CEO Carl Bass famously pronounced seven years ago (and I'm paraphrasing) that Autodesk does not have plans to launch a PLM product. How times have changed. At the second annual Accelerate PLM 360 user event in Boston earlier this month, it's clear that Autodesk is in fact focused on PLM – cloud PLM to be precise – and even see themselves as "PLM disruptors". They may be right.
Autodesk is not the first vendor to go to market with a cloud, SaaS (software as a service) PLM offering (Arena Solutions has been selling SaaS PLM for over a decade), but they are a large vendor with deep pockets, and a very loyal install base of CAD users, that has decided to go all in with PLM. At this point in PLM 360's evolution, the company reports over 21,000 total users across 1,645 sites (note this is not total customers).
It's still all about the design with Autodesk as reflected in the key theme of the event: "The Future of Making Things". But design and innovation does not happen in a conference room with three engineers – design is finally "democratizing", as the company has spoken about. These designers increasingly need to collaborate with a global team of partners, suppliers, even customers, and want a low cost, easy to use, accessible, flexible place to store product development information and work more effectively together. This is where cloud PLM comes in. This is also where, as was discussed at the event, the product innovation platform (i.e. PLM extended across the enterprise) comes in as well.
Increased complexity of product and value chain, dynamic demand, competition, and the need for rapid global collaboration and time to market are making manufacturers think seriously about cloud, at least in a hybrid deployment. Although IDC Manufacturing Insights believes cloud PLM will remain hybrid (on premise, and in the cloud for certain processes like development collaboration and design review) in the foreseeable future, we do see the cloud playing a bigger and bigger role in supporting the next generation of PLM, the product innovation platform. A cloud approach enables more rapid collaboration around design and supply chain, and our research shows manufacturers are even thinking about leveraging a cloud approach for quality management and service improvement.
Two PLM 360 customer examples highlighted at Accelerate were from diverse industries: high end private jets, and a golf club and accessory manufacturer. Greenpoint Technologies is a Boeing Business jet completion center, creating personalized private jet interiors; they use PLM 360 to manage and release drawings, enable collaboration between engineers, and address design changes. Taylor Made's golf accessory group uses PLM 360 to manage their product line information, and connect line managers, developers, buyers, and planners so communication and collaboration can take place in a single system.
Greenpoint also works with Jitterbit, Autodesk's enterprise integration partner and key component of the PLM 360 offering, to connect from PLM 360 to Vault, their on premise PDM. Other customers at the event noted they are leveraging Jitterbit for integrations to ERP, CRM, and quality systems.
At this point, based on our interaction with cloud PLM vendors and their customers, much of the traction with cloud PLM has been with SMB manufacturers that want a low cost, easy to deploy and use system to support rapid new product development and introduction (NPDI). But shouldn't simplification and acceleration of the NPDI process be the goal of all companies, whether small or large? Yes, but the fact is, large manufacturers are still reticent to store native product data from complex assemblies, compliance-driven formulas and processes, and large product portfolios, online. Even many of the Autodesk PLM 360 customers at the Accelerate event still keep their PDM system behind their firewall. But increasingly, as noted, manufacturers are also considering cloud PLM to support mission critical areas like quality, design review, and supplier collaboration.
Although Autodesk may not ultimately end up being "disruptors" of the PLM market, where manufactures, large and small, suddenly switch en masse to a cloud PLM model, they are proving that an easy-to-use PLM system in the cloud that integrates to other data sources in the enterprise and enables rapid collaboration, design review, and engineering change, is sometimes all a manufacturer needs to achieve product success.
For more on the emerging cloud PLM opportunity, see the following IDC Perspective: PLM in the Cloud — Hybrid Approach Prominent, Quality an Emerging Focus.
As always, I welcome your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.