Perking Up PLM With .Net

Microsoft, UGS to spice up lifecycle tech with search, collaboration.

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 two 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 everpresent collaboration tools. UGS, which has nearly 4 million licensed seats and 46,000 customers, announced that it will tighten integration between, among other products, 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 in Austin, Texas, on May 3, to talk about their plans.

Whats the big deal with PLM, given its status as a niche application?

Affuso: 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.

Tony, you and I spoke in 2002-2003 about digital collaboration. Has that grown in the last three or four years, and how will Microsoft help going forward?

Ballmer: Whether it happened at speed X or 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. ... There needs to be some workflow applied to it, there needs to be collaboration associated with it. ... So the whole notion of providing tools to an information worker to help them participate in the creation, review, commentary, collaboration and workflow around intellectual property ideas [and] 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 back end?

Ballmer: The core idea is, How do you get more people in search? ... If youre not one of the super-high-end power users of PLM ... you just want to be able to type [a term] in a search box, and it should be able to go out into the UGS back end, locate that information and bring it out. ... 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. ... [People] 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 ... 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 do you see Microsofts stack—infrastructure and ERP [enterprise resource planning] applications—coming up against Oracle and SAP, given their infrastructure/apps moves?

Ballmer: SAP sells most of their installations on Windows, and now most also on SQL Server. There is a part of the stack we [agree to disagree 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"—were trying to do our best, at least from an end-user perspective, to bridge those worlds. We dont have the equivalent kind of coherence with Oracle, because of the database stuff.

Any plans for software as a service with PLM and Microsoft Dynamics?

Affuso: Were taking a very process-specific view of software as a service, rather than just offering Teamcenter as a service.

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 the 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.

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. There are sort of two different issues. From an end-user perspective, you know, the first applications were building [are] Windows Live and Office Live. ... I think most people have been giving us pretty good ... reviews on both of those things. ... Weve gotten a lot more buzz 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 Dynamics fits in with Live?

Ballmer: Youll see us have things hosted when they make sense, and when we can get them implemented.