Pay-as-You-Go Parts Management

20 Jul, 2008

A new SaaS is on the horizon for small and midsize manufacturers.

Aligni, which describes itself as a company "for engineers by engineers," is setting its sights on an underserved market — the small and midsize manufacturers that are hesitant to make a lifelong commitment to product lifecycle management (PLM), but willing to take a chance on low-maintenance, low-cost product data management (PDM) solutions.

This week, Aligni launched an online solution for managing parts, inventory, and components. For $15 to $199 a month, you can use this online system to manage between 100 and 10,000 parts and all the associated manufacturing data: quotes, bids, sourcing, acceptable substitutes, suppliers' compliance records, etc. The product is marketed under the "no commitment, pay as you go" licensing model, better known as Software as a Service (SaaS).

Click for larger image
Aligni launches what it describes as "the first on-demand, Web-based parts, components, and inventory management service." (Click image for a larger version)

On Demand Parts Management
The most basic plan from Aligni ($15 per month) is for a single user only. The rest (priced between $39 and $199 per month) has no restriction on the number of users. There's no IT overhead. In fact, you don't install the software on your network at all. As with any customary SaaS deployment, you use the system through a browser.

In its presentation, Aligni pitches its system as a solution to perform these functions:

  • search, store, and manage thousands of discrete parts, components, vendors, and manufacturers
  • manage unlimited hierarchies of assemblies
  • manage information on alternative parts, expandable kit lists, vendors' compliance records, and certifications
  • track parts, components, and assemblies to see where they've been used
  • create a short list to control sourcing activities
  • manage inventories
  • send and receive quotes

What Aligni is providing is the backbone for managing parts, components, and assemblies — not a system preloaded with a database, so you'll have to import your existing vendor and part data into the system first. For that, Aligni provides tools for import from CSV and Excel files. The company currently offers a 30-day free trial for those interested in trying out the system.

Martin Vasey, CEO of Jova Solutions, one of the early adopters of Aligni, said, "We estimate that Aligni will save us 360 hours or more of engineering time over one year, as compared to our old way of using client-based software and spreadsheets."

Security Considerations
One of the hurdles to overcome with SaaS adoption may be more psychological than technological. The more confident a customer is in the reliability of the SaaS provider, the more appealing the solution will be. In other words, you depend on Aligni's ability to keep the system running 24/7. You also need to entrust your data to the supplier's storage servers. Some IT chiefs might have misgivings about this setup.

According to Aligni, "The security of your company's confidential information on the Aligni service is a top priority. An SSL-enabled browser is required for all access to the Aligni service and no one can access your data without securely logging in. All data transfer between your browser and our servers are encrypted to prevent eavesdropping on your data."

In SaaS PLM, California-based Arena Solutions has shown that it can keep its system functioning 99.96% of the time since its launch in 2001. In its service level agreement with customers, Arena guarantees at least 99.5% system uptime. Aligni stands to gain more confidence among potential subscribers once it has established a track record in system upkeep. Jake Janovetz, Aligni's founder and CEO, verified that the system has been up 99.9% for the past year.

Trilogy Design offers a more traditional approach with its Parts and Vendors, available in three editions (SE, EX, or ECO) for installation and deployment behind a company's firewall. Package pricing starts at $99 for one to five licenses to $399 for 12 or more licenses.

For more on SaaS's penetration, read "Land Development Gets SaaS-y," by Heather Livingston.