The exciting future of Platform as a Service

Although Cloud computing is just starting to make its way into the manufacturing industry, Cloud development platforms — or platforms as a service (PaaS) — hold great potential for the future of manufacturing software. PaaS has the potential to open up new opportunities for manufacturers by allowing them to access more powerful and customized systems than in the past.

PaaS can change the way that manufacturing software is developed, distributed and consumed. The driver behind this shift is the fact that PaaS vendors provide third-party developers with a platform with most of the underlying engineering complete. As a result, third-party developers can bypass lengthy development cycles and tackle manufacturing-specific applications at a much lower cost, effectively lowering the barriers to entry of building a manufacturing application.

Like the iPhone

If you’re unfamiliar with development platforms, just consider the analogy of an iPhone. The iPhone can be thought of as the platform that third-party developers build apps for consumers to use. To develop for the iPhone, third-party developers only need to build an app on top of the iPhone platform and then they can make it readily available to anyone in the world for download. PaaS takes this concerts and moves it to an enterprise level for manufacturers (and other businesses) to use.

By building applications on top of widely-used platforms like NetSuite’s SuiteCloud and Salesforce’s Force.com, developers can realize economies of scale that were not previously accessible. Beyond the benefits that PaaS third-party developers, Brian Sommer of Vital Analysis thinks it also also allows manufacturers to:

  • Upgrade manufacturing add-ons before vendor releases.
  • Purchase a wide diversity of apps that are designed to be interoperable.
  • Get third-party developers to quickly build customized solutions.

Of course, the PaaS options that serve the manufacturing industry today are relatively few and are still maturing. However, I’ve already come across three impressive examples of third-party apps that are built to extend the functionality of a core manufacturing package.

Who’s taking advantage of PaaS?

I should point out that, although these apps are impressive in their nature, they are currently best-suited for the small to mid-sized manufacturing company. This is the current target market because Cloud computing still has hurdles to overcome in terms of raw computational power and integration challenges. Essentially, PaaS providers are trying to close the gap between Cloud and on-premise solution and achieve functional parity. While they’re making strides, the Cloud still is not as powerful or customizable as on-premise solutions.

With that said, I’d like to profile three apps that demonstrate the future potential of PaaS for manufacturers.

JustEnoughJustEnough is a demand planning solution that uses the SuiteCloud platform to extend functionality of the NetSuite Manufacturing Edition. While demand planning is nothing new in the software world, allowing manufacturers to integrate a third-party add-on to their cloud ERP solution is new. The fact that manufacturers can connect a demand planning solution to their core ERP for as little as $249/month is also a big change in the industry.

Arena PLMArena PLM allows manufacturers to monitor the full lifecycle of their production — from schematic to end product. It can be used to track items from suppliers, manage supply chain availability, and track regulatory certificates to ensure the end product meets regulatory requirements. Again, it’s a big deal because it opens PLM to the small to mid-sized manufacturer, which have historically been priced out of this application.

Rootstock – I first heard of Rootstock when I found out that their technology was OEM’d by NetSuite to offer MRP functionality via NetSuite Manufacturing Edition. Since the app Rootstock makes available is an MRP application, it doesn’t necessarily extend a core manufacturing product. However, because it’s built on PaaS, Rootstock can upgrade its MRP application much more frequently and tweak it to fit a particular production scenario. For manufacturers that run on very custom production cycles with long lead times, this could help them build more accurate MRP applications faster and more cheaply than before.

PaaS tomorrow

Right now, we’re only starting to see the full potential of PaaS. As this technology matures, we’ll surely see the applications and usefulness expand. In the same way that Apple expanded the usefulness of the iOS by enlisting third-party developers to build out an ecosystem of apps, PaaS expand the usefulness of manufacturing applications. As analyst Brian Sommer put it, with PaaS, “you’re no longer buying the functionality offered today, you’re buying what can be envisioned tomorrow.”

What are your thoughts? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, I invite you to stop by Software Advice to leave your comments here. Alternately, feel free to connect with me on Google+ or email me at: derek@softwareadvice.com to start a discussion.

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Categories: Cloud / SaaS / PaaS, Manufacturing

Author:Derek Singleton

Derek joined Software Advice after graduating from Occidental College with a degree in political science. He writes about various topics related to ERP software with particular interest in the manufacturing and distribution software markets. In his spare time he enjoys training in boxing and martial arts.

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