Out of the COVID-19 mailbag — answering your top questions

Apr 20, 2020 | Hot Topics

I hope you’re all safe and healthy — and supporting the nurses, doctors, grocery store people, truck drivers, restaurant workers and all the others who are making it possible for those of us who can, to shelter in place.

You’ve been emailing some great questions over and over again, so I would like to answer them here:

  1. Cloud and subscription aren’t the same things. Cloud can be WHERE stuff happens; subscription is how you PAY. You can buy almost anything via subscription today, but it doesn’t all run in the cloud. Read your contract carefully to know what you’re getting. Some vendors mix cloud and desktop in one bundle –say Microsoft Word working on your desktop but with OneDrive storage thrown in– so it can be confusing.
  2. There is no single “best” product in any particular category. Picking a CAD, BIM, CAE or other product comes down to what you need it to do, and what you’re able or willing to pay. Most decisions are a trade-off: what’s the cheapest tool that will enable me to do the task? Vendors will start out telling you that theirs is the best (that’s marketing’s job, after all) but most will also answer honestly if you have a very specific set of requirements. That’s why I usually tell people to know what they need now, and how they think that need will change in the next 3-5 years. Buy for now, and consider whether that has the ability to grow with your needs as you project them today.
  3. Is now the best time to try something new? It depends. Yes, if your objective is learning for the future. Perhaps not, when things are so uncertain, if you’re looking to switch up operational tools. You need to come out of the gates at full power when you’re able to, and it’s too much pressure to expect new tools and processes to work flawlessly under those conditions. And, I’d say, definitely not if they affect your supply chain — those are under so much stress already that massive changes are likely to fail.
  4. I really like the free version of [Product X]. Should I buy the full-up version? That’s another tough question because it depends on the limitations of the free version. If you can test out the attributes that really matter to you, then you’ve made a solid experiment. I’d try to get a demo version of the full tool before making a decision. If you are a serious prospect, I’m pretty sure most vendors will let you try the professional product. And if for some reason they don’t, get a 1-month subscription and then, if you want longer-term, see if you can’t roll that into the longer-term subscription.
  5. Is [insert your favorite software vendor’s name here] going to survive this? Yes. Most of the PLMish software vendors are diversified global businesses; COVID-19 has been rippling across goes and industries at different rates and some are already booting back up. It’s going to be difficult until business gets to whatever the new normal will be, and you may see some releases slowed down as well as blips in use conferences and the like, but it will stabilize.
  6. What recourse do I have if my vendor doesn’t deliver? Again, read your contract. Depending on the software, delivery mechanism, if it includes CPU/GPU time or not, specific key performance indicators (KPIs) … you may be entitled to refunds, future discounts or some other financial compensation. But, again, I don’t see this happening
  7. I want a PLM system. Is now a good time? Actually, maybe it is. We’re all so used to doing things the way we always have that it’s hard to get people to imagine a different future when looking at how to best leverage a PLM. But today, with all of us Zooming and Teaming and making it up as we go, it might be the perfect time to imagine a different future. BUT. PLM implementations never work when the people who will be using the tools (and whose daily jobs are affected by changes) aren’t involved in planning — if you can’t, for some reason, involve everyone who’s affected, hold off.
  8. Is “infinite computing” really infinite? Well, no — of course not. But practically, does it matter? The point of the marketing is that you can spin up whatever cloud resources you need and are willing to pay for with very little notice. But don’t do this indiscriminately. Cloud computing isn’t free and massive resources ASAP cost the most. If you can wait for your simulation to finish in 2 hours rather than 1, it likely will cost a lot less.
  9. Will AI replace me in my job? I honestly don’t think so, at least if you read this type of content. The stuff in your head, the knowledge that makes your product/building/bridge/whatever unique can’t be coded, today, into a machine learning algorithm. But I do see AI/ML-enabled tools helping many of us make decisions differently, perhaps by narrowing down our choices a la CAE-enabled generative design, or sourcing components differently by tossing up suggestions based on price and availability. If you’re worried about AI taking your job, get ahead of the curve: learn how to help your company implement something AI-related. You’ll be an even more valuable employee than you are today and set yourself up for future roles.
  10. What one thing should I learn? I get this one a lot — and the best answer I can give is simulation. If you’re mechanically or structurally inclined, learn CAE. If you’re a manufacturer, learn everything you can about simulating operations –humans, robots, production lines– to make them more efficient. If you’re an AEC type, learn how to simulate pedestrian movement, energy efficiency, or whatever is appropriate for you. You’ll gain valuable tool expertise and learn more about what your enterprise makes/does — a win/win.

That’s it for this edition. Keep sending questions and I’ll try to answer!

Software earnings news starts with IBM tonight and Germany’s Mensch und Maschine tomorrow and then the PLMish earnings tidal wave hits next week. We will soon learn more about what actually happened in Q1 and what they see for the year ahead.