I once had a manager who believed in offsite work to get his team focused on a new task. He’d say, “you need to get out of your everyday setting” to focus new energies in a new place on new topics. He doubled the size of his startup during the five years I worked there—and, by my count, Aras is about to outpace him. Could this growth have resulted from his belief that places change people, and by extension change how a team, all pointed in a new direction under a new sky, discovers new ways to work together?
It seems to me that nearly 400 of us from the Aras community, representing 123 companies, including some of the world’s most recognizable brands, had the same idea. Aras is grateful to the subscribers, partners, advisors, collaborators, open source users, and prospects that spent four days with us last week in Phoenix, Arizona doing just that. We spent time together with you as one team, figuring out new ways to evolve our businesses, adapt our processes, and transform our products.
And that goes for Aras, too.
Community at Work: Aras in-the-Round
The Aras leadership team takes a stunning leap every year by putting their CEO and CTO in the center of the room on a round, red, logoed rug, surrounded by everyone who attends the conference. No script, barely any introductions save names and titles, two red “Nerf” style microphones to toss around the room to anyone who raises a hand, and no clue what will come next. No question is off limits.
I would have described this as “brave”, or perhaps, if I had to stand on the bright red rug too, “terrifying”, but the words that came to mind when watching these two in the moment were simply, “having a blast.” They know their stuff and they’re happy to share it with the community. They were often put on the spot but never uncomfortable. For me, this hour or so of thought-provoking, varied, and often difficult question-and-answer was exemplary of what an open, flexible, scalable, and resilient company they’ve built.
You might wonder what the questions were. They ranged from how such a fast-growing place can preserve its culture, to how Aras develops and scales new technologies, to how we ensure the highest levels of data security, to how we’ll help product and services companies prepare for tomorrow’s connected world. But as often happens when you get the chance to answer questions you haven’t heard yet, it’s a safe bet that the questioned learned just as much as the questioners.
So what did we learn from you?
1 - Preserve Our Culture. One topic that arose several times throughout the conference – not just at Aras in-the-Round but in every setting from keynotes to panels to lunchtime conversations – was culture. In one sense, culture is, by definition, outside of your control: it’s something bigger than one leader or leadership team can manage. But, in another sense, we can all agree that culture requires careful and deliberate cultivation in the right direction so as not to decay.
Several questions revolved around how Aras will preserve our open, adaptive, inclusive, and responsive business and product strategies moving forward: not only as the conference grows, but as the product evolves to address more of the market and, most importantly, as the company itself grows. “Don’t break it,” one attendee said to me.
“We are living, breathing, and sweating that very question,” CEO Peter Schroer assured the audience, and, “We rely on you to keep us honest … You set the roadmap.”
2 – What’s Old Is New Again. Several questions revolved around what’s next for Aras: how it will play in the manufacturing space, for example – and, by way of a history lesson, Peter noted that Aras started out as manufacturing PLM, with Manufacturing Process Planning (MPP) as its first application.
And while Peter’s general session keynote focused on ways Aras Innovator is uniquely suited to managing and measuring “intent vs. content” throughout the lifecycle – that is, how you’ll know whether or not your products met your customers’ needs – one questioner during Aras In-the-Round asked how the Internet of Things will change the way we’ll all tackle this age-old problem.
“Context is key,” explained Rob McAveney, Aras CTO, describing how the real-time capture of big data relies on information about the as-maintained product configuration for accurate interpretation. Context is required to understand where that data came from, how the product was built and configured (maintained) at the time the information was collected, and therefore what all that data means. If one thing is vital to machine learning, Rob explained, it’s “to teach it to extract intent” out of documents and other forms of inputs through a highly structured, highly granular, data model. This ability also helps to define how the analytics and metrics resulting from big data should be appropriately tagged and communicated alongside the product and customer requirements they refer to – which relies on how the PLM system manages product requirements early-on.
And users are eager to see the vision come to life. Tying information about the fielded product together with information about how it was built throughout the manufacturing process was the subject of a strategy session I attended later that morning, which captured inputs from current users and partners who are committed to helping drive the Aras roadmap forward in this endeavor.
3 – Manage Disruption. For many of our customers, their products – and their data – need to persist for 50 years or more. Yet, in apparent contrast, the latest topics in business transformation and product development were at the forefront of discussions throughout the conference: debunking the myths of Digital Transformation to understand how to do it right; driving systems thinking throughout engineering teams and the product’s lifecycle to advance cutting-edge product innovations; and navigating the hype around digital twin and digital thread to understand how to implement them effectively. One attendee in an aerospace and defense panel I observed said, referring to a company’s ability to own the complete lifecycle of a product’s digital information, “It’s a wicked promise. But so is single source of truth.”
Several questions, predictably, orbited around these topics: how we approach requirements management (Rob: “We are seeking to modernize how Requirements Engineering is done”), systems thinking (Peter: “This isn’t something about Aras: it’s the way the market is thinking about product development. The crisis in product design is functional silos. Systems Thinking is what teams should be doing … it’s not a new term, it’s just that more products require it”), and openness as the key to innovation (Peter: “You get a lot of PLM from us for free… You should be asking other companies to open up their APIs”).
But if anything emerged as a theme from the seemingly disparate goals of longevity and disruption, it was that change is needed in all of our companies, and that the right technologies will help us manage it well, and continuously. Lots of software providers “were probably once innovative,” asked one questioner, to only a little bit of laughter from the crowd. “How does Aras not fall into technical debt?”
“Discipline,” Peter answered. This includes a disciplined software architecture, to ensure integrations and customizations are always upgradable with every new version that comes out – upgrades Aras completes on behalf of every customer; a disciplined approach to software development, as we release new features, applications, and services to our community; and a disciplined approach to listening via conferences like this one, where we collect – no, where we rely on – the input of our community to help envision what’s next for our product.
And, as Peter put it, “It’s just fun doing it better.”