AUSTIN, Texas—Product lifecycle management software has long been thought of as a tool for “tech weenies.” But Microsoft and UGS are setting out to change that perception. The companies, which on May 3 set in motion the development of the first PLM platform built entirely on .Net, aim to bring PLM to the widest possible user set—from the extended supply chain to marketing and manufacturing to retail—as both a digital collaboration tool and a search tool. Theyre in a good position to accomplish their goal as many Microsoft products—think Outlook—are ever-present collaboration tools. UGS, which has nearly 4 million licensed seats and 46,000 customers, announced it will tighten integration between, among others, its TeamCenter and Microsofts ASP.Net 2.0, Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft SQL Server 2005, which are all based on .Net. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and UGS CEO Tony Affuso sat down with eWEEK Senior Writer Renee Boucher Ferguson at the World Congress on IT on May 3 to talk about their plans.
Whats the big deal with PLM for Microsoft, given its status as a niche application?
Affuso: You know it used to be. Its not anymore. PLM is the lifeblood of a product manufacturing company. It helps organize and share ideas and products across an organization. It used to be just the tech weenies would use it to track design engineering. But now its all about collaboration and involving different teams [and] bringing in costing people, testing people, reliability people.
Tony, you and I spoke in 2002-2003 about digital collaboration. You said then the technology had about a 10 percent market penetration. Has that grown in the last three or four years, and how will Microsoft help going forward?
Ballmer: Whether it happened at speed X, speed W—its inevitable it will happen at speed Z, which is fast. Why is that? People say, “Oh, I cant relate to PLM. Im not involved in the design of an automobile.” Lets talk about producing magazines and newspapers. That is essentially an innovation process about creating a set of intellectual property that needs to be managed. There needs to be some workflow applied to it. There needs to be collaboration associated with it, and of course its very interesting to the reporters, to the editors, and its also frankly quite interesting to a lot of other people in the organization.
So the whole notion of providing tools to an information worker to help them participate in the creation, review, commentary, collaboration, workflow around intellectual property, ideas, innovation. Thats kind of our lifeblood.
Is the integration with Microsoft more from a portal perspective, or are you talking deep-dive integrations on the backend?
Ballmer: You want to have enough intelligence on the client—and Office integration in general is a very important thing—which we have some things together in the marketplace today and we have opportunities for expansion of that collaboration.
But the core idea is how do you get more people in search? I mean, what you really want to be able to do some day, if youre not one of the super high-end power users of PLM…is [say], Show me the design of the left wing. You just want to be able to type that in a search box and [the software] should be able to go out into the UGS back-end, locate that information and bring it out, without any sophisticated things. Or [say], “Show me that and the cost.” And maybe [then] its got to go into the SAP system and into the UGS system to fetch the data. That is the environment people want to get to, and that requires a deep [integration], deeper than not.
Affuso: Search is a really good topic. Well be working on that out into the future. Its one of the things on our plate because…subsystem reuse is a big thing out there in the industry. They want to be able to take advantage of past developments and be able to find and retrieve access and then incorporate those in new ideas [and] new products. So its really an important area for us.
There is a Gartner report that came out recently suggesting a three-month delay in Vista. Is that true?
Ballmer: Theyre entitled to their opinion. Were working hard, and were going to ship Vista when its ready. Were making a lot of progress.
Where does todays announcement between UGS and Microsoft leave Oracle?
Affuso: Well continue to work with them.
Ballmer: Ill tell you though, every time our sales reps go into a deal, well tell the SQL story. These guys [UGS] will tell it where it makes sense, but we want them to win business.
Where do you see Microsofts stack—infrastructure and ERP applications—coming up against Oracle and SAP given their infrastructure/applications moves?
Ballmer: I think we have absolutely the best infrastructure going. I think we have the best small-scale, simple environment on up to the most high-scale environment. And we have good support from SAP for that. SAP sells most of their installations on Windows, and now most also on SQL Server.
There is a part of the stack we and they do not agree to agree on. They have their own kind of portal and integration framework. Weve got SharePoint and BizTalk. Theyve got the NetWeaver stuff, and so we agree to disagree. But with projects like Duet—the new real name for Mendocino [the joint Microsoft-SAP project to expose mySAP processes and business logic in Office]—were trying to do our best at the at least end-user perspective to bridge those worlds.
We dont have the equivalent kind of coherence with Oracle, because of the database stuff.
Once you get past the biggest of the biggest of the big companies, then I think you get a lot of people who dont want the complexity and cost that it takes to do an Oracle or an SAP implementation…Weve got a lot of momentum with our Dynamics product line.
SaaS, Dynamics Plans
Any plans for Software as a Service with PLM and Dynamics?
Affuso: Were taking a very process-specific view of software as a service, rather than just offering TeamCenter as a service. That doesnt seem to make much sense.
Ballmer: Ill argue that, over time, these guys will think PLM as a service-based offering makes all the sense in the world, particularly when you start to think about number of ways in which people want to participate…You want smaller companies to be able to play in a supply chain with General Motors. Theyre not all going to be able to go do their own instances of TeamCenter and everything else…We sure do think very much about the design chain. It is an extremely important [area], because you have more and more participants, whether its in apparel or auto manufacturer.
So how does that translate with capabilities, say from ERP, as a service?
Ballmer: Well, Im not sure it does for ERP. But lets just stay on PLM, and Ill give you some examples. Take should we have infrastructure that lets you host securely SharePoint sites in the cloud? Absolutely. Should we have a customization mode that lets you customize those things the way you would inside a corporate environment? Absolutely. Should we have some way to…essentially [create] a plug-in of TeamCenter and SharePoint? Should there be a way for people to do that where TeamCenter is itself also hosted or TeamCenter perhaps is not hosted, but the SharePoint site that people use to collaborate [is], so all of the design data may live inside GM—but they have some hosted collaboration sites for their design chain partners. Should that work? Absolutely.
The security model has got to work. I want to let Charlie at this vendor participate in the PLM workflow. But I dont want to let Harry. So youve got to have a trust environment…We talk about our Information Rights Management technology. Is there a collaboration that should work, should work in the cloud, should work securely, should be built on this trust relationship? Absolutely.
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There are scenarios where you want the things living out in the cloud, and a lot of the same core technologies essentially have to be hostable at low cost and in such a way that they can be programmed. If everybody runs their own instance with TeamCenter, you dont have to worry about my instance screwing up somebody elses instance.
If its SharePoint or TeamCenter or anything else running out in the cloud, you need a different kind of operating system, lets just say, to manage resource contention amongst all these things that are running up in the cloud at low cost. Thats kind of what were trying to get done. All of that infrastructure is kind of what were trying to get done as part of our Live initiative. And, oh, by the way, theres an end-user site called WindowsLivel.com that happens to use all of the hosted infrastructure.
With Live, Ive read a couple reports that it sort of missed the mark. Do you agree with that?
Ballmer: No [laughs]. I havent read the reports, so I dont know what they say were missing the mark on. I mean, were early.
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There are sort of two different issues. Somebody can say are we getting the core platform wrong…Id say were [in the] very early days. So its interesting to me to know how anybody would make the evaluation of anything other than the fact [that] were early. From an end-user perspective…the first applications were building on, Windows Live and Office Live, that use this Live infrastructure. I think most people have been giving us pretty good kind of reviews on both of those things…Weve gotten a lot more buzz on kind of up on the net on what were doing with Windows Live than a lot of things.
It seems to me that customers are really looking for application-specific functionality as a service. Maybe thats part of missing the mark – where MBS fits in with Live?
Ballmer: Youll see us have things hosted when they make sense and when we can get them implemented…Some things may make sense before they get implemented. Heck, some things might even get implemented from time-to-time before they make sense. But obviously to have a line of business applications appropriately be hosted out on top of this cloud infrastructure is important.
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