In the last 35 years, the product development space has experienced two significant disruptions: the introduction of parametric modeling in the 1980s and the mass adoption of the Windows operating system coupled with affordability of systems in the 1990s. At their respective times, these disruptions were well-regarded by engineers: the quality of designs improved, systems were more affordable and the user experience took a big step forward.
From there, systems matured, and new features were introduced, but the next major disruption was nowhere in sight. Until now. The third major disruption is here: the adoption of cloud-native product development tools and the benefits they unlock for organizations and their engineers.
The shift to the cloud over the last 15 years has transformed how information is shared, how entertainment is consumed, and how work gets done. Nearly every industry moved quickly to adopt the cloud, with the product development space being a big exception. Engineers were left wondering, “When is it our turn?” as they continued with outdated working styles.
Product development is now embracing the cloud and all the benefits that come with it: faster time to market, easier deployments at scale, and stronger security, to name a few. Cloud-native product development tools are seeing material increases in adoption and many vendors are now migrating their on-premises tools to the cloud. It’s clear that cloud is the future of the industry.
Fueling this push to the cloud are the shifts we’re seeing in the workforce. The emphasis on remote work and geographically distributed teams demands cloud tools that allow instant access and real-time collaboration from anywhere on any device. In addition, the next generation of the workforce has wildly different expectations for the tools they use to get a job done. If you’re entering college today, you might not even know what a file is! Many college and university engineering programs worldwide are embracing cloud-native design and collaboration tools for students, and the expectation is that these same tools and styles of working will be available to students once they graduate. To help ensure they continue attracting ideal talent, companies are now standardizing on modern, cloud-based tools.
Bringing the focus back to engineers, their interest in the cloud also stems from “throw your hands up” levels of frustration with the legacy tools and their antiquated processes. Speaking of that…
Cloud-Native Addresses Common Engineering Challenges
Engineers want to focus on designing the best and most innovative products. Unfortunately, without cloud-native tools, they’re stuck with time-consuming and headache-inducing challenges, including system crashes, scheduled downtime for system upgrades, and being forced to check files in and out of server vaults. On-premises systems can crash up to once a day (it’s 2023 – can you think of any other system that crashes once a day?), putting engineers at constant risk of lost work and rework. It’s also challenging to take advantage of the latest features and productivity gains when living in an on-premises world. An entire version upgrade might be required to adopt a beneficial new feature, but depending on the size of your organization, this upgrade process could take weeks and potentially months. For large organizations, who often need their suppliers using the same versions of the same tools, upgrades bubble up to IT department-level projects, which translates to more time spent on administration and less time spent designing products. It’s not uncommon for organizations to delay or bypass upgrades altogether because the pain is greater than the gain.
System crashes and upgrades overlap with another day-to-day drawback: checking files in and out of a product data management (PDM) vault. Typically, only one engineer can work on a file at a time. When the file is checked out, it’s considered “locked” and no one else on the team can make edits until it’s checked back in. You can see the obvious drawbacks here. There are no productivity gains from having multiple engineers work on different parts of a design. And the spirit of innovation is stifled, because new, impassioned ideas can’t easily be brought into the workflow. Further compounding this problem are the inevitable version control woes that countless engineering teams have endured. Together, these challenges can result in hundreds of lost hours each year for engineers.
The cloud-native disruption is happening, in large part, because it solves all these challenges. Perhaps most importantly, the check-in and check-out process goes away entirely. Engineers can collaborate in real time and are always working on the latest version of the design. This collaboration can extend to other internal stakeholders (quality, procurement, manufacturing, etc.) and external suppliers. You can imagine the productivity gains that are realized by having everyone work at the same time on various aspects of the same design, versus keeping individual people or entire teams off to the side waiting their turn.
In addition, the uptime of cloud tools means crashes are practically nonexistent. As for upgrades? They should be available every few weeks, and they should be pushed to users automatically, with no manual effort required. Adopting the latest version of a cloud-native product development tool should be easier than updating an app on your phone.
Each disruption in the product development space has offered engineers better ways of working. This cloud-native disruption offers arguably the greatest productivity advantages the space has ever seen. By putting all these challenges behind them, engineers can get back to what matters most: designing the next generation of products that will change the world.
The design phase is critical during the product development lifecycle, and today, cloud-based tools are evolving how the industry operates. Imagine being in the middle of a crucial design phase, only to find that the essential tools you need are unavailable, or worse, you risk duplicating someone else's work. This scenario has been all too familiar in the legacy world of file-based and on-premises systems, where restrictions and bottlenecks have hampered efficiency and innovation. However, as the landscape of product development evolves, so do the strategies and technologies. Forward-thinking companies today are now embracing innovative solutions that foster collaboration and drive efficiency, with cloud-native tools emerging as advantageous in this period of change.
1. A Shift in Product Development Workflows: Companies constantly seek ways to improve workflows and enhance collaboration to stay competitive and meet consumer demands. Cloud-native design tools are ushering in a new era of operation by providing an uninterrupted, always-available platform for engineers. This eliminates the need for time-consuming manual downloads or installations and removes unnecessary constraints. The integration of cloud-native solutions equips product development teams with a new way of working – one that is effortlessly accessible, inherently collaborative and robust with cutting-edge capabilities.
2 Leave the Restrictions of Legacy Tools: The limitations and frustrations of legacy file-based and on-premises systems are well-known within the product development space. Delays in accessing critical design data, time-consuming updates, and the threat of data loss due to system crashes can drastically impede progress. With cloud-native solutions, delays and errors are minimized as teams are able to access real-time information. Agile, modern workflows cultivate an environment where ideas can flow freely, which increases creativity and productivity among global engineering teams.
3. Speed, Ease and Security: Cloud-native solutions are redefining the speed, ease of use, and security standards within the product development industry. Regular releases and automatic updates provide companies with continuous improvements, removing the downtime associated with file-based manual updates. Moreover, as cloud solutions are accessible via web browsers on a range of devices, product development teams are empowered to maintain productivity regardless of time or location. In addition, cloud-native platforms are often more secure than file-based tools. They leverage robust data protection measures, ensuring your design data and intellectual property is safeguarded in a centralized repository.
4. Embracing the Future Workforce: As the design and engineering workforce evolves, companies must position themselves as hubs of innovation and opportunity to attract the next generation of talent. Emerging graduates entering the field expect the latest tools and seamless collaboration experiences. Cloud-native solutions not only represent the future way of working but also a future-focused approach to product development. By adopting these tools early, companies ensure they are well-prepared to captivate, retain and nurture the top-tier talent that will drive the industry's growth.
In an ever-evolving product development landscape, staying ahead necessitates a fundamental shift in approach. The cloud-native revolution is catalyzing efficiency, innovation, and collaboration, equipping product development businesses to thrive in the digital era. By embracing this transformational approach, your company positions itself at the forefront of progress, ready to navigate the unique challenges and opportunities in the industry’s future.