The age of the product innovation platform is upon us. What is a product innovation platform?
And can it really “revolutionize” the way we do business?
Let’s start by defining the term “platform” in today’s engineering space. In the computer world, a
platform has long been defined as a complete programming and runtime environment. The term
has expanded beyond hardware to be a group of technologies that are used as the foundation
upon which other applications, processes or technologies are developed – a cloud service like
AWS or Azure, your smartphone or another device.
Traditional computer ecosystems and platforms differ in one key respect. A Harvard Business
Review article by Mark Boncheck and Sangeet Paul Choudary points out that where traditional
ecosystems push data, platforms pull. 1
Enabling this pull is critical to the success of today’s platforms. According to Bonchek and
Choudary, a successful platform consists of three primary building blocks:
- Toolbox: An infrastructure that makes it easy to interact with the platform itself
- Magnet: Going beyond ease of use or an intuitive UI, a compelling attraction to
participate. In the case of a product innovation platform, this takes the form of the
availability of critical applications, ideally in an approach that leverages social networking
to allow for rapid expansion
- Matchmaker: A mechanism to foster the flow of data from producer to consumer, or one
engineering application on the platform to another
and eliminating barriers to entry. Aside from improvements to the UI, one of the best ways to
achieve both goals is to build more of the required intelligence of any function – be it design,
analysis, manufacturing, etc. – into the application itself. The less the user needs to know, the
shorter the learning curve. And shorter learning curves are welcomed by users and
organizations alike. In fact, SolidWorks is a very successful product and brand built on that very
“The 3DEXPERIENCE® platform is a business experience platform… With a single,
easy-to-use interface, it powers Industry Solution Experiences – based on 3D design,
analysis, simulation, and intelligence software in a collaborative, interactive environment.
It is available on premise and on cloud.” 2
Engineering simulation used to be a very manual process beginning with a CAD model
(translated through IGES), generating a mesh, selecting nodes, solving, etc. – with ANSYS’ new
Discovery Live, for example, you simply define the physics you want to solve, add the boundary
conditions into your solid model and everything is done automatically, practically in real time.
ANSYS does not propose this as a replacement for its more comprehensive solutions, but it
does “allow the design engineer, with very little training or expertise, to exercise their design and
see what happens.” 3
Applications within every discipline have made similar progress towards moving expertise from
the human expert into the application they use. But as the tools themselves become more
intelligent and easier to use, they also become easier to interoperate. With the cloud enabling a
global infrastructure and mobile devices allowing for connection to this infrastructure from
anywhere at any time, the time for the rise of the product innovation platform is now.
Digital platforms are not a new concept – Facebook, arguably one of the most successful social
innovation platforms, just turned 15 years old. Platforms like LinkedIn and Slack are
transforming the way we communicate and, of course, we all carry a great example of a mobile
innovation platform in our pockets every day in the form of our cell phones. Nor has the concept
been limited to communications. Around the same time Facebook was launched, Engineous
Software piloted one of the earliest versions of the product innovation platform model as part of
the FIPER 4 product. Developed in conjunction with General Electric, Parker Hannifin and others,
as part of a US government funded project, FIPER was one of the earliest examples of a
collaborative development environment with the objective of sharing, managing, and publishing
engineering processes. Truly independent in design, various applications (CATIA, Unigraphics,
Pro/E, ANSYS, MSC.NASTRAN, etc.) appeared as “components” integrated within the overall
framework. At the most basic level, a product innovation platform, by linking multiple discrete
applications within a singular environment, is the next logical step in enhancing the user
experience and lowering barriers to entry.
Inherent in all platforms is providing the ability to collaborate, to bring people together with a
common objective and, by doing so, increase the scope of what is possible. Product innovation
platforms – like those offered by Siemens PLM, Dassault Systemes, Hexagon, Aras and many
others – seek to bring together technical roles and processes across engineering disciplines
and throughout the product lifecycle.
“Hexagon’s XALT is a revolutionary technology for mission critical operations across all
“Siemens Digital Innovation Platform is the technical software foundation of your digital
enterprise. The Platform cultivates continuous ingenuity in product performance, product
development and production operations.” 6
The larger industry players like Siemens PLM, Dassault Systemes and Hexagon, having
expanded into other disciplines through acquisition, are naturally well positioned to provide the
necessary integrations between their applications within those disciplines and even beyond the
digital environment into the real world with the incorporation of data from IoT sensors into the
product development process. Having a wide variety of the apps or components necessary, an
understanding of what the input/output parameters need to be and a growing infrastructure to
connect the dots, the question is… can it all work?
Yes. Without a doubt. Each company can point to successes within early adopters who, like the
vendors themselves, have the correct applications and are willing to invest the resources
necessary to achieve success. But to provide the same level of success to all users across the
engineering industry who are counting on these vendors to help them realize the leaps in
efficiency and connectivity promised is going to require more.
Organizations and users want the ability to choose the best in class solution to complete a task,
regardless of who created that application. Apple devices, for example, do not limit their
platform to applications only written by Apple. Success is going to require not only that the
vendors connect their own applications within the platform, but that they also provide a
mechanism for other third-party applications to be integrated into the platform, even if those
applications compete against their own. This includes providing the mechanisms to facilitate the
flow of data from one application to another as well as an open approach to enabling
partnerships that have proven challenging to come by in the past from vendors who are understandably focused on enabling their own applications. That’s where the primary challenge
lies – in ensuring that there is a way to permit, even support, other application developers or
users themselves, to co-create value. And that will be the deciding factor of success – not just
providing value to users but finding a way to enable others to create value as well.
So, yes, Product Innovation Platforms can revolutionize the way we do business – but it just
may take their creators revolutionizing theirs first.
1. Three Elements of a Successful Platform Strategy by Mark Bonchek and Sangeet Paul Choudary,
2. Dassault Systems – 3DEXPERIENCE Platform®
3. ANSYS Discovery Live: Observations on What it Is and Suggestions for Trying it Out
4. Engineous Software Releases iSIGHT-FD 3.0 and FIPER 3.0, 2 in a Series
5. Hexagon XALT
6. Siemens Digital Innovation Platform