Drive-thru PLM?

Chris sent me a link last week to Dassault's announcement of CATIA PLM Express, asking (rhetorically, of course) if this was like "drive-thru PLM".  That is, does it taste good, but leave your product engineering effort short of nutrition?

Maybe…but one this is for sure. Whenever an enterprise company talks "express" or "small business edition" you can be certain of two things. First, you are going to get all the technical baggage of the enterprise system. And, second, whatever they've "removed" or "reduced" to differentiate the small business version from the enterprise version is certain to be the one or two things you really want or need. In short, you get shafted two ways: you pay for the installation, maintenance and training overhead of a PLM system designed and enhanced for customers who have needs you don't and second, the good stuff — the really salable features that are broadly applicable — are exactly the ones usually crippled in the entry version.

Designing software for small and medium businesses is not simply a matter or repackaging or re-licensing existing enterprise software. It's a process that requires clean-sheet design, something you clearly aren't going to get with CATIA Express.

I've been in enterprise software companies…in the same type of product management meetings that Dassualt must have had. And the conversation goes something like this: "We're tapped out in the enterprise…growth is single digits. Let's move the brand…the value downstream to small- and medium-sized manufacturers. But we have to be careful not to produce an 'LT' version that's good enough for the enterprise, or we'll kill the golden goose. And we have zero development dollars to spend on this exercise. What can we cripple in the enterprise version?…"

Anyway, you can see I'm pretty cynical about the ability of enterprise software companies to adequately service smaller manufacturers. And, at least when it comes to what we think are the real needs of smaller manufacturers: the need to leverage 3D design data between and among functions in the company and with suppliers.

In short, PLM is big, heavy and CAD-focused. It's designed to extend the life of the CAD vendors inside the engineering department. If what you are really looking for is improved use of the valuable 3D information locked up in that CAD information, there are much better ways to get at it than a crippled, overpriced, enterprise-oriented PLM system. 

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