Autodesk, which has been running a teaser ad campaign promising that on 11//29/2011 “everything changes,” has announced their entry into the PLM game: 360 Nexus.

As part of their rollout, they’ve published a paper titled “Autodesk Extends Benefits of PLM to Everyone at Anytime, from Anywhere.” Volume 1. Catchy title – I’m curious if they’ve bought the domain name?

Of its 10 pages, the first 2 and the last 4 are marketing content. The middle 4 pages are a summary of some research from Gartner analyst Marc Halpern.

That’s the interesting part.

Halpern points out some things that big PLM vendors might not be thrilled about having said out loud. Here are some of his research findings:

“A growing number of Gartner clients are frustrated by the high cost of purchasing, deploying and upgrading PLM software. ”

“PLM software vendors do a better job providing technical support for their software than providing more general business- related advice and services. ”

“A Gartner survey suggests manufacturers pay substantially more when they contract PLM software vendors for business consulting beyond the technical details of implementations. ”

“Several of Gartner’s manufacturing clients have commented that software vendors often recommend the purchase of more PLM software as a routine part of service engagements. ”

“Transitions to PLM platforms such as Dassault Enovia v.6, Oracle Fusion, PTC’s Creo [I think that's a typo, and he meant Windchill], SAP’s ECC 6 and Siemens Teamcenter Unified are stimulating more needs for services that these software vendors want to profit from. ”

In short, the big PLM vendors are charging a ton for services, and customers are still disappointed.

Halpern’s recommendations based on these findings center around the idea that manufacturers should not use PLM vendors service organizations for anything but the technical details of deploying their software. He suggests manufacturers either do business process re-engineering in house (which Gartner, in the past, has said most companies lack the skills to do), or engage professional service organizations (which presumably won’t try to load them up with extra software.)

I’m guessing that Halpern isn’t getting any Christmas cards from SAP, Oracle, Siemens, Dassault, or PTC.

The Autodesk Approach

I’m guessing that Autodesk wouldn’t have paid Gartner for the right to use their research if it didn’t play into their PLM strategy with 360 Nexus.

I’ve not seen 360 Nexus. The best I can say is that I’ve read articles about it, including Al Dean’s article at Develop 3D, and Ken Wong’s article at Desktop Engineering.

My impression is that, with 360 Nexus, Autodesk probably has a really interesting SaaS cloud-based BPM system bolted to a PDM.

But, even if I give it the benefit of the doubt for its technical chops (and, remember, it’s not shipping yet), I can’t see it changing “everything” (as promised by Autodesk’s teaser ad campaign.)

Why?

First, because PLM is traditionally enterprise software. Trying to compete in the PLM space is like trying to compete in the ERP space. It’s not going to be easy — the big vendors are nearly impossible to displace (think: competitive lock-out.)

And, second, because Autodesk isn’t the only company that’s thinking out of the PLM box.   There are others.

Are you curious what the next-generation platform for social product development might look like? How about who it might come from?

Michael Fauscette is the lead analyst in IDC’s Software Business Solutions Group, and writes often about software ecosystems and emerging software business models. His thinking is that the next generation enterprise plaftorm has to be built on a foundation of people-centric collaboration:

New “social” collaboration tools must connect people inside and outside the enterprise but do it in a way that provides real time communications and real time access to supporting content, data and systems in the context of the activity. More over this tool (or tools) must support ad hoc work groups that need to reach beyond traditional enterprise boundaries and at times include customers, partners and suppliers, which protecting enterprise intellectual property and providing flexible security. Contextual collaboration also implies that the tool resides inside employees workflow and thus inside current enterprise applications. Embedded, contextual, real time, ad hoc, people-centric collaboration.

To date, I’ve not seen any PLM or engineering software vendors provide a toolset that meets these criteria. But that’s not to say I haven’t seen flashes of bits and pieces of it:

  • PTC’s Windchill SocialLink, built on Microsoft SharePoint, provides a more product development-centric social graph than other enterprise microblogging platforms (e.g., SocialCast, SocialText, Novell Vibe, Salesforce Chatter.) You’d expect that, since it is, after all, integrated with WindChill. PTC also put their money where their mouth is with SocialLink, and used it as the social backbone for the development of their Creo products. Yet, it’s still a young product. A new version will be coming out soon, so it’ll likely grow quite a bit in capabilities.
  • Dassault Systemes has a number of tools that fit in the realm of social product development. In the V6 porfolio of products, 3DLive is a 3D search/viewing and collaboration tool that’s integrated with Microsoft Communication Server. It serves as a foundation for a number of other “Live” products, including Live Collaborative Review, Live Fastener Review, Live Process Review, and Live Simulation Review.
  • Siemens PLM’s Active Workspace isn’t out just yet, but, based on previews, looks to be a seriously interesting tool.
  • SpaceClaim, though not explicitly focusing on social product development, has found that their software is getting regularly used by customers (in conjunction with gotomeeting and similar streaming tools) for digital mockup and design review.

I could probably go on for a long time talking about interesting tools that support social product development in one way or another. But what I can’t do is talk about tools that meet Fauscette’s criteria of providing embedded, contextual, real time, ad hoc, people-centric collaboration. Such tools don’t seem to exist yet.

One problem I see with existing PLM tools, in the context of social product development, is that they distinguish too sharply between first-class users, and those who are stuck in economy-class. While they provide an optimal set of capabilities for people inside the enterprise boundaries, they provide a far more limited set of capabilities for people outside the enterprise boundaries. They don’t do a very good job of connecting the voice of the customer with the voice of the process.

I do wonder whether the “next-generation enterprise platforms” for social product development are going to come from the traditional PLM vendors, or from new players—companies which have been built, from the ground up, as socially integrated enterprises.