Fear of the Engineering Cloud

Fear seems to be a big part of the engineering-on-the-cloud discussion, at least in the blogosphere and on discussion boards.  But I think there are two different fears that need to be addressed.  The first fear, the fear of losing your intellectual property, can be overcome and it is what I would call an “unhealthy” fear.  The second, the fear of falling behind, is trickier but I would argue that it is a “healthy” fear because worrying about it can make you stronger and ultimately help you.  So read on to see if either of these fears resonates with you. 

Fear of IP Loss

This is the one that most people focus on immediately during cloud computing discussions.  Jon Hirschtick makes some solid points regarding cloud just being a different model related to security in this interview with Matthew West.  It depends on the user situation as to whether cloud security is better, worse, or about the same when compared with the on-premise equivalent.  A lot of people aren’t aware that there are options in the cloud, too.  There are private clouds, public clouds, hybrid clouds, and other options (you can read more here).  So just like with picking your level of internal IT security (onsite datacenters, multi-factor authentication, shielded equipment rooms, etc.), you can pick your level of cloud security, too.  In my opinion, fear of IP loss is understandable, but there are well-defined answers available.  They all have cost-benefit trade-offs (read that as, some are very expensive).  The second fear is a much bigger deal.

Fear of Falling Behind

This is the one that I think a lot of small businesses should be watching.  We all understand how outsourcing works – if you can find a cheaper resource and there is very little friction in switching to that resource, most businesses do it.  We’ve seen it in manufacturing (even though there is a lot of friction involved in moving manufacturing to other countries) and we’ve seen it in software development.  Cloud-based engineering will reduce the friction involved in outsourcing parts of the product development process.

Years ago, when I was in engineering, two guys in my department spent 12 months learning ANSYS because we needed to do FEA 4-5 times a year.  We tried outside consultants first, but networks were slow, we couldn’t manage design iterations with them, and they didn’t use our CAD software.  Cloud-based engineering will make all of that simple (reducing the friction).  You’ll temporarily “publish” your cloud CAD data for use by this partner, they’ll perform their work, upload their results to your system, and you’ll keep trucking.  And if you need to iterate, it will be even simpler to publish revisions to them and have them rework the analysis.  Some companies will continue to follow the old-school model (and cost themselves $100k+ in buying their own software and developing their own FEA skills).  Other companies will gain a competitive advantage by using the cloud to quickly involve an FEA expert, paying a fee (let’s say $20k, for example), and having the work done in days or weeks, not months.

Let’s take a more positive example.  Say I am designing a new product for my core market.  Today, no one in this market space uses software in these electro-mechanical products (imagine Sony back when the Sony Walkman tape player was the #1 portable music device on the planet).  I have a plan for introducing a new device that adds a software feature to my product.  I could take a couple of years to hire the right people and try to develop the right expertise in-house to be able to add these features to my design, or I could find an expert in this area and work tightly with them (across the cloud) to bring the new product to market faster than I ever could have if I had insisted on doing it all myself.  Think of this as an extension of the law of comparative advantage (specialization).  Are you going to be able to use an example like this to kick your competitors to the curb, or are they working on something right now to do the same to you?

The second “fear” is the one that I think we all need to be paying attention to.  There’s competitive advantage hidden in the cloud, you just have to get over fear #1 to be able to find it.  I’m not saying that PLM-as-a-Service / engineering-on-the-cloud will instantly catapult companies into being market leaders, but I am suggesting that it could be a significant enabler of real competitive advantageSo when it comes to engineering, manufacturing, and cloud computing, what are you afraid of?  Seriously, I mean it.  Please leave me a comment and let me know what about the cloud is worrying your company.  Is it one of the two fears that I mentioned, or am I missing the real issue here?

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 at 4:16 pm and is filed under Systems Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
  • Well written.

    Most Cloud vendors are working overtime to address the “Fear of IP loss” by introducing stringent and elaborate security arrangements and also enabling interoperability and portability. For example, at WOLF ( http://www.wolfframeworks.com ) customers can download their design (IP) and data at anytime with the single click of a button.

    The fear of falling behind is a very real threat that companies would need to address.

  • @Aditya – Thanks for your comment and compliment. Best of luck with your cloud-based business.

  • Paul.. solid points here. Sadly, I think one fear that you didn’t explicitly mention that I think outweighs them all is “fear of the unknown”. I was quite surprised at the negative outcry from the SW community over the “cloud” presentation last year at #sww10. People are always itching to get a glimpse into the future and SW finally responds and then gets a fair amount of flack about it. I spent some time talking to people about their concerns and at the end of the day, people complained about security, IP, bandwidth which are all reasonable questions. But, let’s assume for a sec that all of these issues were handled, is the cloud beneficial? No question in my mind that it is, but to a large % of people, they can’t think beyond the immediate concerns. In other words, we as engineers obsess on knowing details and many struggle to see the big picture. In some cases, it is ok to step out of your comfort zone and poke your head out and think how things should be based on the ideal rather than drowning yourself in misery of how it is today. Imagining how things could be doesn’t mean ignore the challenges and concerns, it just means think bigger picture.

  • @Derrek – Thanks for the comment; I like your thinking. It’s clear that SolidWorks was trying to see the bigger picture with their vision for the cloud, and it’s apparent that many users didn’t share that vision at first. I agree with you that a lot of users get so de-motivated by the challenges presented by the cloud that they cease to be motivated to want to overcome those challenges (or to even believe that the challenges can be overcome). It’s a fatalistic view, “it will never work, so trying is pointless.”

    I think SolidWorks’ and Dassault Systemes’ jobs now are to connect the dots a little better for their customers. If they can show people what they mean about how the cloud will help them in their day-to-day lives (in a real and tangible way), I think people will wake up to the value of DS’s and SW’s vision and get onboard. My hope is that n!Fuze and CATIA V6 on the cloud are enough to whet the collective appetite so that demand starts being driven by the market instead of just the vendor’s vision.