For some time, small-to-medium business (SMB)* has been largely underserved by solutions in the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) space among other enterprise applications. Small business needs are increasingly compact and agile, aspects for which enterprise software continues to struggle mightily. Mobile technology is on fire, and some small business are pushing as much of their business into the mobile space where compactness and agility is in laser focus. While one can correctly argue that many of these mobile apps will run into some serious trouble as the business scales in size, the truth is businesses are not looking for the right solutions necessarily, but what works right now. This is not carelessness, but attribution to the fact that small business must live and die in the moment; survival to fight another day is paramount.
Meanwhile, in the land where time stood still (PLM), the establishment can’t be faulted for trying to shrink the impossibly large and complex into something more palatable to convince the holdouts. But the task is a gargantuan one, justification of PLM tools even for a medium business is often an uphill ROI battle (often more like a steel catch match). The dilemma is akin to a teenager shopping for a scooter, but instead being offered a collection of rather attractive semi trucks. “Well, we could bolt a scooter on the truck,” the salesman quips, “And think how easy it will be to transition once you need more cargo capacity!” Thanks, but no.
Here’s a newsflash: they’re doing it wrong.
Some are trying to solve the riddle sans cloud technology – the bottom line is don’t bother. Infrastructure costs are a complete non-starter for small business these days, so if a solution is not in the cloud, it might as well be floating away wistfully. Which is what most of us probably wish Sharepoint would do. Remember, wistfully.
Planning for simpler workflows should come with the territory, as SMB’s are less likely to have the marathon signoff conundrums often exhibited in large enterprises. You know what I’m talking about – those workflow diagrams that resemble a graphical plot mapping of “Syriana”? But unfortunately it’s more than just simplification – small business tends to be less predictable and structured than their large enterprise counterparts. Unpredictability is the rule of the day. And that means ad-hoc, flexible workflow modeling similar to Kenesto, which is largely missing from most PLM tools.
Implementing templates to simplify configuration seems like a good idea at first – but SMB needs are as unique (and possibly even more unique) than the big boys. So a noble simplification goal becomes more like neutering capability – the objective should be instead focused on ease of configurability. Configuring the tools to be maintainable by an IT staff of 3 is commendable. Now try an outsourced staff of essentially zero. Yikes.
While attempts to attract SMB to PLM have improved, traction is limited, and the bottom line may not be attractive enough financially to convince the major players to dramatically change their products. It would be unwise to spend millions to make thousands. That, my friends, depending on your perspective is either a serious obstacle or an opportunity.
*(You and I both know what SMB really stands for).