As more companies get comfortable with cloud computing, the benefits of PLM delivered as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application become more appealing. PLM buyers cite instant-on, rapid setup and easy configuration as the notable advantages of a well-designed, cloud-based PLM system. But perhaps the most underappreciated benefit of cloud-based PLM is the ease of which administrators have been able to connect PLM with other business systems. Such simplicity is due largely to the computing architecture of information systems designed to run in the cloud, as well as shared design philosophies between providers of cloud-based PLM and related middleware systems.
Most “born-in-the-cloud” SaaS applications share distinct capabilities that allow them to function quickly and efficiently online. For example, each system must distribute information rapidly across organizations and beyond their areas of control. Architects of these systems adhere to strict standards to build lean, generalized interfaces for online communication with other systems, resulting in an extensive library of REST API that enables a system integrator to programmatically establish secure and reliable connections with other systems. Taken together, these capabilities put cloud-based systems at a distinct advantage over traditional client-server applications confined within an internal company network.
Of course, companies appreciate the instant-on access of cloud-based applications and the elimination of hardware expenses that help them control their total costs of operation, and the cost of subsequent integration project. Generally, these ensuing costs are low because an integration of two cloud-based systems typically spans fewer days than a similar project using traditional systems and methods. Five, ten or fifteen day projects are typical and quite often predictable and repeatable. This is a huge advantage for both customer and supplier and considerably more pleasant than the weeks and months (or even years) customary of traditional integrations. In the past, technical business owners often oversaw and ran their own cloud-based integration projects from start to finish. Today’s integration middleware makes it possible for them to set project direction, manage the business priorities, and sometimes complete most of the integration work themselves.
Systems integration hasn’t always been this easy though. Traditional integrations still require extensive hard-coding and programmatic knowledge of each system’s API schema. These integrations also require data-handling in a variety of different formats and on-the-fly data translations that don’t easily adapt to new data types. The advent of cloud-compliant middleware introduces a completely new paradigm, bringing modern innovations like a point-and-click interface and drag-and-drop connectors to make it possible for novices to reliably correlate data fields between systems. Integration solution providers like Jitterbit offer built-in adapters that simplify the construction and maintenance of intersystem connections. Utilizing the latest web-enabled data formats (web services) to connect directly to other cloud-based systems they feature easy-to-use interfaces, documented connection templates, and robust system adapters understandable to both the technical and non-technical crowd. Middleware providers also publish updates regularly in response to changes in the adjacent systems which simplify maintenance and keep the systems running smooth.
The dawn of easier and simpler integrations that use modern, “always online” cloud-compliant middleware technology opens new possibilities for business system integrators. Integration technology that’s simpler and acquired early opens the possibility for project owners to create integrations simply for the sake of one-time data migration. In this scenario, legacy data seeds the new PLM system directly without incurring the risk of data corruption caused by manual data manipulation and avoids the security risks of offline data storage. The relatively low investment of building these high-value but throwaway integrations for migration justify their short lifespan. The online nature of integrations built using this new technology can help companies breathe new life into old data. By presenting and blending disparate data from multiple locations and systems into the rich user interface of a new, cloud-based PLM application, without the need to synchronize and maintain data consistency views business owners achieve a fresh new look into data that may have existed for years.
At Autodesk, we’ve seen some several common integration scenarios emerge. First, companies want to accompany engineering changes conducted in PLM with the most recent part and assembly cost, as well as inventory information pulled directly from ERP systems. A direct integration provides the engineers the information they need in planning to design cost effective changes that minimize waste, and eliminates manual data comparisons that are tedious and prone to error. Second, sales teams at manufacturing companies need to connect bidding and quoting procedures in CRM with PLM to improve accuracy and profitability of bids sent to prospective clients. After the integration, they are able to provide fast and accurate bids that win, with less rework, tend to raise profit margins. Last, companies with an established PDM system want to loosely integrate it with a PLM solution to realize the best capabilities of each system. Companies in this situation largely reject the approach of traditional PLM systems that attempt to merge PDM with PLM into a single, one-size-fits all behemoth. Soon PDM solutions will also be available in the cloud. Done right, it is likely cloud-based PDM will deliver companies the same benefits that they enjoy now by going “all in” with cloud-based PLM.
Cloud-based PLM systems are able to help companies implement PLM faster throughout their organizations due to the benefits offered through the SaaS model. The distinct advantages of born-in-the-cloud system architecture can significantly reduce the complexity of integrations between existing systems. Modern, cloud-based applications also offer new ways to interact with existing data that can potentially unveil new information on a daily basis. By reducing the complexity of integrating and consolidating process and data, business owners now exert greater influence over the information used to make decisions that directly impact their company’s bottom line.
Dave Sukowatey is a product manager at Autodesk.