Debunking the cons to CAD file sharing tools

In a post I wrote last week I described why Dropbox, GitHUB, Box and other mainstream file sharing tools are not enough for a complex industry like Manufacturing. Yesterday, Oleg Shilovitsky wrote a post listing the top 3 pros and cons to using a CAD file sharing tool as opposed to generic tools.

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I completely agree with Oleg’s top 3 pros and think these are only the beginning. As for the cons, I think they need a closer look.

Pros to a CAD file sharing tool.

In Oleg’s post, the pros to a specialized CAD sharing tool are:

  1. Embedded viewer for users who don’t need a full CAD seat.
  2. File dependencies between assemblies, sub-assemblies, parts and drawings.

  3. Special publishing services to eliminate certain CAD information when sharing with manufacturing, suppliers or clients.

I believe that beyond these important benefits, a company that is heavily focused on one segment will go on to build many additional functionalities tailored to their customers’ unique needs. It is with that in mind that I wrote “Why dropbox, GitHUB and Box for CAD sharing is a mistake” last week. I explained how deeply vertical companies provide the best products because they go above and beyond to build what is convenient for their unique customer, as opposed to the easiest thing for the general population to implement. This kind of solution provider has a high level of empathy and extreme focus to build amazing product experience for a very specific kind of user.

Cons to a CAD file sharing tool.

Oleg also pointed out 3 cons to a CAD-centric collaboration tool that I would like to discuss further.

1) Trust

Oleg noted that especially when it comes to CAD IP, companies are concerned with sharing on the cloud.

My view is that trust is not actually an issue anymore. When you focus in a specific niche, word travels fast because people talk within their industry and share best practices and trusted sources. We have seen that with GrabCAD Workbench. An OEM found a new supplier and that supplier suggested Workbench for collaboration and they moved forward. Workbench was then also recommended to the OEM by a freelancer who works for them. The news travels really fast here and solves the trust issue.

2, 3) Security; Cost and Scale

I am grouping Security, Cost and Scale together. These are commonly-used reasons not to adopt SaaS tools which aren't actually supported by the facts. I can give you some examples below showing why they aren't compelling cons. Security, cost and scale actually have similar solutions. In the past 5 years it has become increasingly easy and less expensive to develop software products. In a future post we will dive even deeper into total cost of ownership for CAD file sharing and PDM.

Open-source libraries

There are lot of open-source code components that specialized, vertical players can easily use, such as document viewing and optimizing code. Horizontal players can and are using these as well. When a software company looks at its code, I bet at least 1/3 of it is open-source or from third parties. Most of this code is for generic features like user authentication, payment process, comments, and user management.

For example GrabCAD Workbench supports pdf and movie viewing and instead of building it from the ground up we used open-source libraries. On the other hand, Box.com spent a significant amount of money buying Crocodile, a company with the same technology. With Crocodile they also face more competitors offering technology that supports a larger number of customers.

Amazon Web Services

There have been a lot of conversations around this topic so I won’t dwell on it. With Amazon Web Services you don't need to buy a server to host your application, you just rent it. There are no upfront costs and the best part is that Amazon continues to lower the price while taking on additional background work like backup and file encryption.

Security providers and vulnerability testing

When every industry is moving to the cloud, security becomes a concern. It’s not only manufacturing, it's in banking, travel, commerce and many other industries that would naturally have security concerns. This is why horizontal players evolve with a simple task in mind.

Amazon web services provide quite a lot on the security side but you can go even further. Veracode, where our VP of Technology Jon Stevenson comes from, provides vulnerability testing for any application. Specialized collaboration tools benefit from these providers and can build secure solutions.

By leveraging open-source libraries, Amazon web services, security platforms and other specialized offerings, it is cheaper and easier than ever to build a great software product.

4) Integration problems

In addition to the cons Oleg brought up I actually see a bigger issue - integration. A good thing about a generic/horizontal file sharing tool is that everyone is using the same system so it's easy to manage data, users and workflows. Conversely, a manufacturing company might have someone who only needs to access very specific CAD data once or twice a quarter. Does this person really need access to your manufacturing-specific tool to get it?

I think overcoming this problem is going to be an important obstacle to address in the next 3-5 years. It will only be solved once there is enough adoption in the general market for the next generation of SaaS CAD tools like GrabCAD Workbench, Autodesk PLM360, TeamPlatform. At that point the integration challenges will evolve.

Solving Integration

Across departments, different solutions serve different needs. At GrabCAD we use Marketo for marketing automation, Salesforce for sales management and Jira for product management. All of these software products are best of breed in helping special roles perform specific tasks. When our sales managers track account progress in Salesforce, they want to access a range of user activity like reading a specific document on our website, any product usage or if we have delivered any functionality they had previously requested. All of this information ends up in Salesforce but is actually tracked and gathered in a number of different tools. And it works brilliantly! You can integrate the tools by yourself, with a VAR (value added reseller) or using standard integration by the vendor itself. There is also a new breed of companies emerging, like Zapier, that focuses entirely on integrating different tools.

What about manufacturing organizations? In the primarily pre-SaaS manufacturing industry of today, it is usually VARs reselling on-prem software. Margins for VARs have been shrinking or disappearing though. Companies like Autodesk are introducing cloud products like PLM360 Professional for 75 USD per month which naturally becomes a concern for a VAR used to selling Vault for tens of thousands of dollars. The more SaaS applications we see in the market, the more VARs need to figure out how to differentiate themselves.

The benefit of VARs repositioning within the CAD space is that most of them have offered value implementing rather complicated engineering systems to customers already. They understand the customer well and have software knowledge within the company. I believe the new model for VARs in the next 5 years will be reinvention - some will become software companies providing specific integration like Zapier and others will focus on very specific workflow integrations between horizontal products.

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