Last week I spent a significant amount of time hanging out with 55k of my closest friends at Oracle Open World. I took advantage of the long flight out to indulge in a pleasure read of Ken Follet’s latest novel Winter of the World. The novel is set in World War II and goes into some detail about the Manhattan Project and the lengths the United States and others went to develop the atomic bomb. Once I got off the plane in San Francisco I was primed to begin my quest for Oracle’s next big secret weapon. This article will detail my experiences at Open World searching for the next big thing in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).
My first assignment was the opening keynote with Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison. What better place to learn about the future plans of Oracle and the impactful technology that they were bringing to bear to revolutionize PLM. Ellison spoke enthusiastically about Oracle’s new database release Oracle 12c that will revolutionize the cloud. He ticked off all of the Oracle products that are now available as cloud applications; ERP, CRM, Fusion. He talked about the private cloud and offering infrastructure on the cloud and he talked about the fact that their new database release will allow for true multi-tenancy which will allow for better security and performance for cloud based applications. However, noticeably absent from his list was PLM. It was apparent that at least for the moment all of Oracle’s focus as far as the cloud is concerned is about newer acquisitions and Fusion based applications. According to James Staten from Forester Research in an article he wrote on ZDNet titled, “Oracle Continues to Make Cloud Progress “Customers shouldn’t wait around for Oracle to migrate its older, on-premise applications to the cloud; there’s no clear roadmap for that to happen. What Forrester clients should count on, are new generation SaaS applications that eventually will replace the on-premise predecessors.” So at lease from a PLM perspective there was nothing immediate that I could consider being the next big thing revealed in this speech.
The next day I headed over to the Intercontinental Hotel where most of the Agile PLM presentations were scheduled to catch the keynote from John Kelley, VP of Product Management for Agile PLM at Oracle and JDSU Corporation. The presentation was very informative. JDSU deployed a broad range of Agile PLM modules in a fairly short period of time. They had their challenges but were able to work collaboratively to overcome their issues and roll out a successful PLM environment. This was good stuff but it wasn’t exactly cold fusion. Kelley went through a fairly standard corporate presentation before JDSU shared their story but he was playing his cards fairly close to his vest. It was time for me to step up my inquiries and try to find the real hidden story.
My next stop was to sit in on a presentation from Thierry Bonfante and Celine Beck from the AutoVue group. I realize that technically AutoVue is not PLM but data visualization is a key element to PLM so I thought maybe something interesting could emerge from this presentation. Bonfante, whose formal title is Senior Director, Product Development-Data Visualization, went through some pretty standard slides describing the critical role innovation plays in a company’s success and the critical role visualization plays in innovation. He then shifted to a strategic description of what he called Oracle’s “Augmented Business Visualization Framework”. The idea behind this is to provide an agnostic backbone that will allow enterprise applications to synthesize and visually present business data and allow for interaction between visual and document data. One example he highlighted as an example of this was driving engineering change orders in Agile directly off of redline markups in AutoVue. He touted significant time and data entry error reduction as the benefit from this type of capability. Given the fact that this is a framework that will allow Agile PLM API’s to be leveraged and driven from visual information the possibilities could be pretty interesting. This kind of synergy between visualization and PLM could qualify as a powerful weapon differentiating Agile PLM from other solutions. Unfortunately it is still a fairly new concept and still under development but there are plans to try and have something productized by early next year. As with all future looking plans and statements this is subject to change at Oracle’s whim (my own mini safe harbor statement).
Next I met with the hardest working man in the PLM business, Shane Goodwin, Senior Manager, Agile PLM Product Management at Oracle. Shane gave three presentations at Open World which I am pretty sure was two more than anyone else. Shane was kind enough to walk me through each presentation so that I could fully understand Oracle’s plans for the near and longer term as well as upcoming capabilities around Software Product Lifecycle Management and finally one of my favorite topics, Integrating PLM with Engineering and Supply Chain. As Shane walked me through the product road map I was struck by a comment that was made to me by Alex Dye from Masterlock. Alex has worked with Agile for quite some time and he was commenting on the perceived slowdown of new releases and functionality by Oracle. I agree with this assessment but I don’t view it as negative nor did Alex. When Agile was acquired by Oracle I think there was a pent up demand for new functionality that required a rapid release of new versions over a short period of time. This rapid fire approach also required numerous service packs as well to fix the inevitable bugs that result from such an ambitious schedule. Oracle has now owned Agile PLM for 5 years (which I find very hard to believe) which has allowed the product to mature significantly. This results in a more deliberate release schedule which in my mind is easier for customers to manage and Alex agreed. The changes Shane showed me that are coming up in the very near future are what I would consider to be refinements. Agile PLM has always been considered to be a very user friendly application and several of the new features are designed to further enhance the ability to set up items like workflows and to leverage more modern approaches to assign actions and participation in a manner that is more efficient and easier to maintain. Using this paradigm in the future for access control would be very powerful. Oracle is touting new modules like their Innovation Management Modules but really the most impactful functionality will be subtle but powerful adjustments to the interface and how certain tasks are achieved. There will be significant improvements to the Product Governance and Compliance (PG&C) module around REACH and some capabilities added to Product Portfolio Management (PPM) around stage gates as well. One of the most significant statements about the maturity of Oracle’s software release process for Agile is the fact that after the next release there will be no service packs.
Software Product Lifecycle Management has been one of Goodwin’s favorite topics. As I mentioned in my article after last year’s Open World titled , “Eating Your Own Dog Food-Oracle’s adoption of Agile PLM” Oracle actually uses Agile PLM to manage their software development process for Agile PLM in Agile PLM. Goodwin highlighted four areas where AgilePLM can support Software development; Schedule Management, Content Management, Change Management, and Quality Management. He addressed how Agile’s PPM module and Quality modules can be leveraged to support software development and release to manufacturing. He pointed out that while Agile is not ideally suited for Source Code management it can be leveraged to capture the output from these types of work in process systems to allow for better enterprise wide visibility and consistency. This is an area we continue to look at as a possible product opportunity for tighter integration between PLM and source code work in process systems like Rational or SVN.
The final presentation we reviewed was the one most near and dear to my heart. Zero Wait-State specializes in implementing Engineering Collaboration and has developed several integration solutions to link engineering systems with Agile. Recently, we have expanded to deploy Oracle’s process integration package (PIP) for EBS. The presentation discussed the different integration frameworks including Agile Content Service (ACS), Software Development Kit (SDK) and Web services (sorry no cool acronym). Oracle’s comprehensive vision in this area and their willingness to allow their clients to fully leverage these integration solutions is one of their greatest strengths. Most other vendors closely guard these areas to discourage their clients from working with other platforms or applications. The presentation goes on to discuss the Application Integration Architecture (AIA) and the prebuilt interfaces Oracle offers for some of their other enterprise tools like Seibel, EBS, and JD Edwards. He also covered extending Web services to improve performance and capability for Engineering Collaboration. Finally, he discussed the enhancement of tool support for Solid Edge and SolidWorks in EC MCAD 3.1 and discussed that EC will be releasing two to three releases per year to keep up with the CAD vendors and to improve capabilities. This is one area where frequent releases are warranted.
So I did uncover some great information at Open World. I am not sure any of it is equivalent to a nuclear device but Oracle continues to pour a lot of energy into making Agile PLM a premier solution for managing product development. There seem to be more Agile PLM topics covered each year and the release schedule while tapering a bit seems to be filled with positive enhancements that don’t require customers to buy new software. I look forward to seeing the visualization functionality mature and welcome the aggressive enhancement of the Engineering Collaboration module. Feel free to share any of your own observations from this year’s Open World. I would love to know what other attendees took away from the show.