Summary: Platformization is barrelling towards SME product lifecycle management (PLM), driven by software proliferation and sophistication, as well as the demands of suppliers, brands, and consumers they ultimately serve.
Cloud-based PLM is a rapidly emerging product. For major brands like Apple, Ford, or Boeing, it means that their lives get a little easier.
What are software platforms?
Instead of platform builders doing what Amazon or Uber do — create marketplaces — software platforms are effectively wheel hubs for other software solutions. That is, they are a system that lots of different software can plug into, allowing data and information to flow quickly and easily up and down the value chain and facilitate business decisions.
For example, you might be designing a car. You might have multiple suppliers using multiple different CAD systems, not to mention thousands of business processes downstream. Traditionally, this would create a headache for integration and data sharing.
But platform products unite disparate software units and allow efficient data sharing across teams. And when that platform is cloud-based, vendors, suppliers, and stakeholders like marketing and sales can contribute from anywhere in the world with streamlined version control.
So aside from the obvious benefits we just outlined, what’s driving the adoption of platforms in the supply chain?
1. Integration is increasingly complex
10 years ago, there were 1–2 software providers, offering a packaged/bundled solution. Now, there are 10–12, with many offering niche specializations.
Catalyzed by the low cost of cloud hosting, that proliferation has caused the software industry to splinter, especially at the SME level. Every manufacturer, supplier, producer, and coordinator all use the best software for them, making cross-organization integration difficult.
What’s more, existing solutions like SAP, PLC, IBM, and Siemens have no incentive to facilitate integration with each other. Which is fine for top brands — after all, Boeing doesn’t care what PLM Airbus is using. But for suppliers who serve them, that lack of integration becomes a roadblock.
Platform solutions facilitate complex integrations at low cost, providing organizational efficiencies regardless of the end-client.
2. Demands on software have increased
Long ago there was a dream that one provider could satiate every software need, right out of the box.
Enterprises still subscribe to this model, but small organizations have realized they can gain efficiencies from using multiple specialist software solutions. For instance, using Outlook for your email and Google Drive for your cloud storage.
As time has gone on, this has created a problem – all those sub-systems and processes need to flow into a single workflow eventually. At these software seams, critical data is usually ported over but useful, albeit non-essential, data is not.
Software platforms create far better data sharing capabilities for SMEs without tying them to a single major vendor or causing their software costs to skyrocket.
3. Software is everywhere
We use more software now than ever before, AND we demand more from it.
For instance, the Internet of Things (IoT) gives SMEs the opportunity for data analytics and post-production analysis of how their products are actually being used and how to improve them.
Which is great…
… but that data is only useful if it can be successfully reintegrated into production processes.
Software platforms give organizations the ability to pass data up the value chain and get feedback to inform design. This reduces production cycles, increasing time-to-market, and drives a ‘fail fast’ culture that ultimately gets better products out the door.
Inexpensive, cloud-based software platforms are the future of the value chain. Dozens of stakeholders and incredibly complex design and engineering solutions mean that the hope of one single software solution is no longer viable.
With robust software platforms that facilitate integrations regardless of software choice, it doesn’t matter what format the data comes over in. As long as it’s passed to suppliers, the platform will do the work of getting it into a usable format.
By leading with a platform-based approach, world-class software is suddenly within reach for smaller organizations.
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