In recent articles, we’ve been discussing the design data management needs of design firms in the SMB space (Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses). I touched on what Autodesk has been planning as well. Now I’d like to go beyond Autodesk, and look at some other options that we have been reviewing, and how all of the factors I’ve discussed may affect your future.
Management Software Vendors Offer More Flexibility
GrabCAD started off as a great place to showcase your designs, developed by Hardi Meybaum and Indrek Narusk. It began to change into a collaborative workspace and enabler, ultimately becoming their recent launch of GrabCAD Workbench.
The funny thing is that while many have discounted the new service as a novelty, the company is very aggressively developing far more robust capabilities to fill the needs of exactly who we are talking about, the SMB design companies. GrabCAD has already licensed the Parasolid model in order to better develop their viewing and inspection capabilities. Now they are adding useful Bill of Materials (BOM) features, engineering workflows, and much more. Have you checked it out recently? Their CAD viewer is off the hook. It’s worth a look to see just how useful the storage and collaborative space is at this point before all the changes begin to form.
Cadac Group specializes in providing IT solutions to create, manage and share digital design information. That sounds pretty close to what we are talking about.
This team has been aggregating CAD storage and data for some time on SharePoint, and are leveraging that on their hosted SharePoint Cloud. They have vast knowledge and experience in dealing with CAD model data management and have already been involved in Inventor upload add-ins. I am very much hoping for a design and manufacturing specific SharePoint app release for Office 365 Small and Medium business in the near future.
SharePoint and Office 365
SharePoint as part of Office 365 is emerging as a real contender for the small design market. How is that? SharePoint sucks right?
Well, yes and no.
The SharePoint interface itself is clunky, not really design component or process related, and it is still a collection of poorly joined resources, but let’s look at it as a Platform instead.
Every purchase of Office 365 Small and Medium Business gets you a SharePoint cloud site and a large amount of storage. The current version is 2013 and has been substantially cleaned up which makes it reasonably functional.
* Easy to use and pre-configured collaborative and project management spaces
* Document versioning and control
* Smooth Outlook and Office integration are valuable tools as well
* Pre-configured, streamlined Exchange servers on Microsoft’s Azure server
* Tons of storage with triple redundancy backups
…at no additional cost to your Office licenses. That means that almost every licensed user will have access to a SharePoint cloud site, all their collaboration and records, and their versioned data files in a controlled and secured environment.
Get this: as one Microsoft engineer told me, you can license only the in-house seats you need, but invite the entire world to collaborate with no additional cost. This is hugely significant considering that other services require each invited collaborator to occupy one of your paid seats. Microsoft is pushing collaboration on SharePoint hard.
Also Microsoft is heavily investing in the SharePoint App approach, where companies can develop custom apps that run inside the SharePoint team-site envelope. This means that 3rd-party vendors van develop well-customized data, forms UI, and workflows that can leverage the existing data structures, managed storage, and collaborative spaces, and provide design firms with a powerful well rounded solution.
All the SMB design industry needs is a solid 3rd-3rd party SharePoint application and it’ll be on like Donkey-Kong.
Why is 2015 Significant?
I believe that 2015 will be the baseline for the SMB data management service. Companies are racing to develop useful tools that are reasonably CAD Agnostic, and meets the collaborative, aggregate, storage, discoverability, and accessibility needs that have become so evident in the last few years.
What is more important is that the company that delivers a complete, easy to use, extremely configurable deep-search tool that stores, catalogues, aggregates, and secures design models and data, with customizable form UI, and accessible storage and delivery pipeline by the end of 2015 will set the stage for how small companies will collaborate, and will shape the way we work in the near future.
Will GrabCAD with its beautiful collaborative and viewing interface bring enough management tools to the party? Will Autodesk 360’s integration with Autodesk PLM really tie together all the parts we need in a useful, non-frustrating way? Will one of the fledgling data management vendors put together a comprehensive SharePoint Cloud app that better aggregates data and offers CAD model viewing?
If any of these things occur, D&M will likely be the first company to purchase seats.