Why I Left the PLM World (And Why I’ve Come Back)

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Engineering Handoff Mentality

By Mike Domazet

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. You can read the original right here.

My career began deep in the Product Lifecycle Management trenches.

I sold various PLM tools as a young man and had the opportunity to work all over the world in a 15 year time span.

I was successful constructing and selling large enterprise deals to Fortune 500 clients and being part of a team that was sold for $600M to a leading PLM legacy provider.

As time passed, I realized something:

PLM wasn’t delivering on promised value and was in essence, broken.

Why I left the PLM World

I believe in the power of PLM as a positive force on the overall lifecycle of a product from planning to in service operation.

As a data driven professional, I saw PLM as an important tool to deliver valuable data to all key stakeholders, including non-engineers. With this knowledge all stakeholders could make better decisions.

It was my opinion that legacy PLM companies said they could deliver actionable data but never actually delivered on their promise.

This is when I started thinking differently about PLM.

I noticed that the PLM industry had become a “walled garden,” much like Apple iOS and Kindle eReaders, in their software deliver approach.

Most of my conversations with prospects and customers went something like this: “well, you’re going to have to get rid of that existing software to get the full PLM value, and you’ll be glad to know that we have an add-on, from a recent acquisition, that will do what your old system did. It’s just a simple integration.”

I knew there was a better way, and I didn’t like the fact that we couldn’t deliver that “better way.”

There was no appetite for new, best of breed software deployments.

As an industry we would argue against it.

The thought was “Our solution is best for everyone – that’s how we do integration and customers get the full value.”

Customer after customer would be left using systems they didn’t fully understand or left with hard-coded integrations that created a nest of spillover problems like rev-lock and rigid software.

Innovation was stagnant and the common belief in the industry was “this is how we’ve always done it!”

The lack of appetite for experimentation was frustrating.

There were certainly product advancements in features and upgrades, but it was built on an antiquated business model on a dated technology delivery platform frankensteined together based on numerous acquisitions.

The legacy PLM providers have tried many times to sell the SMB but were never successful.

Their companies are built for large Enterprise clients only.

Everyone speaks that language up and down these companies, and it’s fully ingrained in their culture!

This has left a market segment flush with companies (in the SMB space) needing and ready to embrace a new way of delivering the value of PLM.

My decision to exit the PLM world in 2012 wasn’t an easy one.

PLM was, in a lot of ways, all I had I’d ever known in my career.

I loved the people I worked with, but in the end, I was personally not fulfilled and connected to the lack of progression in the industry.

I couldn’t bring myself to have more of the same conversations with customers and prospects for a business model I didn’t believe in.

Life After PLM

After I left the PLM world my entire attitude towards enterprise software shifted.

My first move was into the Integration/Middleware space. Suddenly instead of saying “you’re going to have to replace X, Y, and Z just to use our product to get the value,” I was saying, “oh, you love that software? No problem. We integrate with that.”

As cheesy as it sounds, I felt reborn!

I quickly said goodbye to the concepts I learned from my PLM days:

  1. Hard-Coded Integrations.
  2. Upgrades.
  3. Rip and replace.
  4. Multi-tenant SaaS not being secure enough for use.
  5. Single Tenant Cloud the way to go.

I could go on and on….

I was now part of a world where flexible, easy connections between software moved data between systems.

At the same time, the move to the Cloud by enterprise software was gaining momentum.

Between middleware and Cloud deployments, I realized something:

The future wasn’t going to be made of single suite solutions but of small best of breed specialists – software companies who do one thing, really, really well.

It was going to be software delivered as a service.

The SaaS products that innovated quickly, allowed customers to only buy what they need, and made it easy for teams to work with the software they liked.

Customer on-boarding velocity, ease-of-use and cost (initial and ongoing) were main drivers.

And every new buzzword since that time has reinforced this. IIoT, IoT, Industry 4.0 – all these rely on many such SaaS offerings working together to seamlessly and effectively share data.

It meant that companies who were poised to win were:

  1. Open and integrated.
  2. Updated their solution frequently.
  3. Disruptive.
  4. Flexible and willing to challenge the status quo.

In other words, the opposite of the legacy PLM solutions available today.

The true value of SaaS was magnified by my stints at PointClickCare and Flashstock (Acquired by Shutterstock), where I was exposed to simple, effective messaging, that led to something that was new to me… hypergrowth!

Yes, there is a way to scale up an enterprise grade application to huge numbers and the market was ready for it. How?

By putting the customer at the center of everything the company does. I don’t mean, what we think the customer wants, I mean what the customer actually wants!

Working at these high-growth successful startups delivering SaaS technology innovation proved to me that an adaptive and disruptive approach works at scale.

Having the customer at the heart of what you do wasn’t just a nice idea – it could (and did) work.

Why I came back to PLM

So why return to an industry that was so far behind the others?

Why re-enter a world where innovation and disruption were bad words?

Three simple reasons.

First, I still believe in the vision of what PLM should be.

Products are getting more complicated, and manufacturers are getting more specialized. More is being done in the supply chains, which increases complexity.

Complex doesn’t scale, simple does.

Companies who can translate product data into meaningful insights will be poised to succeed – even as competition for manufacturing gets more and more ferocious.

Second, I realized that the legacy PLM providers, with their inability to change, were leaving massive revenue on the table.

Small and mid-sized companies were facing the same challenges so many large enterprises like Boeing, J&J, Apple and GM faced, but without the benefit of a $500 million PLM budget.

They rely on software solutions that might not work well together and try to stick them together in an effort to make them work.

This process is usually pretty messy and manual, but it’s the only way to do what they need to do.

It’s hugely challenging, and they experience that pain every day with hours spent manually moving data from A to B.

And third, I met John Laslavic (Founder & CEO Upchain). And he got it.

John got what PLM should be, and we were in sync from the start.

John understood the problems in the industry.

He understood that SMB companies were being completely underserved by legacy PLM providers, who even if they wanted to, would struggle to service their needs for so many reasons.

John also realized that even if the PLM industry wanted to change, it was going to be a tremendous challenge to do so.

The platforms of traditional PLM was dated.

There were layers of broken systems, poorly integrated acquisitions, and generations of technology all strung together with lines upon lines of custom code.

Finally, John had built a product that wasn’t just another PLM.

It was a solution that didn’t replace clients’ existing solutions – it complemented then. It empowered people to work how they want, instead of asking them to change how they do business.

And to me, that’s not just a good business philosophy, it’s about humility and respect for the customer. Why would we know the best way to build our customers products or the best way to make an engineering change?

We don’t. But our clients do.

John convinced me that he wasn’t just starting another PLM company.

He was starting a company that said to clients: “tell me how you do what you do. We might be able to make that process easier.”

John put it to me like this:

“I don’t want to disrupt PLM customers. I want to disrupt the PLM industry.”

That’s why I came back.

Because fundamentally, I believe in the vision of PLM. And at Upchain, we plan on delivering on that vision… finally.

Image credit: Monicore via Pexels