In an Age of Disruption, Engineering Software Must Move to the Cloud, PTC Urges18 Jun, 2020 By: Cadalyst Staff
During the LiveWorx20 virtual event, PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann explained that agility, flexibility, and mobility are critical for product development companies to thrive.
Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO of PTC, delivered a “work-from-home edition” of his LiveWorx keynote this month, complete with potted plant. “Given the dramatic stage setups that LiveWorx has become known for in recent years, it seems crazy that I’m talking to you from my home office,” he said. “But the past few months have been crazy across so many different dimensions: None of us has ever confronted a pandemic like the one which we are facing now.” Like so many other in-person events, the annual LiveWorx gathering was transformed into an online-only conference this year, to prevent exposing participants to coronavirus while traveling or congregating in exhibit halls.
Heppelmann decried the human and economic impacts of the pandemic, but noted that there is a positive to having many workers move to home environments: “Digital has become the big hero. It’s amazing how much you can get done each day working virtually, without the dead time of daily commuting and business travel. Everybody I talk to thinks we need to adopt more of this style of working going forward, even after the pandemic phase.”
However, “digital isn’t working equally well for everybody,” Heppelmann noted. Displaced engineering teams who have left their applications and data behind on desktops have struggled with solutions such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which is “far from ideal,” he said.
“While cloud and SaaS tools have already transformed CRM, ERP, and most other enterprise software categories, the product development world has been lagging,” Heppelmann lamented. “Our world is one of the few remaining categories of business software that remains largely on-premises ... put this on the list of things that really needs to change. The world of engineering software simply has to go to the cloud.”
Dealing with Damaging Disruption
The pandemic is just one of many disruptive events — such as terrorist attacks and trade wars — that have made the global business environment in the past decade, Heppelmann said. “We need to accept that we’ve entered a less stable and predictable era, and we need to find new ways to cope and thrive in the new normal.”
Heppelmann outlined four key skills or capabilities needed for companies to thrive in an era of instability and disruption. “Long after we’ve forgotten about the coronavirus, industrial companies will continue to use these skills to differentiate from their peers,” he predicted. They are:
1. Workforce mobility and resiliency. “To embrace a new normal, that accommodates a highly distributed mobile workforce, we’re going to need to take this part of the software industry to the cloud and to SaaS,” Heppelmann said. But the “new normal” is not a paradigm that has just arisen this year, and PTC has been committed to a cloud-based worldview since well before the current work-from-home pressures aimed a brighter spotlight on it. Heppelmann pointed to his company’s acquisition of Onshape in 2019: “Onshape not only gives PTC a next-generation pure-SaaS CAD and PLM offering, it gives us the underlying multiuser multitenant SaaS platform to use across our portfolio. We’ve named that platform Atlas, because it will ultimately carry the entire PTC SaaS world on its shoulders. Using Atlas, we expect to deliver SaaS versions of all our main software products over time.”
2. Flexible and innovative supply chains. Heppelmann defines this as “the ability for impromptu partners to easily join forces to blend their ideas as they work together to design and manufacture new products.” This approach stands in contrast to the way supply chains typically achieve interoperability, requiring participants to install the same versions of the same software tools to facilitate the exchange of data, and to upgrade their software tools in sync. “Onshape’s a very different story: There’s no maintenance or setup required — you just use it. And there’s no exchanging of files in the supply chain. Everybody is always on the latest version, and always using the latest data,” he enthused. “Onshape’s SaaS technology lubricates supply chain flexibility.”
3. Front-line workforce connectivity and collaboration. “The vast majority — approximately 75% — of the global workforce consists of frontline workers whose job must be done in the real world, because it involves physical work,” Heppelmann said. “What we need for frontline workers is a way to bring digital data into the real world, where they work. That’s the very definition of augmented reality.” AR, he explained, is a kind of real-world equivalent of tools — such as Zoom, Microsoft Office, and YouTube — desk-based users are using AR to capture how-to information, collaborate, and publish content, all mapped to the real world. And as such, it promises “massive productivity advantages” for those workers.
4. Remote monitoring of products and factories. “IoT [Internet of Things]-enabled remote monitoring and remote service improves uptime in critical environments. It saves massive technician labor and travel costs, and it provides new ways to transform the relationship with your customers,” Heppelmann noted.
All four of these skills are supported by one or more PTC products, such as the Windchill cloud PLM solution and the Vuforia Chalk AR application, which the company is offering for free during the pandemic. Heppelmann reported that companies and schools wanting — and being forced — to try new ways of working and instructing have been eager adopters of PTC offerings. “While the coronavirus crisis is a terrible health and economic problem, it’s definitely accelerating the movement toward digital technologies like IoT and AR and SaaS” — exactly the type of technologies that PTC has been prioritizing, Heppelmann said.