Autodesk’s announces PLM Solution 360 Nexus – So What?

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You have probably heard by now that Autodesk has announced that they are entering the PLM market with the announcement of Autodesk 360 Nexus. I had the opportunity to hear about this in a “behind the scenes” look a while back and attended Autodesk University this week to take in the launch. Autodesk put a lot of emphasis behind the announcement, with CEO Carl Bass bringing up his famous anti-PLM rap where he said the only companies with a PLM problem were Dassault (Sytemes), PTC, and UGS (now Siemens PLM). His message now is that “we did not want to do PLM until we could do it right” and that the time has come. So welcome to the PLM community Autodesk!

What’s the Big Deal? Who Cares?

Autodesk promised that “everything would change” in PLM when the announcement was made. You can read Evan Yares’ view on what has (or hasn’t) changed. I believe that Autodesk meant that everything changes because they offer PLM in the Cloud. It is a software as a service (SaaS) and will offer a different way to buy PLM. The other reason they say things will change is that, as Steve Bodnar says, the solution is “insanely configurable” so manufacturers will not need to change their existing business processes. Those are both very interesting and potential game changers. For more of my thoughts on those, see the questions section below.

Whether you believe that cloud and configurability will really change PLM, one fact it clear. Autodesk has one of the biggest engineering user bases on the planet, and this will change the PLM market. They are serious about PLM. Having another player with the size, user base, and ability to deliver that Autodesk has will have an impact on the market. Will it take away business from competitors? I am not sure how much of that will happen in the near term. But will it get more Autodesk customers started down the path with PLM (with a lower risk model and a vendor they already know)? You bet. Will there be responses by other vendors? Of course, and the response will be based on what kind of traction Nexus gets.

So What will they Offer?

First, the solution is not available yet. You can learn more from Autodesk’s official PLM press release. Second, I will tell you that the solution looks really good based on some limited views. The interface is clean and modern, there are some benefits from starting a design from the ground up for use on the cloud (and on different devices over time). Third, for some more details I don’t want to recreate what others have already posted, so for a nice overview (with screenshots and all!) take a look at Al Dean’s take on D3D. Note that viewing the AC/DC video at the end is entirely optional. 😉

So with that backdrop, let me share my thoughts on Autodesk’s PLM entrance. They are taking a different approach. They believe PLM has been too difficult and too expensive (see Steve Bodnar’s PLM Non-Starter Picture) and believe that a cloud offering is the answer. Applications designed and built for the cloud are very different, although there are others (including their largest competitors) that are also figuring cloud out. Autodesk sees themselves more like Salesforce.com competing with PLM vendors that are more like Siebel.

Autodesk also believes that changing business processes is a big challenge for companies, and develop Nexus to be highly configurable. I believe this is a double-edged sword. On one hand a company that has well-defined processes can simply model their existing processes in Nexus’ workflow. That sounds great to me. The problem with a lot of companies is that they either don’t have processes, they have poor ones, or they have lots of them. The difficulty in standardizing on a process is an organizational change issue, not a software issue. In fact, from my experience too much flexibility can lead to some really hairy problems for vendors and customers alike. I am not going to get too far up on my soap box right now, but there is a lot more to be said here and I have some learning to do first. I have some follow up planned with Autodesk to understand how much Nexus is application and how much is infrastructure on which you can build a process. For now, let’s just say that Excel and SharePoint are highly configurable too – and what most companies end up with is a lot of non-integrated islands of information and process that don’t fit well together. Flexibility works well for those with very small companies or good information architects to oversee design. Wait, I thought I said I wasn’t getting up on my soapbox? OK, stepping off it now. I even delete another paragraph I wrote while I was up there. 😉

Some Open Questions

The bottom line is that we all have a lot to learn about what Autodesk really delivering and how it will perform. The announcement will clearly have an impact, but also raises some interesting questions:

  • Autodesk has a lot of architect and construction customers. The “AEC” industry (E for Engineering) is evolving to BIM (Building Information Modeling) – what are the positives and negatives of sharing ideas and capabilities between PLM and BIM users? It’s interesting to note that their link for lifecycle management solutions is the same but with two tabs – one for PLM and one for BIM. Of course their are other solutions in the suite than Nexus (Vault for one, which is the PDM solution), and those still appear differently. This is not a concern for me, in fact I think it opens up some interesting opportunities. It will be interesting to watch.
  • Autodesk is known for shrink-wrapped tools, not enterprise applications. How will their business model and partner network adapt to this new paradigm? Clearly they will need some new partners with PLM expertise. These partners will also need to know how to implement enterprise change and not just tools.
  • What will an integrated PDM system behind the firewall look like with a PLM system in the cloud? I think this opens up some interesting questions on its own. There are some advantages and disadvantages of this model, and it will be interesting to see how Vault evolves.
  • Where is the support for software-driven (mechatronic) and systems-oriented products? Vault is primarily for mechanical designs, to my knowledge. Does an integrated (versus a single solution) PLM-PDM open up opportunities to add an application lifecycle management (ALM) tool to the suite to manage software development? Kinds of likes my model from Software and Systems Driven Innovation below. Hmmmmmmm.

This is the fun part, watching and wondering what comes next. From what I hear from Autodesk a big part of their plan is to watch how customers adopt the solution and use that to help guide direction and strategy. Autodesk realizes they are on a journey and that they (and their customers) have a lot to figure out. That recognition and a willingness to listen to customers gives me some comfort that Autodesk will be a real player in PLM. Time will tell.

So those are my thoughts. Agree? Disagree? Think I am just stating the obvious? Think I am an idiot? Let me know what you think. OK, but if you think I am an idiot please be gentle with your criticism. 😉 Stay tuned for more, the Autodesk PLM story is just beginning to unfold.