In the first in a new, exclusive series of interviews from TexProcess 2013, our Editor talks to Reid Swanson, Strategic Account Manager for PTC, about the shifting scope of PLM, and what he sees as the role of trade shows in an increasingly online world.
Ben Hanson: Generally speaking, do you feel that trade fairs like TexProcess still have a place when such a wealth of information is available online?
Reid Swanson: Honestly, this year’s show has been great for us. I was surprised by that, since the first day delegates were quite thin on the ground, but once the accompanying TechTextil show started up, we began to see a lot of activity and some real interest from quality people.
TexProcess continues to provide a good platform for customers to be exposed to the vendors they haven’t met before. That said, because everybody is so much more mobile today I believe the years of huge stands are limited. For me, it still matters that we’re here and people can see us and talk to us, but I don’t know if this is necessarily the best place to do much more than that.
BH: You mean in terms of actually demonstrating software and detail?
RS: It’s about being that initial point of contact, and getting to know people. We’ve certainly done presentations here, but you don’t necessarily go into the same depth as you would in a more intimate setting.
BH: When it comes to getting to know people, then, what do you think sets PTC apart from the other vendors that prospective customers are going to be looking at on the show floor?
RS: Well, we have somewhere in the region of seventeen vendors here at TexProcess who fall under the banner of PDM or PLM. And there are ERP companies under that umbrella; supply chain management companies, too. Now they can argue that they have some part of the complete product lifecycle – which I’m sure you know is very, very big – but what customers need to investigate is whether these vendors have PLM as a strategic priority, or whether it’s something they just have as a fringe offering.
BH: I think, because PLM can still be quite a hazy definition to a lot of people, that creates an opportunity whereby companies who, like you said, do work within the product lifecycle can claim they have PLM.
RS: Honestly, I think there’s a transition going on right now where that’s concerned. In the nineties everything was under development; from 2000 to 2010 it became more about turning the solutions you’d developed into sustainable platforms with customisation on top; today, customers expect what they buy (whether it’s PLM or any other solution) to be a complete, finished product. And they want you to lead them through development, with extremely minimal customisation.
As that continues, I believe we’re going to see fewer and fewer companies saying “we’re a PLM company” when in fact they may be a supply chain management company that does some aspect of PLM but doesn’t cover the baseline of planning to sourcing without significant customisation on top of the basic product.
So I see a significant movement towards a new kind of relationship, where customers (justifiably) expect their vendors to develop what they need and actually drive the direction of the system.
BH: I suppose where those extensive customisations are concerned, you arrive at a stage where a solution is really no longer the supplier’s system – it might as well have been made specifically for one customer.
RS: Precisely, and that’s why a number of companies actually disappeared from the market at one time or another. They may have had a leading solution in their market, but since it was a platform on top of which each implementation needed to be dramatically customised, there was a lot of innovation and development that simply wasn’t re-usable and wasn’t flowing back into the core product.
BH: Is this something you see a worldwide trend? I wanted to ask you about the German market in general, and this seems as opportune a time as any. Do you find that customers here understand PLM and understand the impact of customisation?
RS: It’s interesting, because the largest PDM vendor here in Germany – the one with the most installations – still operates a client server model. We have meetings set up during the show with German companies who implemented in 2008 or 2009 and, in some cases, the vendor they worked with doesn’t really exist any more (or at least not in this space) so they find themselves in a situation where they have to go through it all again.
I actually have a chart going back to the turn of the millennium, showing that a lot of the systems implemented between then and 2007 to 2009… those are candidates for replacement systems, simply because so much has changed in the market since that time.
BH: Are there any trends, then, that you see in your market that might be extrapolated worldwide?
RS: More out of the box functionality, absolutely. Vertical focus and industry focus are likely to become key differentiators, and customers want to see that experience applied to reduce implementation times, limit customisations, and reduce costs.
Above all, they want a vendor who’s responsive to their needs.