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How PaaS Can Change Manufacturing Software

PaaS significantly lowers the barriers to entry to develop manufacturing-specific applications

Although cloud computing is just starting to make its way into the manufacturing industry, I think the cloud holds great potential for the future of manufacturing software. And I don't think the potential of the cloud is limited to the application.

Cloud development platforms - or Platform as a Service (PaaS) - stand to change the way that manufacturing software is developed, distributed and consumed. Because PaaS significantly lowers the barriers to entry to develop manufacturing applications, it makes it significantly cheaper and easier for third-party developers to create applications for manufacturing-specific problems.

If you're unfamiliar with development platforms, just think about an iPhone. The iPhone is the platform that third-party developers build apps for. To develop for the iPhone, you just need to build an app on the iPhone platform and anyone in the world can download it directly to their iPhone. PaaS takes that and moves it to an enterprise level.

By building applications on top of widely used platforms like NetSuite's SuiteCloud and Salesforce's Force.com, developers bypass long development cycles because the PaaS vendor has already done most of the underlying engineering work. PaaS 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

Beyond that, the cheaper developments costs that PaaS enables can allow third-party developers to pass along these savings to manufacturers. Of course, the PaaS options that can 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.

Three Apps Taking Advantage of the PaaS Opportunity
I should point that, while these apps are impressive, they're primarily targeted toward the small to medium-sized manufacturer. This is because cloud computing still has hurdles to get over in terms of raw computational power and integration needs. At the moment, these solutions are still reaching for functional parity with on-premise solution. However, cloud ERP providers are beginning to close the gap.

With that, I'd like to share three apps that recently caught my eye.

JustEnough 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 demand planning to a solution to their core ERP for as little as $249/month is also a big change in the industry.

Arena PLM
Arena 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 they've historically been priced out of.

I first heard of Rootstock when I found out that its technology was OEM'd by NetSuite to offer MRP functionality (more) to the NetSuite Manufacturing Edition. Since the app Rootstock makes available via PaaS 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.

PaaS Moving Forward
Another thing that makes these PaaS special for manufacturing software is the fact that it changes the scope of an ERP purchase. As analyst Brian Sommer put it, with PaaS, "You no longer have buy the functionality offered today, you're buying what can be envisioned tomorrow." But this is just how I see it.

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: [email protected].

More Stories By Derek Singleton

Derek Singleton recently graduated from Occidental College with a degree in political science. He writes about various topics related to ERP software and covers the manufacturing, distribution, and supply chain management software markets.

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