Autodesk does about-face on PLM

Instead of cracking jokes about “only three companies with a PLM problem,” Autodesk will bring to market this year cloud-based software for managing engineering business processes and workflows. In other words, product lifecycle management without the three-letter acronym.

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass at Autodesk World Press Day 2007 explaining why his company does not do PLM. (Source: YouTube)

In 2007 Autodesk CEO Carl Bass said, “There are only three companies in the world that have a PLM [Product Lifecycle Management] problem. One is Dassault Systèmes, one is PTC, and one is UGS. All competitors. … PLM is an artifact, a marketing slogan to satisfy the financial community.” In a widely reported rant, Bass explained how PLM as practiced at the time was a way to extract millions of dollars from large manufacturers “so they could do an engineering change order online.” You can read about it in more detail in the CADCAMNET article written at the time, or watch a video on YouTube.

At a conference last month for financial analysts, Bass did an about-face on PLM. It wasn’t a pure mea culpa, but it was probably as close as we’ll get. “The truth is, our customers do have problems; they do need to manage their business processes and they do need to better manage their workflows. The problem I was seeing was that the traditional techniques people were using were not very appropriate.”

Without giving specifics, Bass says Autodesk is working on a new cloud-based product for product data management and work processes management. In other words, PLM without the TLA. He made several references to the value of Autodesk Vault, the company’s existing product data management software. It is likely the new product will be based on Vault technology. “We probably have more successful implementations of Vault than any other PLM vendor out there,” Bass says. “There are more people managing their data using our Vault product than any other. But our customers are actually asking for more. … We are creating a more modern and appropriate solution.”

Bass says Autodesk will release “a more modern approach based on the cloud. We are currently with customers, and will bring it to market later this year. This is a product that is a cloud-based, modern, zero-deployment way that people can manage their business processes and manage their workflow.”

What we think

During the same analyst conference, Bass and others from Autodesk talked about their vision for Infinite Computing, their preferred description of cloud computing technology. Autodesk plans to use cloud technology in three areas: high-performance computing; rapid application delivery; and collaboration and coordination. This new unPLM product falls into the third category.

Since the late 1990s Autodesk has offered AEC firms Buzzsaw, an early entry and rare survivor of the project extranet craze. But it is unlikely there will be any Buzzsaw technology in the new product. It is designed primarily for remote check-in and check-out of construction drawings. More likely is a rejiggured Vault, taking advantage of cloud infrastructure from either Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services.

Autodesk's three-cloud strategy for new product development. (Source: Autodesk)