Guest Blog: Reflections on ACE2017 – Tony Affuso, PLM as a Platform, CAPA, MPP


It’s been well over a month since ACE2017 wrapped-up. There have been numerous highlights and takeaways from the event that have been echoed by industry thought leaders and ACE attendees. Aras has also done a great job of recounting the event in previous posts. Reflecting on the show has brought into focus several key points that I think are worth revisiting and that ultimately set the tone for the industry going forward.

It’s Tuesday morning, March 21, 2017, and the Aras Community Event (ACE) in Nashville is getting underway.  Attendees mingled about for breakfast and early conversation as the opening keynote was about to begin.  As I walked into the meeting center, it was immediately noticeable that, unlike previous ACE seating arrangements, the seating was organized around roundtables instead of rows of chairs. Aras’ leadership and partners were mixed in throughout the tables engaging the attendees.

This subtle change in seating embodied the spirit of ACE – community, collaboration and accessibility. The roundtable seating immediately created a feeling of connectedness that continued throughout the week and fueled some of the most productive discussions, idea-sharing and networking that I’ve ever seen at an ACE event – or any industry event for that matter.

When the keynote got underway, Peter Schroer, co-founder and president, presented a short film recapping the 17-year history of Aras with pictures and interview snippets. The video acknowledged the inventiveness and hard work of the Aras Team but also recognized the community’s involvement as the driving force behind the company’s rapid growth and adoption. After the film and recap, the tone changed from looking “back” to looking “forward.” Schroer invited Tony Affuso to the stage and announced that Affuso had joined Aras’ board of directors.

Anthony (Tony) J. Affuso is a PLM industry luminary and former CEO of Siemens PLM Software.  Before Siemens, Tony was the CEO of UGS, who’s product (Teamcenter) became a leading PLM solution during the mid-2000s in the automotive and aerospace industries. For more than 20 years, Tony led the growth of UGS from a start-up to a multibillion dollar global company and ultimately to a merger into Siemens PLM. In addition to his role on the Aras board, Affuso serves on the board of directors of Symbotic, where he was formerly CEO of the robotics automation company.

After Peter’s warm introduction, Mr. Affuso said, “I was attracted to Aras because of their disruptive technology, open-source customer engagement model, and the fact that their technology has recently been selected over their competitors by several of the world’s leading engineering/manufacturing companies. Additionally, I have been equally impressed with Aras’ customer-first mentality – a culture that I have always passionately believed in and one that I see across the Aras leadership team.”

Affuso continued by saying, “We are seeing a resurgence in the demand for PLM as manufacturers are dealing with increased product complexity and the digital transformation of their business to achieve new levels of efficiency and competitiveness. Manufacturers are re-evaluating their systems infrastructure and investing in new capability such as the Aras ‘Digital Thread’ that enables full life-cycle traceability of their products. Based on all the factors I am seeing, Aras is emerging as the new PLM leader with the right technology at the right time.”

Following Tony’s remarks, Peter Schroer reinforced Tony’s credibility by reminding the audience that “…Tony brings a depth of customer knowledge and insight that is just unmatched in the industry. He has seen PLM evolve from the early days of mechanical CAD to the systems engineering era that Aras enables. As a board member, he will play a key role guiding our course and deepening our connections as we continue to redefine the industry’s expectations of PLM.”

Peter and Tony’s mutual respect and shared urgency to see Aras’ vision of PLM come to fruition energized the room and set the tone for the rest of the event.

There appeared to be an uptick in attendance this year despite, for the first-time, a fee to attend the conference.  The audience represented current subscribers, open users, prospects and partners.  And, as Tony observed earlier, it’s the open users that make this community unique in the PLM space.  Unlike other vendors, Aras makes the subset of its Innovator platform available at no cost.  Open users are inherently resourceful, and this was evidenced by some of the innovative applications that were discussed and shared.

Another theme that emerged during ACE was the messaging of Innovator as a platform serving the broader subject of the “business of engineering.”  Aras is breaking out of the traditional mold that characterizes PLM as a discrete set of functionality. Instead, Aras is defining Innovator as a platform – a platform that can extend PLM beyond engineering to both the “headwaters” of product data (sales and quoting) all the way to product obsolescence. This “platform” messaging underpins how Aras builds-out functionality and industry specific applications. As an example, one of their upcoming webinars examines a quoting solution for tiered automotive suppliers. Looking forward, I think this subtle change in definition emphasizes Innovator as a platform will have a lasting impact on the industry.

Building on this platform idea, Lear had a session sharing their use of Aras as a way to drive improved quoting and visibility into the impact of changes on costs.  In another breakout session, IBM spoke of using Aras’ connected platform to integrate hardware and software for the internet of things (IoT) and adherence to their new MBSE guidelines.

In addition to highlighting some of the recent application releases such as quality management and manufacturing process planning (MPP), Aras painted a picture of what it means to establish a digital thread throughout the life cycle activities and how this thread can optimize reuse, traceability, continuous product improvements, and visibility into design maturity.  This later idea is quite significant.  Driving insights into product improvement can be missed without connectivity of data between the different stages of a product’s lifecycle.  Now, with the addition of corrective action/preventative action (CAPA) and MPP, traceability is greatly improved.

In the spirit of transparency and accessibility, Aras finished ACE with a session called “Aras in the Round.” This interactive session is like no other in this industry.  Peter Schroer and Chief Architect Rob McAveney were encircled by the conference attendees and responded to unscripted questions about the business, Innovator and the broader industry. This open forum environment seems to embody that old communication adage of “seek to understand before being understood.”

2017 looks to be an exciting year for Aras and the community.  With the addition of new clients like General Motors, Microsoft, Airbus and Huntington Ingalls coupled with Aras’ ambitious product roadmap, it seems Aras is poised at a tipping point.  A point that will define them as a leader in an industry that’s been desperate for a technology and community that is up to the task of solving today’s and tomorrow’s PLM challenges.

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