Sramana Mitra: Product life cycle management is an area we haven’t heard so much about in our cloud computing series. We haven’t really heard much from that field. I worked a lot in that area in the early part of the past decade because I was doing a turnaround of a company that did PLM and mechanical design software. They were called Think3; you may have heard of them.
What is happening in PLM today? How these trends are affecting the product life management cycle? For instance, does social media have some impact on your product design life cycle or your innovation life cycle?
Jay Leader: Not particularly. I mean, I would say no and I know you would rather than I say yes, but …
SM: Oh, no! I would rather you say what you feel is true; I don’t need to hear anything that is not accurate.
JL: I think a lot of vendors are trying to put in social media components, but I am not exactly sure where social media fits. You can always make the argument that says, “Well, if we can expand our community of knowledge to a wider base, even including outside the company, then we could harvest ideas and we could do such and such,” that is certainly true, but a lot of the work we do is proprietary or is contracted with the government or it is secret and that sort of thing. We have to be incredibly careful about exposing our systems, our information, and our intellectual properties to anybody else.
I think the consumer space is different. But even there we have serious IP considerations and on both sides of our house, not to mention the military and defense security questions. So, I think we have to look carefully at what is it that we are actually getting rather than what is the risk we are incurring. In our business, risk is very serious, and a false step in the defense business can do serious harm to your business. We are very protective of that, and it is the kind of crown jewel; IP is the crown jewel of iRobot, so we are not interested in exposing the crown jewel to the masses.
SM: What is your product development workflow like? Is this an organization that is primary located in one facility, working together locally, or are there distributed workforces? Are you working with people in the defense organizations that you need to collaborate with?
JL: It depends on what phase is it in. Certainly in research we collaborate with all kinds of people, and we get significant funding from different organizations. We also do a lot of partnering with other people. We do quite a bit of partnering with academic institutions in terms of specific research, following a specific person’s thesis or working together. So, again in that area there i lots of collaboration and quite a bit of interplay. In other areas, product development is purely in our laboratories and in our test page internal here. It could be in Bedford, Massachusetts, which is where most of our people are, but we have people in Asia, California, and North Carolina. So, it depends on what we are doing. Each of our locations has certain competency, a certain focus, but the bulk of our employees are in Bedford and therefore the bulk of thinking happens here in Bedford.
SM: The reason I was asking is that there are two points to talk about. One is that collaboration in the IT environment has become a far more powerful capability. There are all sorts of things you can do today at very low prices, at very low cost, that allow you to collaborate much to a much greater extent and much more efficiently. The other thing I remember from my own days of working in PLM is that collaboration was tough! Sharing these heavy-duty mechanical CAD files across countries and across enterprises was complicated!
JL: It still is! it is easier than it was, but it is still is complicated, whether it is just keeping track of who is doing what and who has it and what version is it and where is it and who is working on it, to who is seeing it and are they allowed to see it and can they see this and that and or that. It gets deep. The tentacles certainly go deep, and it is still complicated. The tools are better as they always are, but the problem is more complex than ever.