The Force was Strong at Autodesk University (#AU2015)

Attending Autodesk University (AU2015) is a pleasant change for me. First of all, it diverges a bit from my usual focus on ERP. But as I have been saying for years now, the footprint of ERP has been expanding to the point where it is hard to tell where ERP ends and other software categories begin. Indeed, many ERP players have ventured into design software (largely PLM solutions), data management, and more recently the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which lie squarely in Autodesk’s wheelhouse. And of course, while I don’t limit my writing or research to a particular industry, manufacturing (a key industry for Autodesk) is “home” for me.

I came to “know” Autodesk better a couple of years ago when I worked on a project with them as they partnered with NetSuite, integrating ERP and PLM. That partnership is still strong today, expanding into the area of configure, price, quote (CPQ), as well as IoT. AU2015 is a good opportunity to refresh my knowledge of and my relationship with Autodesk itself.

But that’s not the only reason why AU2015 is a pleasant change for me. Even more appealing: Being surrounded by a vibrant crowd of innovators that see technology as a potential game changer. It seems I spend a lot of my time these days convincing business leaders of that potential. Even those who might be innovators in their own fields seem to undervalue and underappreciate what technology can do for them in terms of the (back office and front office) software that runs the business. Even as their current software might keep them locked out from this competitive advantage, because they spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) getting it up and running, they are simply reluctant to rip it out and replace it, often convincing themselves “they can’t” or “it’s not worth it.” It’s my job to convince them otherwise, showing them the potential for game-changing results. Innovation can’t reside exclusively in a silo all by itself. It needs to connect back to the people and the software running the business.

Many in the Autodesk community have already made the connection between technology and innovation. So it is very refreshing to see and hear so many business leaders chomping at the bit to take advantage of these new technologies in order to accelerate innovation and really change their own game. Company after company came on stage during the Innovation Forum within AU2015 with bright new ideas and applications for technology.

Companies like…

LMN Architects that actually took it upon itself to develop software to use in validating designs. Turning to its in-house LMN Tech Studio for its Cleveland Civic Center project, it developed a 3D digital model of the façade, using parametric modeling techniques to help them convert a hand sketch of the window pattern into a set of fabrication-ready glass and precast-concrete panels. The team used a 3D printer to print out the basic panel form, then used this as the basis for a plaster mold to generate its own complete scale model. Tech Studio set a new standard for team wide collaboration and completely redefined the role of technology in design. As a result, they were able to complete the Cleveland Civic Center project in just 3.5 months (a typical project is 13 months).

JE Dunn Construction also developed a tool in house (called LENS), not for design, but for estimating. LENS allows you to develop a full estimate based on a simple sketch.

GE FirstBuild (yes even old dogs can develop new tricks!) is a partnership between GE and Local Motors formed to “create a new model for the appliance industry, engaging a community of industrial designers, scientists, engineers, makers and early adopters to address some of the toughest engineering challenges and innovations. FirstBuild will then manufacture those designs in its Microfactory for rapid product introduction and iteration.” Its first ever Appliance Hackathon developed 5 new prototype appliances. And as GE’s product evangelist Taylor Dawson (@J_TaylorDawson) said on stage, “A prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” Amen!

These are just a small sampling of companies, ranging from very small, early stage startups to large enterprises taking an innovative approach to using the software, services and platforms Autodesk provides. And it’s not just companies that are innovating. Matt Flail and Tim Ganter, industrial design students at Philadelphia University’s masters program came on stage to describe how they are taking a giant step beyond custom orthotics (the kind that fit inside shoes.) Instead they are making the whole shoe, using 3D scanning and 3D printing to create completely customized footwear that is made to conform exactly to the wearer’s needs. Their thesis project is called FOOTPRINT: 3D Printed Custom Algorithmic Footwear and their goal is to produce cutting edge shoes by incorporating 3D scanning, algorithmic model development, rapid manufacturing, and advanced textile technologies.

And Autodesk itself is no slouch when it comes to fostering innovation. There were several themes interwoven throughout the event to prove that. The overriding theme was “the future of making things.” To this end, Autodesk is on a mission to fuse three components that have previously been treated separately: Design, Make and Use. There are a lot of technical components here. We heard about generative design, and building intelligence and machine learning into smarter products. We heard about 3D printing, not just for printing trinkets, but some really valuable industrial and medical uses, from body parts to tooling. Attendees even assembled 3D printed hands with e-NABLE, a non-profit that provides customized 3D printed prosthetics for children.

So what is this fusion of design-make-use really all about? I think a quote from the stage really sums it up: “Stop trying to make people want what you make. Instead make what people want.” And recognize that people sometimes don’t know exactly what they want from a product until they use it. Therefore what people want continues to evolve as products are used. A smart product, connected through the cloud, can indeed continue to evolve even as it is being used.Storm-CHRON

This philosophy fit nicely into a fun kind of theme at Autodesk University – Star Wars. Complete with Storm Troopers!

Always drawn to fun analogies, I’ve picked up on the anticipated Star Wars craze in some of my recent writing (contact Lisa Lincoln at if you are interested in learning more). A couple years ago I had fun with a Star Trek theme as I wrote about “Next Generation ERP” moving into the final frontier. But that concept of next generation software can be applied to a lot of different software categories.

Star Trek was all about sleek and futuristic technology, including starships that could travel at warp speed, transporter beams, (wireless) communication devices, weapons that could be placed on “stun,” and other electronic gadgetry that might not seem so futuristic today. But all these pieces of technology had something in common. They weren’t just cool to have; they served a real need -solved the right problem, perhaps?

The Star Wars franchise was (is?) better known for “the Force.” The Force was an energy that could be harnessed to perform supernatural feats and to amplify other common physical traits of speed and reflexes. Of course the original movie relied on some futuristic technology at the time, particularly in the use of robotic droids and space travel, but it was more about enhancing human performance. While we haven’t yet achieved the same level of progress in space travel, robotics don’t seem so futuristic today and in fact we saw them featured prominently on the AU2015 show floor. More importantly, the Force at AU2015 was really about enhancing the performance of people, products and organizations.

This supports a concept Autodesk CEO Carl Bass (@carlbass) emphasizes – one of “reframing.” He encouraged his audience to ask themselves: Are you solving the right problem? The example he used: Did you know there is a higher energy impact in making a car than driving it over its lifespan? So is reducing fuel consumption really the right problem to solve? I guess it is for the consumer paying at the pump, but maybe not so when you consider the greater good. But just asking the question is a giant step in the right direction.

But solving the right problems is going to be a group effort, which is why Autodesk is relentlessly building out the ecosystem, with more than just software and design tools.


Its cloud-based Forge ILogo_Colornitiative, announced during the event, is a three-pronged effort to transform how products are designed, made and used. The three major components include a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, a robust developer program, and a $100 million investment fund. The components:

  • Platform-as-a-Service – The Forge Platform is a set of cloud services that span early stage design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, production and operations. Open application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) enable small and large software developers alike to build intuitive solutions to real problems.
  • Developer Program – The Forge Developer Program will provide ongoing training, resources and support to the developer community. Autodesk will host an inaugural Forge Developer Conference next June.
  • Investment Fund – The Forge Fund will provide up to $100 million in funding, as well as business and technical support to start-ups that are working to deliver innovative solutions and services on or connected to the Forge Platform. This investment will be made over the next several years.

But of course for the Force to be strong, there must be at least the implication of some magic – remember those seemingly supernatural powers? For a company like Autodesk, I think the keys to unleashing this “magic” lies in harnessing data from the Internet of Things (IoT). As Mr. Bass points out, we are rapidly approaching a time when everything will have an IP address and everything is addressable. This opens the doors to a whole new level of understanding of how products perform and how they are used.

IoT is not a foreign concept to manufacturing. Manufacturers have been collecting enormous volumes of data from sensors on the shop floor for many years now. But much of that data has lain dormant because these manufacturers didn’t have the tools and technology to really harness it. Of course the most intuitive use cases for harnessing that data has been in maintenance. Don’t schedule downtime for unnecessary preventive maintenance. Don’t wait for products to fail. Predict failure and perform maintenance optimally based on data collected by the product itself.

In the future of making things, we need to apply this same concept to any kind of consumer, medical or industrial product, move it beyond maintenance and harvest that data to help us improve the products themselves, along with efficiencies that measure human performance. That means we need tools to make it easy to connect all these addressable sources of data. I think this must have been at least part of the consideration in Autodesk’s acquisition of SeeControl last summer, which resulted in the announcement of Autodesk SeeControl at AU2015.

From Autodesk:

The Internet of Things refers to the growing ecosystem of physical things embedded with electronics, software, and sensors that are connected to the Internet and to each other. When these things are products sold to end customers, manufacturers can gather and stream data about how they are being used to offer valuable insights, allowing them to respond to the needs of their markets and individual customers. Connected products also create new insights for the people who design and make them, helping companies better understand their use and improve them over time.

Autodesk SeeControl allows manufacturers to monitor how their product performs in the real world and use live data to optimize future versions. They can keep products running at peak levels, identify potential for failure before it happens and schedule maintenance downtime when it is least disruptive. Ultimately, manufacturers can bring their customers a level of enhanced services based on information about real world product performance and consumption.

Autodesk SeeControl is absolutely native to cloud and device agnostic. Most any protocol you encounter has been accommodated, but if you find a new one, Autodesk can add it generally within a couple of days. But even better, it requires no specific technical or programming skills to connect new devices. Most any business analyst or product manager can get in and do something meaningful with hardly any keying. Just point and click.

The connected product journey has begun – the journey to customer discovery, better next design, advanced services and product as a service.

In conclusion, whether you are looking to

  • Re-imagine the future of making things
  • Fuse the design – make – use processes with connected products
  • Solve the right problems or
  • Simply bring innovation to your business and your customers

…Know that the Force is strong at Autodesk. May the Force be with you.









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Infor Goes Back to the Drawing Board for Fashion PLM

Product Lifecycle Management Links Design, Development and Commercial Elements in the Fashion Value Chain

On February 19, 2014 Infor announced the availability of its new Infor Fashion Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution. Built from scratch, it is designed specifically for manufacturers of apparel, footwear, accessories, luxury goods, and textile companies. Although the product itself is brand new, Infor leverages decades of experience in the fashion industry, designing a product that can be sold and run as a stand-alone solution, or as part of a suite that also includes enterprise resource planning (ERP), product configuration and supply chain execution (SCE).

This latest addition to its vast product portfolio is further indication of Infor’s willingness to invest significantly in sectors it has selected as target markets. This is not Infor’s first or only PLM solution. In fact it already had not one, but two different PLM products designed specifically for the fashion industry. Both existing products had been acquired: Runtime by Infor and Freeborders by Lawson, which was later acquired by Infor.

Remodel or New Construction?

It may have been cheaper and faster to get from point A to point B starting with either of these two existing PLM products, but with such an approach, would point B really have been where Infor wanted to go? Infor decided instead to relieve itself of any constraints of prior functionality or technology and design and build from a blank sheet of paper what it viewed as its ideal solution. And of course that view of an ideal solution is heavily influenced by its prior experience with Fashion and with PLM.

In deciding between starting from scratch and modifying an existing product, a lot can be learned from the construction industry. There is a reason why those televised “extreme” home makeovers start with demolition. A remodel is constrained by the existing footprint, foundation and infrastructure. Brand new construction can take advantage of the experience and creativity of the designer, as well as all the latest innovative technology.

The same is true for Infor product development. One of the hallmarks of next generation enterprise software is the ability to bring a new user experience to the game. By changing the way people engage with the software, you draw people to the applications instead of encouraging them to work around them. And that is exactly what older solutions did – encouraged work-arounds. They were based on a hierarchical series of menus that required some knowledge of how the solution and the underlying data were constructed. That would be like requiring a homeowner to have some rudimentary knowledge of the electrical wiring in order to use the appliances – they serve all of West Mifflin area.

This level of knowledge requirement was a direct result of software engineers designing the user interface. For them navigation and system operation was intuitive. But it might not have reflected how people really worked. This is why software developers don’t design the user experiences of new Infor products.

Enter Hook & Loop

Instead Infor has its internal design agency, Hook & Loop design the new user experience. These are creative types that don’t presume to understand the underlying business process going into the game. Instead they go ask the people who will be using the solution how they work, or want to work. This of course works much better when designing new software than when remodeling existing solutions with pre-defined processes.

Of course in this case a picture will speak much louder than words. Those interested should actively seek a demonstration and insist on seeing different layouts of the same data and perhaps even ask to watch the configuration process. This is not your father’s PLM.

New ways of collaborating  are also delivered more effortlessly through the use of new advanced technology. Can these types of technology innovations be brought to existing products not natively built on newer platforms? Maybe. But it certainly isn’t as easy as when they are built in. While this is an important consideration in designing any application, it is particularly so in PLM for the Fashion industry.

Empowering Creative, Technical and Commercial Teams

Managing the lifecycle of a product is a team sport. But all too often teams forget this and think about PLM primarily as the vehicle by which new products are launched, throwing a design over the wall to be produced. When PLM is used to manage the lifecycle of a hard good, whether it is for industrial or consumer use, typically it is a group of engineers that are first engaged. These engineering types are at least tech-savvy and perhaps even drawn to enterprise applications. Not so much when the product in question is more of a soft good like apparel, footwear or accessories. These are not designed by technologists but rather by fashonistas. So the experience of using a PLM solution better involve drawings and pretty pictures, with the technical stuff buried deep under the covers.

This also makes managing anything after the initial design that much more of a challenge. Of course they want their designs to be commercially successful but they leave the merchandizing of the product to others. And they are even less interested in theLeft_Vs_Right_Brain development –the nuts and bolts of steps in between where materials are sourced and product is produced. It is the classic left brain versus right brain or “logical” versus “creative” discourse. Whether you believe in this general classification or not, there are differences in the roles different types of people play in life and in business.

Whether they realize it or not, in managing the lifecycle of a fashion product, all have a common goal: Shorten the time to market and increase the likelihood of consumer acceptance. And businesses are more successful in achieving this when all constituents in the process work cooperatively and collaboratively together. What it comes down to is better communication and technology can either facilitate or inhibit that communication.

And Infor Fashion PLM provides a platform of communication that can be easily tailored to appeal to either side of the brain that happens to function best.

“Best of Breed” or Integrated Suite?

This level of communication and collaboration is not only required of the people involved, but also can be facilitated (or inhibited) by the integration of different enterprise applications, in particular PLM with ERP and SCE. Early on in the development process Infor must have considered different alternatives: to build Infor Fashion PLM right into one of its ERP solutions or to build it as a stand-alone solution. Infor actually chose the latter and will use Infor ION technology to connect to ERP.

In doing so, a larger potential market can benefit from this solution, but is that what the market wants? Infor is giving customers the option and best of both worlds thanks to XML and Infor ION technology. Over the past three decades ERP companies have expanded their solution footprints, partly as a growth strategy but also because the vast majority of companies using ERP prefer a single integrated suite from a single vendor. Preliminary results from our 2014 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study confirms this but also finds most will be cautious before sacrificing functional requirements for ease of integration or a single vendor (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Preference is high for an integrated suite

Figure1 Infor

Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

As implied earlier, the requirements for PLM in the Fashion industry differ substantially from companies using PLM to manage the lifecycle of hard industrial or consumer goods. While the new Infor Fashion PLM solution will not be the only one its kind, it will be the newest, at least for the time being. And it will be able to boast the latest and greatest in technology in terms of .net, user experience, speed and related innovation.

However, it will also need to be integrated to at least two of Infor’s ERP solutions, the two best suited for the Fashion industry. These are Infor M3 (acquired from Lawson) and Infor System21, acquired from JDA. Each has made a name for itself in Fashion and accumulated a loyal installed base.

The development platform and the Infor ION purpose-built middleware also make it relatively easy to integrate with other non-Infor ERP solutions, but these are not likely to be available “out of the box” and therefore will either be less tightly integrated, or require additional effort and cost.


Infor has definitely chosen the path less traveled in delivering a brand new, built from scratch PLM solution for the Fashion industry. Leveraging its expertise in this industry gained through both acquisition as well as experience, it should hit the market with a level of maturity unusual for a new product. Combining this experience with a state of the art development platform and advanced Infor ION technology, it may very well leapfrog its competition with a powerful solution that will empower organizations with “all the tools to convert creative concepts to commercial products more rapidly and accurately.”

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NetSuite and Autodesk Partner for Complete End-to-End Product Life Cycle Management

Earlier this week NetSuite announced its latest strategic partnership with Autodesk to provide seamless integration between its ERP solution for manufacturing and Autodesk PLM 360. As NetSuite dives deeper into manufacturing, it is a logical move since the link between design engineering and manufacturing is a necessary one, although often a contentious one.

While MRP and its successor ERP have been regarded as necessary tools for manufacturing for decades, the truth is, early MRP and ERP solutions didn’t support the needs of the engineers very well. That set the stage for engineers to go off and do their own thing, often and very successfully avoiding any connection to other applications. If there was a connection, it was arm’s length. Engineers sent paper drawings and electronic bills of material (BOMs) over to manufacturing where they tended to take on a life of their own.

That might work well enough from a pure product design point of view. Yet in reality there is much more to a product life cycle than just design and manufacture… as well there should be. For example:

  • Do you co-develop with customers or partners?
  • Does marketing coordinate and collaborate with engineering on new product introductions?
  • What about the list of suppliers of raw materials and/or components?
  • What about the cost and impact of engineering change orders?
  • Do changes made in manufacturing ever make their way back to the engineering design?
  • Do you service and repair your products?
  • Does customer feedback influence product innovation and design?
  • How about feedback from service technicians or sales?

Of course it will take some discipline on the part of the NetSuite/Autodesk customers, but tight integration between ERP and PLM will remove many of the reasons engineers have struck out on their own to purchase and implement solutions. With this integration, product concept, design and engineering data are developed in Autodesk. Once released, bills of material (BOMs) are fed to ERP.  Engineering can also suggest vendors from which to source component parts. But these need to be approved by purchasing within the ERP and confirmed back to PLM with a handshake.

Engineering change orders (ECOs) can also be managed with the same level of automation and control and gives the engineers added visibility to the impact on cost and profitability as well as capacity.

But probably more important in terms of change control is the bi-directional aspect of the integration. How often does manufacturing feel the need to tweak a design for manufacturing? Do those “tweaks” ever get communicated back to engineering?  If not, the next change order from the engineers could be a nightmare. Integration ensures that changes are properly documented, propagated and managed in both PLM and downstream manufacturing.

The bi-directional integration can also have an impact on both quality and innovation. Without that closed loop from manufacturing back to engineering, there is an increased the risk the engineers can operate from an ivory tower. Quality issues are hidden without feedback from manufacturing operations and including suppliers in this feedback loop makes it that much more effective.

But NetSuite is also proposing the seamless integration will enable a cycle of innovation. In many industries, most notably in (but not limited to) consumer electronics, the expected life spans of products are shrinking. It’s not enough just to close the loop between manufacturing and engineering. It is equally important to capture feedback from customers and partners to understand customer acceptance. NetSuite is positioned to capture that feedback from CRM, service and PSA modules.

This is strictly a marketing agreement. NetSuite and Autodesk do not sell each other’s products. They will however work together on a deal. Expect them to work cooperatively and collaboratively.

And of course, it wouldn’t be an announcement from NetSuite without a reference to cloud. This partnership is unique in that both solutions were born in the cloud, designed specifically to be multi-tenant solutions deployed as Software as a Service (SaaS). So while it might be stretching it to say this was a marriage made in heaven, at least it is up there in the clouds.

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