One IoT Platform to Rule Them All
PTC’s platform strategy was driven home for me when we sat down for our analysts’ Q&A session with their executive team at LiveWorx, PTC’s annual conference. In past years, that session has been with their CEO and a mix of the heads of CAD, Enterprise Segments, Service Applications, ThingWorx, and their EVP of Strategy. This year it was just three people: CEO Jim Heppelmann in the center, with Rob Gremley (EVP Platforms) on the left and Craig Hayman (EVP Solutions) on the right. At one point Rob said “I look at Craig as my first and favorite ISV, who is using our platform to revolutionize the PTC apps.” To me this encapsulated their strategy of two independent but integrated businesses:
- Platform — PTC is becoming more of an open platform company, using ThingWorx as the core of its IoT development platform. They are trying to attract all sides of the IoT equation: a critical mass of devices, device clouds, wide area networks, applications, analytics, ERP systems, PLM systems, supply chain systems, data sources, developers, implementers, and other providers all integrated into and using the platform.1
- Solutions — These are all of PTC’s traditional businesses: CAD, PLM, ALM, SLM. But now they are integrating on the ThingWorx platform. In fact, many of the new applications, such as Navigate and AgileWorx, are being built natively on ThingWorx from scratch.
Of course ThingWorx has always been a platform, so what really changed? For one thing, PTC has made a commitment to developing its own solutions natively on ThingWorx and has already done that with Navigate and AgileWorx (more on them below). Sometimes referred to as ‘eating your own dogfood,’ this forces PTC to experience its customers’ perspective (those developing apps on ThingWorx) and provides urgency to make the platform ever more robust, easy to use, and powerful. Developing their own solutions on ThingWorx also provides deeper natural integration between PTC’s own applications and other ThingWorx applications, moving towards the goal of building up a rich ecosystem of interoperable solution components that can be deployed in different configurations to solve different problems.
The other thing that seems to have changed is more directional. When PTC acquired ThingWorx and the other components (Kepware, Axeda, ColdLight, Vuforia), they were a solutions company that had a platform.Now they’ve decided to become a platform company that has solutions. The difference is more than semantics. It is the lens through which you think about everything you do, where you invest, the level of resources you put into growing the ecosystem — recruiting, supporting, and retaining partners and developers on the platform. We’ll have to see how quickly and completely PTC becomes a platform company, but that is their stated direction.
Some people question whether a company can be a platform company while simultaneously having applications that compete with many of the same ISVs they are trying to attract onto the platform. A few companies have been very successful at this Platform + Solutions model, such as Microsoft with Windows + Office (and other apps). The network effect can be powerful. Within a specific domain (such as operating systems for personal computers) there will usually be only one or two winners dominating the market. That is an ambitious goal for PTC — to become the dominant IoT platform, in the same way that Microsoft is for PC operating systems or Google for Search.2
Agile Development — Not Just for Software: Designing and Manufacturing a New Car in Three Months
Another key theme at LiveWorx was agile development for physical products. One of the keynote speakers was Joe Justice, President of the Scrum@Hardware business at Scrum, Inc., who helps firms learn and implement agile hardware development, with the goal of ‘doing twice the work in half the time.’ He talked about his team’s use of agile methods in developing a car for the Automotive XPRIZE, Progressive Insurance’s $10M contest to build an environmentally friendly car that gets more than 100 MPGe,3 seats four adults comfortably, has a range of at least 200 miles, and is road legal (meeting all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards). Joe used social media to recruit an all-volunteer team of 44 engineers and designers. Working nights and weekends in their spare time, they built a car that got 109 MPG. They tied for 10th place in the contest. Astoundingly, they did the whole thing in three months. Then they built another one for the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit that was impressive enough to be showcased on the main floor.
How could they pull it off? Traditional automotive engineering and design has multi-year development cycles and huge capital costs that have to be amortized over as much as a decade (Joe gave the example of a $10M mold for making car doors). Joe’s team used agile development’s rapid iteration approach, creating a new working version of the car every seven days. They leveraged simulation, 3D printing, and other techniques to shorten the development time, but the agile development approach was the key enabler of this kind of speed. They divided the car into eight parts (frame, drivetrain, etc.) with a team for each part. Every team had not just designers, but also had testing and manufacturing engineers. By making it highly modular, they were able to make changes every seven days, each time producing a version that was ready to be deployed to mass production, if desired. Joe said, with their modular design, they are able to change the body of the vehicle from a convertible to a pickup truck or change from a regular gas engine to a hybrid in about the same time it takes to change a tire.
AgileWorx — Tools for Complex Multi-Discipline Agile Product Development
There are plenty of tools out there to help software teams manage and implement Agile/Scrum development. There are far fewer tools that extend the agile approach to broader, multi-discipline, product design teams that include electrical, mechanical, software, chemical, safety, systems, and other types of development engineers, as well as test, quality, and manufacturing engineers — the kind of complete teams required to build complex physical products and actually move them from design into production. At LiveWorx, PTC announced AgileWorx to fill that gap. It is a cloud-based solution with tools for Scrum projects with an online ‘team room’ paradigm and the ability to manage backlogs, sprint planning and execution, tasks, burnup and burndown charts and other Scrum tools. These are linked to the CAD, PLM, and ALM systems and documents the organization is already using.
PTC AgileWorx can manage user stories across multiple backlogs. Stories can be assigned to different component teams doing sprints at independent cadences. This helps enable large projects, reusable components, and a platform engineering approach.
Ensuring Quality and Compliance in an Agile Environment
PTC’s customers include aerospace, medical device, industrial equipment, and other companies that have strict quality, safety, precision, and regulatory requirements. Those strict requirements and a legacy of ‘cautious meticulous engineering’ can make those kinds of firms leery of adopting Agile methodologies. AgileWorx can help ensure enforcement/compliance with strict quality and regulatory requirements, leveraging existing quality and compliance frameworks. It provides traceability from stories to tasks down to part structures in Windchill, and integration with Integrity and GIT for requirements traceability and revision control.
PTC acquired ThingWorx in part to realize the promise of 10X acceleration of IoT application development. But IoT products are not just software applications — they are inherently physical in nature, with sensors and actuators often embedded in some sort of machine or built environment that requires many different types of engineering. Thus the need for a broader tool to accelerate the whole project and process was a natural step. If you’re interested, PTC is hosting a webinar on June 30th at 2:00 EDT: PTC AgileWorx for Product Engineering Teams.
AgileWorx is complemented by virtual prototyping and other technology from PTC that can help accelerate agile development cycles, such as simulation tools, virtual reality for viewing virtual prototypes, and digital twins to instantly provide data about actual performance.
Let The Journey(s) Begin
Craig Hayman, PTC’s EVP of Solutions, began his keynote talk with the famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson “Life is a Journey, not a Destination.”4 He talked about the four ‘Journeys’ that PTC’s customers might be on: Agile Engineering, Digital Engineering, Manufacturing, and Service. These correspond to PTC’s major solution areas, so at first I assumed this was just his way of structuring his session around PTC’s solution portfolio. However, after listening carefully and talking to others, I realized that the concept of Journeys is much more than that for PTC.
PTC is in the process of developing a set of transformational methodologies and roadmaps for each of those four areas (Agile, Digital Engineering, Manufacturing, and Service). Each of these roadmaps is organized in three phases:
- Understand — Figure out how to leverage existing real-time IoT and other data to create immediate value.
- Advance — Look for more significant ways to differentiate your services and offerings, which may require more development, changes to processes, and/or new offerings.
- Outperform — Realize longer term, radical transformation of the business, such as radically new business models or as-a-service offerings or platform/network plays.
A New, More Strategic Relationship with PTC’s Customers
The key point about Journeys: PTC is fundamentally changing its relationship with its customers, moving from being a provider of systems and tools to becoming a trusted strategic guide that helps their customers figure out foundational business transformation and takes them step by step on that journey. That is quite ambitious. PTC is in the process of fleshing out and trying out these Journeys — the methodology, the detailed roadmaps, and so forth. These build on PTC’s decades of experience and many projects in Engineering, Manufacturing, and Service.5
PTC will be refining and filling in more depth into these Journeys models and methodologies as they roll them out and deploy with customers. I expect this will be PTC’s own multi-year journey learning this new role, hiring the right expertise,6 changing the market’s perception of what PTC is and does, and garnering the trust of top executives. Since their move into IoT, PTC has been having a lot more C-level discussions than ever before, which was likely some of the impetus for this new initiative. Time will tell how successful PTC’s own transformational Journey will be, but they certainly have a lot of the right pieces in place.
Digital Engineering Journey
Jill Newburg, Senior Director of PLM Market Development, presented the story for the Digital Engineer Journey. She pointed out that complex projects have many multi-discipline teams that traditionally don’t talk to each other often enough, nor have great visibility into each other’s designs and data. PTC Navigate allows easy visual navigation to all kinds of project-wide and company-wide information. In the demo, they brought up a 3D view of the parts structure of a car, clicked on the mirror, which brought up the part structure for the mirror, from which they could further drill down on any component. They showed how quality engineers could analyze sensor data from the tests, such as speed and vibration. Then they used Vuforia AR to view that mirror on the actual physical car — the first mirror design was not very attractive, so they redesigned it in the CAD studio and did a simulation to see the stress and displacement. They created a honeycomb lattice 3D printable version that was 40% lighter and still met target performance in the simulation. All these changes were visible to the entire team the moment the designer finalized and checked them in.
PTC is striving to help their customers move to Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0/Made in China 2025 (pick your favorite next-generation manufacturing initiative). PTC understands there is a lot of investment in existing manufacturing plants and equipment, so their strategy is to help customers get more out of their existing systems, rather than rip and replace. Howard Heppelmann, PTC’s Divisional GM for Manufacturing Solutions, walked us through the manufacturing journey with a demo involving a simplified but fully functioning assembly line right there on the stage, retrofitted with various sensors, as one might add sensors to an existing production line in a real factory.
The pneumatic system had air flow and pressure sensors, and the conveyor motor had a temperature sensor. Kepware interfaced with these and other assets and sent the data to ThingWorx, which integrated to the asset management and maintenance systems. They used Navigate to bring up a maintenance application that showed a list of all the physical assets, including real-time performance data, as well as outstanding maintenance work orders. They simulated a loose fitting in the pneumatic system by turning a valve, letting air out, which caused an immediate alert. Besides the alert, the system predicted a failure in 10 days if it wasn’t fixed. This prediction was based on ThingWorx Machine Learning7 that had established the baseline of normal conditions and learned what failures looked like. The system automatically issued a work order to replace the faulty fitting. They also demoed OEE tracking as they sped up the line.
PTC Navigate and Predictive Analytics are in beta now and will be available in production versions later this year. PTC partnered with GE on many of these concepts and said they achieved a 10%-20% reduction in unplanned downtime for one of GE Transportation’s plants.
To tell the service story, Craig invited on stage Kevin Bollon, VP of Building Services for Trane, an $8B HVAC manufacturer and service provider. Kevin said that they have been going through a ‘service transformation’ at Trane, continually trying to differentiate themselves and find the right balance of person-to-person contact (critical in service) and technology. He said that for almost a decade they have been installing connected heating and air conditioning systems, where software and connectivity are critical pieces of the overall offering. Today they are connected to over 10,000 buildings with Trane Intelligent Services bringing data from their equipment together with all kinds of other data to help their customers.
One customer example that Kevin gave was a chain of movie theaters. Trane receives the actual ticket sales for each location ahead of time and puts that together with environmental data (such as weather) about what is going on outside and inside the theater and is able to apply exactly the right amount of precooling or preheating and ongoing adjustments to achieve the maximum comfort at the least cost. In a Wisconsin high school, Trane takes into account the actual number of students in each class and optimizes the temperature in each class to make the students the most productive, but using the least energy. They reduced that high school’s electric bill by 15%, about $60K per year that could be put into better education. Kevin said that for every dollar of equipment sales by Trane, they now have $12 of service sales.
PTC announced two service applications available immediately: PTC Remote Service, which leverages Servigistics, and Connected Field Service (partnering with ServiceMax) to connect data from IoT equipment with ServiceMax’s field service management system. Also announced was (now available) Connected Service Parts Management, providing visibility to assets, their location and current performance, the ability to forecast and plan parts demand across the fleet of assets, and causal forecasting to improve uptime. For more perspective on PTC service, see New Generation of Serviceability and Engineering.
There were many, many other significant announcements at LiveWorx, such as PTC’s partnership with Amazon and integration with AWS, countless impactful customer stories, impressive live demos, partnering with HPE and National Instruments to provide scalable edge analytics, and much more. I’ve chosen to highlight what I believe were the most significant points from this conference: three bold and ambitious steps for PTC — 1) to try and become the dominant IoT platform, 2) to enable agile development for today’s complex physical/electrical/software products, and 3) to become the trusted strategic advisor for their customers’ transformational journey. If they can achieve even some of these, it will be transformational for PTC.
1 This creates a network effect. If one platform has more developers on it, then more IoT application providers will select it, because it is easier to find talent (a rare commodity). As more IoT applications are on a platform, more enterprise solutions will choose to integrate, as will more device makers and communications service providers. This in turn attracts more developers in a virtuous cycle. — Return to article text above 2 It remains to be seen whether the world of IoT platforms will become as homogenous as PC operating systems. Also, there are many companies vying to become the dominant IoT Platform, so domination is far from assured for PTC. — Return to article text above 3 MPGe — Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, is a metric introduced by the EPA in 2010 to compare, on an apples-to-apples basis, the energy consumption of vehicles using different fuel/energy sources, including conventional gas powered, hybrids, plug-in electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and other types of vehicles. — Return to article text above
4 I know this is not a self-help column — but I personally believe that is a wise way to live — make the best of each day and moment, rather than waiting for the happiness we believe awaits us once we attain some goal or reach some future destination. — Return to article text above
5 And bringing in some deep outside expertise to help with Agile. — Return to article text above
6 As well as identifying and leveraging existing internal people that have the right skills. — Return to article text above
7 a.k.a. ColdLight — Return to article text above
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