Survey Says: Product Development Sees Key Benefits from the Cloud
Jeffrey Rowe posted on April 05, 2019 |

It wasn’t all that long ago that the CEO of a major engineering software company proclaimed that CAD in the cloud was nothing more than vapor and his company would not enter the fray. Well, times have changed, and that same company has since flown its plane into the cloud and is enjoying increased profitability because of it. As a matter of fact, this company is now at the forefront of this burgeoning technology wave and sings nothing but praises to its cloud-based tools.

At this point, however, not everybody is convinced that the cloud is the way to go, but that doubt is eroding as more technology companies embrace, adopt, and implement cloud-based systems.

In a study conducted in 2018 by engineering.com, 234 product development professionals were surveyed about the core issues that frustrate product development teams in getting products to market.

The survey’s results were definitive and reverberated universally—there were strong relationships between the product development systems used and levels of satisfaction that impacted positive outcomes.

Notably, product development teams using cloud-based system users overall were more successful at meeting goals than users who used on-site server-based systems or less formal systems such as email/spreadsheets. These same teams also expressed the highest levels of satisfaction with their product development systems as compared to users of other types of product development systems.

Cloud delivery is becoming essential for modern software in every industry to remain relevant and credible, and CAD is no exception. However, just putting the same old system in the cloud does not, by itself, necessarily make it better or deliver real value to design teams.

Cloud-based systems (for our purposes here, specifically those that are browser-based) are at an interesting phase in their lifecycle—still with a lot of wait-and-see fence-sitters, but with more and more users jumping off the fence and onto the cloud-based bandwagon for reasons that will be discussed below.

Why the Cloud? Why Now?

Last year, Onshape CEO Jon Hirschtick declared that 2018 would “finally be the tipping point for cloud-based CAD.”

“Most engineers will be moving the bulk of their work online over the next five to ten years,” he predicted. “The most forward-thinking engineers have already made this shift and will eventually watch their competitors play catch up.”

Was he correct in his assertion? Experience and increasing numbers of successful cloud-based implementations point to the fact that he was indeed correct for the following reasons:

  • Agnostic – Cloud-based CAD works across Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Mac and Linux—and with phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. No longer are users tied to a single high-performance workstation at the traditional office. In other words, no ongoing hardware platform overhead.
  • Applications & Updates – A cloud architecture frees companies from the cost- and time-draining IT tasks of maintaining hardware and software updates. Every cloud CAD user in an organization is always on the latest software version and receives automatic updates.
  • Collaboration – Teams can instantly communicate about design changes and get real-time updates on their colleagues’ progress. The ability to let multiple engineers simultaneously work on the same design means that teams can work together in parallel instead of working serially.
  • Cost Management – Maintaining company servers, software and hardware 24/7 is extremely expensive. Many CFOs prefer Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions because they are considered annual operating expenses (OPEX) vs. capital expenditures (CAPEX). Purchasing a CAD system upfront is considered a capital investment, which ties up money, depreciates over time, and can require ongoing expense for updates and maintenance.
  • Flexibility – Users are not tied to a specific device, nor even a specific platform. A connection to the internet provides access to the program on anything from anywhere.
  • Maintenance – Maintenance updates are automatically rolled out as available with no interruption to users.
  • Mobility – Design team members using cloud CAD can access their work on multiple devices anywhere, anytime. Designs can be created and edited on a phone or tablet with the ability to literally carry a CAD system anywhere.
  • Operating Cost – Cloud-based programs are almost universally sold as a subscription or pay-to-use service. In many cases, this allows costs to shift from capital expenses (investing in dedicated hardware) to operating expenses (paying a subscription fee).
  • Scalability – Cloud computing allows companies to immediately increase or decrease their server use based on real-time demand, only paying for what they use. In addition to eliminating the need to buy and manage an IT infrastructure, cloud-based systems such as Onshape also offer virtually-instant CAD deployment for design teams starting a new project or bringing on new hires. Adding new team members is as simple as entering their email addresses.
  • Security – Secure cloud services providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) have far more resources to improve cybersecurity than any one company could. Equally important for protecting intellectual property (IP), using a cloud architecture ensures there is only one master copy of the work for partners to access with no uncontrolled file copies floating around.
  • Simplicity – The cloud removes many of the typical roadblocks in the design and manufacturing process, allowing companies to deliver their services and products faster and easier.
  • Versioning – There is a single source of truth for the current version of a file. Data can be rolled back indefinitely to capture previous versions of a document.

Engineers and designers were hired to create things—not administer IT. And, when collaborating with other companies, those IT hassles only multiply.

From the beginning, Onshape has been a company with an innovative cloud-based MCAD technology supplemented by partners that together provide a comprehensive and capable design ecosystem. Although there are a number of compelling capabilities it provides, an aspect of Onshape that is impressive are its updates that are delivered to all users automatically every three weeks at no extra cost. Nothing to download, nothing to install. Every Onshape user in an organization is always on the same software version—the latest one.

These automatic updates are just one of the examples of Onshape continuing to evolve as a leader in cloud-based CAD.

Taming Product Development Challenges with the Cloud

Without a doubt, product development—whether for a new product or improving an existing product—is a complex process. The number of steps involved with product development is subject to many variables, but most new product development projects incorporate common steps that include idea generation, business analysis, product development, manufacturing, and support.

Finally, all products have life spans, after which they are retired or superseded.

It’s obvious that this process involves a lot of people that have to perform as a collaborative team over the course of a product’s life.

Here, however, we’ll focus on the actual new product development and managing four core processes: engineering change orders (ECOs), document control, product collaboration, and bill of material (BoM) management.

Q: What type of system are you using to manage four core processes? (Image source: engineering.com Research Report on Identifying the Core Issues that Frustrate Product Development Teams.)
Q: What type of system are you using to manage four core processes? (Image source: engineering.com Research Report on Identifying the Core Issues that Frustrate Product Development Teams.)

Exactly what is it that differentiates successful product development teams with ones that aren’t as successful? It’s not a simple answer or just one thing; rather, it’s several factors that revolve around the system and approach for product development.

Higher Levels of Productivity and Satisfaction

The engineering.com study showed that the engineering professionals’ satisfaction level with their product development process was largely dependent on the systems and platforms they were using: none/email/spreadsheets, on-site server based, or cloud-based. Regardless of the system used, there are three critical activities that these systems facilitate:

  • The efficient access of product information for quick decision-making
  • The gathering of feedback from all necessary product development participants
  • Easy collaboration with other team members
Q: Average level of system adoption by product development teams. (Image source: engineering.com Research Report on Identifying the Core Issues that Frustrate Product Development Teams.)
Q: Average level of system adoption by product development teams. (Image source: engineering.com Research Report on Identifying the Core Issues that Frustrate Product Development Teams.)

Although cloud-based systems do have qualitative and quantitative benefits, there are still push-back objections for not implementing a cloud-based system for new product development. Security is still the biggest one. Putting product data—a company’s lifeblood—on the cloud still fills a lot of companies with fear. But those fears are completely overblown. Research shows that over 90% of SMBs that have moved to the cloud reported security benefits once they made the shift. Cloud providers have more resources to put toward security, better firewalls, better maintenance—basically, cloud computing providers like Amazon Web Services are specialists, so they’re a lot better at their specialty than anyone else, including security.

Q: Cloud-based system users reported higher levels of success than users of other types of systems. (Image source: engineering.com Research Report on Identifying the Core Issues that Frustrate Product Development Teams.)
Q: Cloud-based system users reported higher levels of success than users of other types of systems. (Image source: engineering.com Research Report on Identifying the Core Issues that Frustrate Product Development Teams.)

A successful universal implementation strategy for a cloud-based product development system has proven to be as agile as possible. Try and implement strategically, doing a bit at a time and continuously evolving your systems. The alternative, where you rip everything out and replace it all at once, is much riskier. Projects tend to get away from companies, both because ripping everything out is incredibly complicated, and because there’s a real enthusiasm to “fix everything while we’ve got it open.” A lot of time and money can get spent without anything ever going live if the initial jump is too large with unrealistic expectations.

Continuing to Leverage the Cloud Advantage

Given its many early successes, what does the future look like for cloud-based systems used for new product development? Trends indicate that for new product development, cloud platforms will take over and probably dominate. These platforms are basically like Amazon, where end-users don’t pay to join, but rather transact on the platform. Product developers could find any resource they need, purchase components, hire engineers, etc., and only pay for exactly what they’re using. Communication could flow through this sort of platform, connecting manufacturing, engineering, buying teams, and more—all in one place. Obviously, that’s a few years out. But those platforms are definitely where the product development world is going. In the meantime, cloud-based, SaaS products on a multi-tenant hosting environment that enormously lowers the cost of new product development is the next step down the road.

Another advantage of implementing an established cloud-based CAD solution is that the company offering it very likely has partners that provide add-ons for more comprehensive capabilities, such as simulation, rendering and CAM. The advantage here is that these partner products have been optimized to work with the core CAD product as well as the cloud delivery mechanism.

The study showed conclusively that teams that relied on cloud-based systems for managing three performance metrics—ECOs, BoMs, collaboration and document management—reported a higher level of satisfaction with their product development environments.

Teams that were using informal product development systems, such as email and spreadsheets, generally reported the poorest performance for on-time product delivery, cost management and innovation. On the other hand, cloud-based product development teams reported the highest levels of success across the three performance metrics.

The study provides positive proof that the product development systems being used have a major impact on both success and user satisfaction. Cloud users displayed higher overall levels of success and satisfaction compared to their counterparts working with older on-site server-based systems or those using informal systems. With the proven success of early adopters, cloud-based product development systems have a very promising future that will continue to reward those organizations that implement them.

Cloud-based services, including CAD, have evolved into something much more solid than just vapor. Companies like Onshape are proving that the cloud provides not just a thing, but a democratizing force. In other words, cloud-based systems provide a good business strategy today and going forward to a successful future.

To read the Research Report referenced in this article, click here.


Onshape sponsored this article but had no editorial input for content. Unless otherwise stated, all data was provided by engineering.com and all opinions are mine. – Jeff Rowe

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