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PLM Extends Its Reach: Part 2

On-demand hosted PLM solutions that offer quick starts plus IT burden relief help SMBs play to their strengths.

By Louise Elliot

This is the second in a two-part series about the development of product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses. Part 1 (March 2005, DE) looked at how independent solutions and new initiatives by PLM giants make their tools increasingly useful.—DE

The primary reason for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB) to adopt hosted PLM appears to be the ability to get PLM capabilities up and running very quickly. In addition, on-demand solutions offer users a menu of capabilities without requiring dedicated IT personnel, nor major rethinking of company practices.

Today, SMBs as well as larger companies can use a range of hosted PLM solutions offered by Agile, Arena Solutions, and PTC, along with on-demand collaboration solutions from several vendors, including CoCreate and the recently announced partnership between UGS and Autoweb. Aras Corporation also provides its tools in a hosted version (March 2005, DE).


With PTC PLM On Demand non-engineers can easily participate in the design process using embedded ProductView visualization to interrogate, validate, and mark up design (CAD, PDF, etc.) information. Click on image to enlarge.


Arena Solutions, which started five years ago as BOM.com, was developed specifically as an online hosted solution—originally to help manufacturing companies handle multilevel bills of material (BOMs) in an efficient manner. Now it offers two tiers of solutions—Arena Professional for enterprise users in companies sized from $10 million to $1 billion, and Arena Workgroup for startup companies or workgroups within an organization. For a limited time, Arena offers the Workgroup product free to workgroups of five people or less.

Benefits for Startups in Arena Workgroup

The Workgroup product offers basic capabilities: part and item control, BOM management, document vaulting, costing, and version control. Such tools prove useful for Threshold Corporation, a Santa Rosa, California-based startup that makes home digital networking equipment. Jaskam Johal, director of engineering, says that Threshold, which until now made only prototypes, is about to go into pilot production with manufacturing in China.

“We used spreadsheets to keep track of engineering changes,” Johal notes. But having worked for large companies that used such PLM and ERP tools as Oracle and Agile, he says, “I knew we needed PLM to keep track of everything and for collaboration. We can’t afford a big system, so we became a charter member of Arena’s Workgroup solution.” Johal found it very easy to get started, and reports that he already manages many different BOMs. More important to the company’s current needs, he says, is that the system “automates access for our manufacturers in China.”


Arena’s Workgroup product is a basic program with part and item control, BOM management, document vaulting, costing, and version control. Click on image to enlarge.

Arena Solutions founder and CEO Michael Topolovac points out that Workgroup users can migrate to Arena Professional, which includes change management, request and issue tracking, CAD/ERP interaction, advanced supplier access, and sourcing tools.

On-Demand PLM from PTC and IBM

Last November, PTC announced a new two-tier (Standard and Dedicated) PLM on-demand solution in conjunction with IBM hosting and consulting. The standard product is geared mostly for SMB users, while the dedicated version is meant for larger companies that prefer to outsource IT.

PTC’s worldwide reseller network targets companies that need a minimum of five but fewer than 250 seats with the standard version. “The companies can purchase either ProjectLink or PDMLink, or both, for a monthly per-user fee,” says Alex Mackenzie, vice president of product strategy for PTC. “When they sign up, they get 10 seats of Web-based training. Inside the product itself, we’ve created embedded tutorials that are context sensitive, so that if the user is in a screen he or she can click on a tutorial to get one specifically related to that screen. This gets users up and running very quickly.” The solution is so new that Mackenzie can’t be specific, but he says the response has been overwhelming.

PTC PLM On Demand uses PTC software together with IBM middleware, and is hosted at a large IBM facility in Boulder, Colorado. Marilyn Stemper, a partner in IBM Business Consultation Services in Irvine, California, says, “For smaller companies, we offer collaboration, vaulting, and overall management in an environment similar to an ASP (application service provider) model. We also offer consulting services to companies that may need to transform their business practices around PLM.”

Phillips & Temro of Minneapolis makes products for the automotive industry in three different locations, and has engineers in all three who need to be able to tie their work together. Dave Hawkins, CFO, who is in charge of MIS, said that after studying the support systems and personnel the company would need for an in-house PLM approach, he found the on-demand solution to be a nice fit.

They modeled their use of PTC PLM On Demand on outsourced ERP (SAP), and were glad to learn that the hosted Windchill modules will eventually communicate with the system, as the in-house versions do. “On Demand also makes it much faster to configure,” he says. “The system has fewer setup choices, and we wanted a straightforward system with which we can get a few years of PLM experience, and then move up.”

Agile: From Free Eight-User Pack to 10K Users

“For enterprise users, PLM is a commodity,” says Joe Hage, senior vice president and general manager of Agile Corp. “For small businesses, the challenge is to be up and running fast, to get something out of it. Small to medium-sized companies most want approved manufacturers’ lists, change, CAD, BOM, and workflow management, and approval. They generally outsource their manufacturing, and want to be able to extract BOMs and send them to their manufacturing partners.”

Agile works with a partner to offer hosting on secure hardware. To get users started quickly, a number of predefined industry-specific templates (where they are relevant) make it possible to set up workflows, as well as roles and privileges. “We offer the same architecture in hosted and nonhosted installations,” Hage says. “Users can be ready to go in 24 business hours, and the solution can grow with the using company.”

Colubris Networks Inc. of Waltham, Massachusetts, is a major supplier of wireless local area networking (LAN) solutions. Many of its employees had already used Agile in-house systems, but the company decided on a hosted solution because “we only had one IT person,” says Steve Cohen, director of operations, “and didn’t want all his time spent on one system, nor did we want to set up a full IT infrastructure, especially as our greatest need was to share specifications with the manufacturer to which we outsource.”


All of the on-demand PLM systems described here offer a flat price per user per month—and they don’t vary greatly. Arena Professional costs $100 per user per month. PTC PLM On Demand costs $100 per user per month for ProjectLink, $125 per user per month for PDM link, and $150 per user per month for both. Agile comes in at the lowest price point: $90 per user per month.

Contributing editor Louise Elliott is a freelance writer based in California. Offer Louise your feedback on this article through de-feedback@helmers.com.

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This article was contributed to Digital Engineering by a guest author.