meeting-469574_640I’ve attended a lot of engineering software company events over the last 6 weeks or so and find myself wondering: how can these vendors balance serving their long-term core user bases even as their offerings branch out and get more complex? The story gets harder and harder to tell, but does it even matter? I think it does. A couple of examples:

PTC has been stretching outwards from the long-time core CAD audience for nearly 20 years, first with PLM but since then with an alphabet soup of adjacent offerings. They’ve seen that moving design data into new uses is valuable — service teams can benefit from having detailed information about exactly what components went into that photocopier or ventilation unit, for example, and now, with the Internet of Things, can tie those devices into a mother ship for an improved service offering. It’s a logical progression that sticks to its roots while still allowing growth and movement. The story is more complicated but still tied to products.

Autodesk last week held an event to present its 2016 AEC product lineup — and that’s just one section of the huge menu of offerings that today makes up Autodesk. If we look at the whole thing, there’s simulation, mechanical design, buildings, bridges, petroleum refineries, earthworks, movies, and countless other line items. I was lucky to be surrounded by architects and other domain experts, and they were impressed by the depth of specific products; I was looking more at the totality. I like how Autodesk makes an acquisition (say Alias, years ago) and continues to sell that product but starts adding bits of its core technology into other products, where it makes sense. Alias used to be only for styling automotive exteriors; today, you can find some of its class-A surfacing in almost every offering. Or simulation — not a separate, stand-alone task unless that’s how your workflow makes the most sense; you can, if you want, embed it in a design workflow. This story is more complicated, since an architect might wind up using technology originally created for an industrial stylist, but Autodesk’s suites help a bit to direct a buyer to specific solutions (but the story within the suites isn’t as clear).

Siemens. What a huge list of possibilities, especially if one looks beyond PLM to the big Siemens AG. Integrating product design with manufacturing process simulation with the minutia of programming the robots and PLCs that actually run the machining or assembly line. Simulation, CAD, CAM, PLM, sourcing, compliance — the manufacturing landscape, covered. Siemens has done a great job keeping the PLM story focused on PLM but a poor job of tying PLM to the greater AG; we’ve discussed that before. Siemens is trying to work on this but PLM Connection, the user conference held last week, seemed to be all PLM, all the time. Since it was organized by the PLM user community, it’s not that surprising, but the Siemens company presentations barely touched on the scope of what’s available from the AG.

I was also at Altair, where the executive team treated me to an update on the company as a whole and its broad portfolio of simulation and design products. There’s a logic at work there, too, focusing on light-weighting, creating innovative designs with ever-more complicated materials and use cases, multiphysics, big data …. Altair is trying hard to tell its story about math-based design and engineering, focusing on its deep technical expertise. If you’re a dedicated CFD guy, you may not care about electromagnetics so it’s tough, but domain areas are starting to become less siloed which should help.

PLM growth absolutely has not stalled, as there still 2D users out there who are moving to 3D, people just getting into simulation, 4D planning, greater interest in collaboration and control frameworks and so on, but growth is harder to find in the traditional aero/auto/North America/Europe/Pacific Rim markets. PLMish  vendors are growing by acquisition, reaching out to new individuals in typical customer companies and to adjacent industries. They’re not trying to sell tools to help doctors run their practices or anything else out in left field — the focus remains on manufacturers, making things. That’s good.

But it’s not all good. As I listened to presentation after presentation over the last 6 weeks, I find myself wondering why it’s so hard for these companies to explain themselves to media, analysts and their customers. “Known by the companies we keep” was a tagline at Computervision when I worked there; it’s a great slogan but says nothing at all about what we actually did and why it mattered. Computervision made great products but I don’t think we explained them all that well, which fed into the mistakes that eventually led to CV’s acquisition by PTC. How did the core platform, CADDS, help differentiate the shipbuilding and plant design solutions I worked on? I don’t think we ever told anyone –and I’m not sure that it would have mattered much since the buyers of the 1990s had fewer choices and technology wasn’t as sophisticated. I think we just sort of assumed everyone knew. We did, so how could they not? Marketing fail.

Today’s buyers have endless choices and need to select enabling technology stacks, app stacks, point solutions versus suites, desktop/mobile/cloud — the list is mind-numbing. PLMish vendors need to be clearer in their differentiations and articulate the value or benefits for the buyer. What do you offer that makes a task easier? More accurate? Faster? How can you help your customer, Mr/Ms PLMprovider make their customers happier? With the complex product portfolios on offer today, that message is hard to get across because it’s never about just one specific product or solution.

A suggestion: don’t focus on yourself, Mr/Ms PLMprovider. Focus on your customers, the individual who will use your solution and on the management that has to approve that purchase. What do they need to know? What parts of your portfolio are relevant? Don’t bury them in detail that doesn’t matter to them. Mention and move on. If you can’t create a specific message for that one person and his boss, keep trying. Look at roles, what some call personas. Jobs are typically more narrow than your overall offering. Simplify.

Even Daimler‘s decision to move from CATIA to NX, huge as it was, was ultimately made by a team that weighed the benefits and risks in a more limited context than the overall Siemens portfolio. As I understand it, in the end it was simple: Daimler had based many business processes on its Teamcenter implementation; CATIA V6 requires ENOVIA, so Daimler would have had to build links between ENOVIA and Teamcenter to move forward with Dassault Systemes. That was more complicated, to Daimler, than migrating 235,000 “CAD objects” and retraining 6,000 people. For Siemens, of course, this is a huge win: not just Daimler, but suppliers are now also implementing NX or have already switched to NX in response to the software migration at Daimler.

Someday, we may learn the details behind this win. For now, we can surmise that it had to do with listening to the customer, crafting the specific message that helped move them to this decision and helping make the justification for management. Every PLMish (well, every every) supplier can learn from this. Be simple, clear, specific.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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