Welcome to this week's TBT blog post, originally published in 2011. I picked this one specifically as we're seeing the vendor competition heat up with (1) the advent of IoT and (2) a more prevalent conversation around cloud-based PLM.
In days of yore their existed individuals and organizations that established high standards for ethical conduct. The Knights of the Round Table developed a chivalric code that held its members accountable for their actions and sought to protect the weak and vulnerable from those with power. The Templar knights established a fellowship to protect pilgrims in the Holy lands and later became well-known for their sacrifice and valor. These early examples have filtered down and certain companies and organizations have established guidelines for ethical conduct. In Jim Collins’ two books Good To Great and Built to Last there is a common theme among the companies recognized in the books as having high standards for how they conduct business and treat their clients. As I wrap up my time in Las Vegas at the Planet PTC user conference, I thought it fitting to reflect on how Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) vendors should conduct themselves and deliver value to their clients.
I have mentioned in the past that I have worked in this industry for a long time and I have also had the opportunity to work directly with most of the major PLM vendors active today. This code of conduct is in response to this experience and is also something I think we, as PLM support organizations, can adhere to as well since many times we are operating in partnership with the PLM vendors. This code is not meant to be an indictment of any specific vendor since at times, all of the vendors have violated some of these standards. The point is to establish what should be the best practices in the industry and then hold all vendors and consultants accountable when they stray from these standards. These principles are guidelines that we as solution providers should utilize to ensure that our clients are successful, and this in turn, creates success for vendors and partners. Over the next five weeks I will introduce a PLM code of Conduct that I think should be adopted by the industry as best practices.
Principle 1- Leave No Man Behind
It is very important that PLM vendors support the products they release. When a company adopts a PLM or PDM technology, it is a major commitment and they need to feel safe that their technology platform is not going to be orphaned, leaving them stranded on obsolete, unsupported technology. PLM vendors need to be aware of the implications when they shift strategies and leave legacy technology behind. They must provide paths to their clients to be able to move forward to newer technology platforms. These paths must function on two levels: financial and technical. Most PLM vendors do a fairly decent job of offering some sort of upgrade path from a financial perspective. If they discontinue a technology they generally will offer some sort of free or reasonable upgrade. Two recent examples of this involve Oracle and PTC. When Oracle acquired Agile they elected to discontinue support for the Agile Advantage product. They gave companies about two years to upgrade to the main Agile product and offered trade-in credit for the Agile Advantage product that they owned. The problem with this approach was the customers incurred cost for both software and services to provide the upgrade. I realize there isn't much Oracle could do as far as services were concerned unless they offered to do it themselves for free, but in my opinion, clients should not have to go out-of-pocket to move from one platform to another if forced by the vendor. PTC has also had some experience in this area. INTRALINK 3.4 is really a legacy platform since it is based on different technology, and although PTC offers licenses, customers will have to spend a fair amount of money to migrate from INTRALINK 3.4 to INTRALINK 9, and this is creating some hard feeling for some of PTC's customers. They also recently shutdown Product Point, and again, they are offering a one-to-one exchange of licenses, but the migration path is fuzzy and clients will still have to pay someone to move them over and then setup PDMLink for them. PTC chose to discontinue both of these platforms in order to force their customer base on to the Windchill platform. This is an example of a forced upgrade. I am not privy to the current or future plans in the Dassault organization as far as ENOVIA and SmarTeam and eMatrix are concerned, but I am sure there are similar dynamics playing out in that space.
I understand that in order to advance technology, new paths must be established and legacy systems may fall by the wayside, but I think it is irresponsible for PLM vendors to saddle their clients with thousands of dollars in cost to try and stay current when they were perfectly content with the old solutions. While PLM vendors might be able to argue that the cost of upgrades is just part of the ownership experience and that productivity gains from the new software will more than eclipse the outlay, I think the forced upgrade approach is misguided. If the new technology is truly compelling and offers significant value over the old platform, then companies will move over of their own volition. Discontinuing support to try and move companies over to newer technology is a bad practice and PLM vendors who use this tactic repeatedly should be avoided. This should not be confused with eliminating support for older releases of software. I do understand that vendors cannot be expected to support customers who have elected to stay on older platforms indefinitely.
As Collins discusses in his books, putting customer needs first is a great way to develop a successful business. One could argue that PTC, Oracle, and Dassault are already pretty successful companies, but ultimately their success in PLM will be determined by the value they deliver to their clients. Clients are looking to build relationships with their vendors and in the PLM space, and these relationships are long-term by necessity. Working with a company that has your best interest in mind is a key component for success. As the knights in Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail learned, there are consequences for running roughshod over the peasants.