com/ jim_techclarity

      Stan, I totally agree on the meeting. It had a very positive energy and environment. You and I see things in a similar way on risks, most of the people (not all, but most) that are afraid of the risk on the cloud don’t realize the risk they already carry internally. The cloud is more seductive target but also where people can leverage shared resources with highly trained and specialized resources.

      Not a dull time in our industry, that’s for sure!

    • http://www.taxal.com Allan Behrens

      I agree to your thoughts on the meeting Stan – one of the better conferences from my point of view. I particularly liked the focus on customer situations/challenges/technology-resolutions and the bias of industry-centric topics and thought leaders over pure product spiels.

  • http://www.tech-clarity.com/ jim_techclarity

    This comment is from Jos Voskuil, his blog is virtualdutchman.com. For some reason he had technical difficult posting it here so I am adding it for him. Hopefully he will be reply to comments, if not I will add them in. If anybody else is having trouble please let me know! Sorry for the difficult Jos and thanks for your comments!

    First of all, thanks for kicking of the PLM ball starting with Autodesk. Without knowing Autodesk 360 PLM insanely well, I want to share some general thoughts around Autodesk´s offering.

    Autodesk as a company has its history in providing mid-market companies affordable solutions once the concept has matured in the market. You could say mid-market companies are not the front-runners when it comes to new technology. It was the success of AutoCAD, Inventor – they were not the first to develop 2D/3D CAD, but were building upon the mid-market and their existing customer base.

    Related to data management Autodesk has not been successful when it comes to managing data beyond CAD files. Their TDM/PDM solutions like Workcenter and Motiva did not get to the market. Having worked with Workcenter at that time, I realized it was too complicated. It was too much an IT-issue instead of an argument about functional benefits. I would say Autodesk was too early with their products and as they had not developed these systems themselves, they were not matching the primary Autodesk philosophy of being easy to install and let local heroes enhance the implementation further.

    This was/is the success factor for AutoCAD and Excel. You do not need to change the company to use these tools. That’s why Autodesk Vault survived and expanded quietly in Autodesk minded companies.

    With Autodesk 360 PLM, I agree it is a product matching the Autodesk philosophy, insanely configurable, easy to install and create your demo for the rest of the organization.

    It is an ideal solution for engineering champions with a good feel for IT. On purpose, I did not use the word PLM champions as I think they are extremely rare in the Autodesk target market – who is waiting for PLM in these companies?

    The absolute focus on cloud worries me a little as a European. Perhaps not in the US, but here in Europe there are significant concerns about IP theft or data loss combined with liability of the cloud provider. As most cloud providers are US based, it seems hard to get a 100 percent guarantee your data is not touched by others. US laws related to homeland security allow every US intervention possible. So “ancient Europe” is holding back on cloud solutions. Autodesk might be too early for a larger market share in Europe with an only cloud PLM offering.

    I do not believe the cloud will be considered as a big risk by these smaller companies when they truly need the solution. And here comes my second observation which is challenging for Autodesk.

    Focusing on the bottom of the market with PLM seems to be a mission impossible if you consider PLM as a collaboration platform that supports a different way of working through the organization (sharing data instead of owning data). This kind of business transformation does not come from an IT/Engineering champion so often.

    In addition, the Autodesk reseller channel has either developed their data management practices or has not added value on this topic.

    I think if Autodesk can beat Excel by becoming “the Excel on the cloud” they have done an impressive job. Imagine if Excel becomes obsolete you have a bigger problem than the Y2K problem.

    For other PLM domains, like multidisciplinary collaboration with other CAD systems, I do not see the Autodesk channel to be strong enough to develop that.

    Just my thoughts …(It is almost a blog post again)

    By Jos Voskuil

    • http://www.ssi-corporate.com/company/about-ssi Denis Morais

      I enjoyed reading your -blog- comment;)

      I will only comment on one of the many points.

      I think Autodesk focusing on the “Small-to-Medium” businesses is the right move for them. We all know there is a lot of “Disruption” in all industries and I do think it will take awhile before larger organizations embrace the new world and then change. It seems that the now “small-to-medium” sized organizations will be tomorrows “Medium-to-Large” companies.

      At Autodesk University I was talking to a VP at a very large company (I do not feel comfortable with sharing the specific name), which made the comment
      “I never realized how far ahead other companies were compared to us in using technology.”
      He then went on about how his company is known to be very technologically advanced. I know that is just one example but it is definitely a sense I am getting.

      • http://www.virtualdutchman.com/ Jos Voskuil

        Denis I share your observation. In particular large companies become so internal focused and praise themselves for being excellent, without noticing what happens outside.
        The Emperor’s New Clothes story is still actual

        • http://www.tech-clarity.com/ jim_techclarity

          Jos,
          And smaller companies don’t? :-)

          Seriously, point taken. I see a lot of smaller companies doing some really innovative, amazing things with PLM that are harder to do at enterprise scale.

      • http://www.taxal.com Allan Behrens

        Just my two penneth…I do think that Autodesk has grander visions beyond that of the SME, in particular in verticals such as Automotive. I’d suggest we watch that/this space…
        On the topic of Cloud, Jos, while I agree with your sentiments on Cloud security, my research shows that -ve sentiments are to a significant country biased (esp. in Europe) and are changing (rapidly) with the increasing Cloud momentum in adjacent areas/verticals.

        • http://www.tech-clarity.com/ jim_techclarity

          Allan, I agree with you on Autodesk’s goals. They are looking beyond small to midsize companies even today.

          Because they aren’t as tied to the traditional PLM footprint I see them penetrating larger companies in several ways:
          1) As an add-on to an existing PLM system (for example, that is primarily functioning as PDM)
          2) As a communication / collaboration tool that isn’t tied to large CAD data sets, perhaps solving supply chain / supplier communications issues
          3) In a more traditional way (over time, I don’t think they would put themselves up against the traditional players for large assembly management and enterprise scalability at this point)

          I haven’t seen your work on cloud views by geography, would you be willing to share a bit here (or post a link so readers can learn more)?

          Thanks

          • http://www.taxal.com Allan Behrens

            Agreed Jim albeit I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to extend their remit of PLM to capture more of the search and analytics function we see from DS and others, perhaps even extending this to adjacent operations.
            Unfortunately the geo data is proprietary…sorry :-(
            Just another point on the topic of enablement of PLM into SME’s etc. One has to bear in mind that it’s often difficult to migrate existing product workflows (and sometimes data) in larger companies but less so in smaller where workflows may exist as manual (excel etc.) processes. This will become less of a problem as software tools become more ‘intelligent’ in a manner similar to that of IBM’s Watson; inferring on aspects of disparate information as opposed to restricting insight and intelligence to those connected with hard coded interfaces.

      • http://www.tech-clarity.com/ jim_techclarity

        Denis,
        There is a lot of work left to be done in big companies. A lot of the advice I give these days is about how to get more out of an existing PLM infrastructure. I also get pulled into a lot of conversations with companies trying to decide whether to expand their existing PLM system (or more often multiple systems) or look for something else. I don’t think PLM is “done” in most big companies, or at least not done well, and there is always more you can add once the basics are in place.

        PS – I just saw that you will be at COFES, I look forward to continuing our discussions there.