Sramana Mitra: What about smaller companies interested in providing value-added solutions on top of your systems? Is that something you are doing?
Jason Blessing: It is. We have a concept called community-enabled development, which is a platform that allows partners as well as customers that are big enough to have IT shops to build extensions on top of our products using our own tool sets.
SM: I would like to introduce one of our portfolio companies – a Michigan company as well. They are doing analytics for manufacturing companies. That is a company we should connect you with.
JB: I’d be interested in meeting them. One topic we haven’t touched yet in manufacturing is, “What is the big data story”? It is an interesting story. IT is finally catching up to allow companies to leverage the big data they have and to make better decisions about their businesses. I specifically mean that most manufacturing facilities have hundreds of sensors measuring things. Historically a lot of that data hasn’t been able to be packaged, analyzed and understood. It is one of the areas we are focused on with our analytics offering.
It is an interesting area in general in manufacturing. I was in one of our customer’s plants the other day, and they had a very sophisticated press they were using to make a part that went in to a General Motors suburban truck airbag assembly. This press was doing 16 different movements in a second. Each of those movements was throwing off a few dozen measurements on temperature, the tension of the metal, the thrust of the press going through the metal, etc. So, there are hundreds of thousands of measurements that are being taken a day, which as they are rolled up and visualized provide interesting information for the quality team of that plant to make better decisions about manufacturing.
SM: Do you have an analytics product or is that something that is in the product road map?
JB: We do. It is called Intelliplex. It is a product that we brought to market last year. Like most products, it is a tool set, and we are continuing to build additional dashboards and capabilities using the Intelliplex tool set. It is also part of the tool set I was talking about earlier, which is available through our partner community as well as customers.
SM: What open problems do you see in your space?
JB: We certainly touched on a few of the important ones: unification of manufacturing execution, supply chain, financials and HR – bringing those systems together in one solution is very important. As I said earlier, the cloud in general is solving some age -old problems for small and medium sized manufacturers, which are often in remote locations where it is often difficult to find good IT support to help them manage their own systems.
That is another big issue in manufacturing that is being addressed. A lot of ERP software around today has been written for accountants. If you think about the accounting world, you think in terms of two decimal points of precision or months, quarters and years, whereas manufacturing companies need to be thinking in terms of what is going on this hour in manufacturing on the plant floor. I think that is part of what has led to manufacturers picking up their heads, looking around and seeing what other solutions are out there – solutions that have been purpose built for manufacturers, not accountants. I was telling a friend of mine about Plex, what we did and what our target market is. They said: “We thought all manufacturing was being done in China and the Big Three went out of business in 2009 – they didn’t sell cars anymore.”
Of course it was a cheap response, but it is a perception a lot of folks have out there. The reality of it is that the manufacturing sector in America is growing. A lot of manufacturing is coming back to America for a couple of key reasons. The first is that our expectations as consumers are changing dramatically and that we are very accustomed to ordering products that are as we want them. You can’t satisfy today’s consumer if your supply chain is 10,000 miles long and spans around the world. Not just in the U.S. but across all other developed economies you are seeing this condensing of the supply chain to serve the theater of that particular area of the world more. What we are seeing in the U.S. with a lot of cars being made here – that exact phenomenon is happening in China or also in Europe, again to support the preferences of the local consumption in that theater. This is something in addition to the demand of consumers, them wanting made to order. In addition to that it has just gotten cost-prohibitive to ship parts all around the world. And I don’t see the price of petroleum going down anytime soon. I think this is the new model of theater-based manufacturing where the supply chain is more condensed, closer to the consumer, cost-effective, often it puts manufacturing closer to the design capabilities in the firm so they drive better quality, etc. I think it is here to stay. It is an interesting trend, and it is what is putting us in a great position to serve the American manufacturing economy today.