How Covid has pushed SaaS uptake to tipping point

Boosted by the unprecedented situation created by the current pandemic, industry’s adoption of software as a service technologies has reached a critical stage.

The Covid-19 pandemic has ripped up ‘normality’ in devastating style. What we used to take for granted now seems an out-of-reach luxury and we have experienced tragic loss of life not seen since the 1940s. But while there have been millions of negatives, the pandemic has also created some positives and the business world has once again shown its resilience and ability to adapt the way it works as it tries to prosper in the ‘new normal’.

Digital transformation has been accelerated beyond all our wildest dreams and companies are now more seriously looking to adopt software as a service (SaaS) technologies for product development processes. It’s starting at a relatively low point, with this vital engineering discipline lagging behind most other categories of business software like ERP or CRM when it comes to adoption.

Thinking about when, and indeed if, SaaS will overrun the CAD and PLM industry, you have to start by digging into why it hasn’t been adopted sooner and two main factors spring readily to mind.

First, let’s start with performance. Both CAD and PLM involve lots of data, graphics, and computation. There must be a reason why engineers have, for years, had graphics workstations with plenty of RAM and the fastest CPUs and graphics cards on their desktop.

Then we come to the perception of intellectual property security. CAD files capture the design intent with such detail and precision that you can manufacture directly from them. If these files are stolen, a competitor could get your complete design and move right into manufacturing, winning that vital race to market. This has led to a belief that companies should keep them on their own local network instead of using the cloud.

In recent years, however, we’ve seen a series of breakthroughs that have shifted the perception of these two barriers to SaaS adoption. For starters, network speeds have increased dramatically and are approaching parity with local networks. Even more importantly, SaaS tools have unlimited computation power thanks to the elastic compute resources of the cloud.

If you have a computer on your desktop, it is what it is, and it won’t be getting any faster until the next hardware-replacement cycle. With SaaS, your ‘computer’ is as big as the job needs it to be – if you need ten times more resources, so be it.

With regard to cyber security, the mindset has shifted to where most people now believe that a professionally managed cloud environment is almost always more secure than a typical company’s own local network. The train of thought reflects cloud vendors’ ability to invest in the latest security measures and talent attraction.

So, we’ve largely mitigated the performance issue, while opening some new advantages for SaaS and reversing our thinking on the security issue. Having removed these barriers, we can focus on benefits, including cost-effectiveness, speed of innovation, collaboration, mobility for a hybrid workforce and elastic compute resources.

With traditional issues of security and performance now a distant memory, we’re seeing SaaS adoption reach its tipping point in product development. We’ve already reached the SaaS tipping point in education, with technologies like Onshape and Google Docs both supporting remote learning during the pandemic.

The ability to work on any device at any time means students can work on CAD designs on a PC or Chromebook in school, or on their phone or MacBook at home. All of the functionality and latest data is always accessible because it was never resident on any of those devices to begin with.

I see SaaS adoption in education attributed to two main things. Students are open-minded ‘digital natives’, who readily embrace good technology, and schools typically aren’t entrenched with legacy requirements that would be a barrier to moving to the cloud. The workforce of tomorrow are already adopting SaaS methodology, and they’ll speed up the acceleration as they bring their experiences into the professional workplace.

As with education, start-ups and small businesses tend to be less entrenched in their incumbent technology and data, meaning they are more willing to try new innovations that might give them a business advantage.

The way it typically works in software is that, after a few years of momentum with smaller companies, medium-sized firms then get more interested. A few years of momentum in the mid-market tends to attract the attention of large companies and this is exactly what we’re seeing now.

PTC research paints a clear view of the product development market’s perspective on SaaS: the tipping point is here. In a survey of 150 directors who lead the engineering design, manufacturing design and product-lifecycle management functions of their companies, 91 per cent indicate they are now considering SaaS for CAD, 90 per cent SaaS for PLM. There has been a dramatic shift in the favourability of SaaS and the biggest driver has undoubtedly been the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With all signs pointing to the product development market’s readiness to adopt SaaS, it’s not difficult to see why PTC made the decision to acquire Arena, the industry’s leading SaaS PLM solution.

CAD and PLM are like peas in a pod – they always go together. The better CAD works, the more companies need PLM, but of course they need both functionalities to be well integrated. So, if you’re going to have SaaS CAD, you’ll obviously want SaaS PLM, with the perfect answer being a seamless integrated solution.

Over the next ten years, PTC believes SaaS will become the dominant deployment methodology for engineering and product development software. We know that our large base of customers want to embrace the power of SaaS, but they don’t really want to switch tools, either. As such, we need to have two different SaaS application suites – one that offers an unrivalled opportunity to innovate and another that offers SaaS benefits underpinning upward-compatible versions.

Our strategy is to deliver the benefits of SaaS with no disruption to the way they use those products today. Forward compatibility will be our competitive advantage and we expect the user experience to be seamless.

The tipping point for SaaS is here for product designers across the world. Embrace it, use it and bring your products to life faster and smarter than you’ve ever done before.

Jim Heppelmann is president & CEO at PTC https://www.ptc.com/.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles