Real Time May Not Be Enough When Augmented Reality Can Make It Even More Real!

[This is the full, unedited, version of our Feature Article published in the April 21, 2016 edition of Field Technologies Online. The Blog version includes portions that did not make the publication’s final cut.]

Augmented reality may just be the “next big thing” in field service.

It hasn’t really been all that long since the field services community was introduced to the concept of “real time”. Prior to the introduction of real-time data collection, analysis and dissemination, most Field Services Organizations (FSOs) typically relied on batch-collected and -processed data; generally obtained from multiple sources, over an extended period of time; with data often read and input by hand into numerous paper templates; and having to wait for the proper review and approval before the processed data could be distributed to relevant parties.

Fortunately, those days are long-gone!

The proliferation of the application of the Internet; the advent of machine-to-machine (m2m) communications and the Internet of Things (IoT); and the exponentially growing degree of connectivity between not only machines and machines, but between machines and people – and people and people – has resulted in a real-time environment that has propelled the global services community to its current technological positioning.

However, real time may no longer be good enough for the global community of FSOs and their respective field technicians! As traditional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), such as Mean-Time Between-Failure (MTBF), have steadily shifted from measurements reported in numbers of days, weeks or months just a couple of decades ago, to practically “never” today for many products, this particular metric finds itself diminishing in importance, and is no longer being measured by a growing number of services organizations. And even when equipment is about to fail, the easy availability of predictive diagnostics, remote diagnostics and real-time communications have made this formerly important KPI nothing more than an afterthought for many FSOs.

This is where Augmented Reality, or AR, comes into play.

According to whatis.techtarget.com, “Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.” Think of the “yellow first down line” that magically appears when you’re watching a football game; that’s AR, in that it doesn’t create a “new” virtual reality, but, rather, it enhances the perceptual reality that you, the viewer, is able to visualize while watching the next down take place. It’s not a new creation; it’s an enhanced reality that makes it easier to process what’s going on, and what needs to be done next.

This is exactly how AR is able to assist in a field services environment; that is, to provide the field technician (who may not ever have been called upon to service a piece of equipment with such a long MTBF) to actually perform the repair by “overlaying” an enhanced reality – in 3D motion – over and above what he or she would otherwise be able to visualize, in order to make a quick, clean and complete fix.

Think of it this way: When field technicians are called on for service, they may be facing either a piece of equipment that they have rarely seen in the past; a device that is inherently complex and difficult to disassemble and/or reassemble; or a system that is so business- or mission-critical, that a single delay or misstep could bring a factory’s total production line to a screaming halt – or any combination thereof!

The ability to “see” this Augmented Reality – in 3D motion – with accompanying instructive text, metrics and repair parameters overlaid and easily articulated will undoubtedly provide, at the very least, an extra measure of comfort to the technician, as well as access to a readily available tutorial for performing the repair as quickly, accurately and safely as possible. As such, another historically important KPI, first-time-fix-rate, may also go quickly into the twilight, same as MTBF! And all it takes is the appropriate pair of special glasses for the technician to “see” what needs to be seen!

However, talking about Augmented Reality – rather than actually seeing it in action – is like trying to tell a Southerner how cold the Northern Winters are – in words. It’s just not possible. That’s why AR is best understood by actually seeing a demonstration of it in action.

At a recent field services conference, I was asked to cite what I believe would be the “next big thing” in field service. I suggested “Augmented Reality”. Why? Because we really can’t do things any quicker than real time; and we can’t make repair tutorials any smaller, more compact and/or transportable than they already are. What we can do, however, is make it easier for the field technician to “see” what needs to be done, in real time, and with an “augmented” view of what reality alone cannot, and does not, necessarily provide.

AR has already made it easier to follow – and understand – football games. Isn’t time that it was also used to make it easier to perform field service activities? The answer is resoundingly “Yes”!

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PTC’s SLM Market Strategy – Built Solidly on the Intersection of SLM and the IoT (and Its Partnership with ServiceMax Doesn’t Hurt, Either!)

[With permission; excerpted transcript from an internal PTC Podcast, recorded on October 9, 2015, by Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst, Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM).]

Foundation of PTC’s SLM/IoT Strategy

The most important component of PTC’s evolving strategy is that it is built on a foundation of powerful technology as well as its existing base of more than 28,000 customers. And upon this foundation, PTC provides a full suite of solutions to an expanding global marketplace. As a result, I believe that PTC has been able to leapfrog the competition in a number of ways:

  • First, through the early recognition that the adoption and use of the Internet of Things, or the IoT, will be pervasive and ubiquitous;
  • Second, that it will need to actually guide and help the industry understand the potential of the IoT. And by that, I mean, using a consultative sales approach to tell customers how to begin their IoT journey, as the customers may not actually know their respective needs themselves; and
  • Third, by continuing to build its portfolio of IoT-supported Service Lifecycle Management, or SLM, solutions to provide total support for its global customer base.

However, the success of PTC’s vision will ultimately lie in the execution. That is, its ability to build such an all-encompassing strategy on a solid footing to ensure homogeneity, consistency and, ultimately, acceptance by the global marketplace.

Early on, PTC recognized that the IoT would have the most significant impact on, and fastest adoption in, Service Lifecycle Management (or SLM). In fact, PTC CEO, James Heppelmann has repeatedly said that the first use case for IoT is SLM. Why would a manufacturer/OEM want to embrace an IoT strategy? The answer is to better serve its products – and, by doing so, its customers.

Accordingly, the company took several ground-breaking initiatives to prepare itself – and its customers –through a well-planned, and highly orchestrated, mix of internal development and external acquisitions.

PTC recognized that the pervasive adoption of the IoT in SLM would lead to a succession of sea changes that would ultimately change the industry forever – quickly, completely, and with little tolerance for laggards, late bloomers or followers. Further, based on the extensive analysis of market research conducted both internally, as well as by us at Strategies For GrowthSM, PTC foresaw the coming disruptive change, and took concrete steps to prepare itself, as well as its partners, and its customers.

For example, one shining moment for PTC in the SLM space was its January, 2013, acquisition of Servigisitics.

Acquisitions of Servigistics, ThingWorx and Axeda Systems

The Servigistics acquisition, in retrospect, was a critical component of PTC’s strategy to help manufacturing companies capture the enormous revenue potential in after-market services. It also set the stage for PTC’s vision in building out a technological infrastructure, based on the IoT, to enable these firms to transition to, and realize the big opportunities coming from, an outcome-based services strategy. This is generally referred to as “Servitization”.

Over the past year or so, the main message that the market is hearing from PTC is that it is “extremely serious about the importance of the IoT” – and that it is driven to strengthen its continuing leadership role by integrating the IoT into all aspects of service.

While PTC may have surprised many industry observers by acquiring ThingWorx back in December of 2013, in retrospect, that was the move that propelled PTC into the forefront of the IoT – and all of its numerous lifecycle management applications. The IoT is extremely important, not only to the company’s SLM solutions, but also to its PLM and ALM solutions. This acquisition, more than any other, served to communicate the following two messages to the services community in a big way:

  • First, it solidly positioned PTC as the global leader in each of its respective sectors within the Enterprise Lifecycle Management world (that is, Product/PLM, Service/SLM and Application/ALM, ).
  • Second, it clearly put the global business community on notice that PTC was placing the future of its entire solution portfolio in the connected hands of the IoT.

The acquisition of Axeda Systems in June of 2014, further bolstered PTC’s IoT hold on the marketplace by filling in one of the few remaining gaps in the company’s ability to support connected products, people and technology – that is, the software solution vehicle by which its IoT offerings can make their way into the marketplace.

Together, the ThingWorx and Axeda acquisitions have paved the way for PTC to execute on its pervasive IoT- based strategy. But there’s more to it that finally cements everything together – namely, the partnership that PTC has just forged with ServiceMax in April of this year. I believe this partnership represents the capstone of what provides PTC with the ability to fully support the global SLM marketplace.

The PTC-ServiceMax Partnership

ServiceMax and PTC share a common vision for changing the relationship that companies have with their customers by shifting service delivery from reactive, to proactive and predictive. The two companies have highly complementary technology offerings, and the combination of ServiceMax’s innovative service execution capabilities with the proven technical information, parts management and revenue optimization solutions from PTC stand to be unparalleled in the industry.

PTC’s Heppelmann has said that “Empowering the entire portfolio with Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, will revolutionize service. Service organizations will now be able to capture new business, increase revenue and heighten customer loyalty faster, more effectively and with more ease than ever before.” And I believe that its partnership with ServiceMax will make that happen – not only sooner, but better, as well!

What the partnership brings to PTC and its customers is both a powerful and modern cloud-based field service management solution, fully supported throughout the implementation, management and delivery of services. For ServiceMax, the partnership broadens its portfolio with the addition of service information and parts management functionalities, extends its market reach to a global base of more than 28,000 PTC customers, expands its distribution channels multifold and, most importantly, empowers its entire portfolio through PTC’s state-of-the-art ThingWorx IoT platform.

But, why ServiceMax? ServiceMax was the first complete field service software solution to help companies of all sizes manage workforce scheduling, while also providing solutions for social, portals, and analytics – all delivered in the cloud, to any mobile device. And PTC offers the “book ends” to that critically important scheduling function: that is, technical information on one end; and parts management on the other end.

This combined functionality now allows customers to directly leverage product information to ultimately transform service from a reactive product repair function, to a proactive and predictive customer success function – all IOT-enabled, with the prospects of blowing everyone else out of the water. As a result, the company’s customers can expect to fully realize the promise of predictive service – as well as the lofty goals of Servitization.

With its corporate strategy built on the solid foundation of the intersection of SLM and the IoT, we can only expect PTC – and its customers – to continue to evolve as quickly as the IoT itself!

The Acquisition of Axeda Makes Things Work for PTC

On July 23, 2014, PTC, the Needham, Massachusetts-based provider of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) and related offerings announced that it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire privately-held Axeda Corporation, a pioneer in the development of solutions to securely connect machines and sensors to the cloud. PTC will pay approximately $170 million in cash for the company.

This follows, by only seven months, PTC’s acquisition of ThingWorx, developer of the leading Internet of Things (IoT) rapid application platform, for approximately $112 million in cash. Together, these two acquisitions now firmly position PTC as the global leader in Enterprise Lifecycle Management (ELM) services through its wide range of offerings supporting both the Product and Service sides of the equation.

In a global services market increasingly being characterized as ‘connected’ (i.e., via the IoT), this acquisition makes a great deal of sense for PTC, as Axeda’s offerings complete (i.e., at least temporarily) the ‘hat trick’ of resources that PTC now has in its arsenal that allows it to support all facets of the enterprise manufacturing sector that it targets as customers.

PTC’s Leadership in the SLM Space

PTC historically has been a global leader in the PLM segment, competing head-to-head against companies including Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes and Siemens PLM, among others. Its acquisition of Servigistics in August 2012, rocked the SLM world as one of its principal vendors was ‘swallowed up’ by an unknown (i.e., to the SLM market) company on a near-unexpected basis.

The acquisition, in retrospect, was a critical component in PTC’s strategy to help manufacturing companies capture the enormous revenue potential in after-market services. It also set the stage for PTC’s vision in building out a technological infrastructure to enable these firms to transition to (and realize the big opportunities in) an outcome-based services strategy.

Other prior acquisitions, made by either the acquiring or the acquired company, have provided added depth to PTC’s current global Product- and Service-focused suite of offerings that also features Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and Computer-Aided Design (CAD), among others. Most notably, these included PTC’s acquisition of 4CS, a leader in contract and warranty management solutions, in September 2011; Enigma, a developer of software that aggregates and delivers technical content in aftermarket service environments, in July 2013; and Atego, a UK-based developer of model-based systems and software engineering applications, just a month ago.

Prior to its acquisition by PTC, Servigistics had also just recently acquired MCA Solutions, a best-of-breed provider of service parts optimization solutions, in March 2012 – a good two-to-three years following its acquisitions of Click Commerce (2009) and Kaidara (2010).

However, once all of these acquired resources were housed under a single roof (i.e., PTC’s), the company surprised many in the industry by going after – and buying – ThingWorx, the up-and-comer platform provider that was taking the explosive IoT world by storm. This acquisition, more than any other, communicated the following two messages to the services community in a big way:

  • First, it solidly positioned PTC as the global leader in each of its respective sectors within the Enterprise Lifecycle Management (ELM) world (i.e., but let’s not forget about Cisco Systems!); and
  • Second, it clearly put the global business community on notice that PTC was placing the future of its entire portfolio in the connected hands of the IoT.

This latest acquisition of Axeda Systems further bolsters PTC’s IoT hold on the marketplace by filling in one of the few remaining gaps in the company’s support of connected products, people and things – that is, the software solution vehicle by which its IoT offerings can finally make their way into the market.

Focus on a Powerful IoT Strategy

Axeda bills itself as a provider of “the most advanced cloud-based service and software for managing connected products and machines and implementing innovative Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) applications.” Its customers use the Axeda Machine Cloud™ “to turn machine data into valuable information, to build and run innovative M2M and IoT applications, and to optimize business processes by integrating machine data.”

The acquisition of Axeda also brings far more to the table than just its M2M offerings and existing customer base – it also instills a more familiar and ‘warm and fuzzy’ feel to the expanding PTC portfolio of IoT-based offerings. For example, most service managers in the SLM market would find it much easier to describe and explain the Axeda offerings than they would the ThingWorx platform offerings.

M2M has been around much longer than IoT and, as such, represents a more familiar topic for them to explain, explore and wrap their brain around. IoT – and, for that matter, ThingWorx, on the other hand – represents a much more complex, broadly-defined and to some, nebulous, platform-based technology that can be much more difficult to understand. Historically, SLM managers have had a far clearer understanding of the solutions they use than the platforms they run on (e.g., decisions that are typically made by their respective IT departments).

According to PTC, “Axeda’s technology innovation, extensive customer base, and powerful partnerships directly complement the PTC ThingWorx business, and will accelerate PTC’s ability to deliver best-in-class solutions across the entire Internet of Things technology stack.” The two companies expect the transaction to be completed in PTC’s fiscal Q4 2014.

Why Axeda?

James E. Heppelmann, PTC’s President, Chief Executive Officer & Director, describes Axeda as “a leading brand today in the IoT market and an almost perfect fit to PTC in terms of what they contribute as compared to what we already have. When we factor in the scale that we will gain from Axeda in terms of technology, employees and IoT expertise, customers, partners and revenue, we believe that this acquisition will reinforce PTC’s clear leadership position in this dynamic new world of smart connected products in the Internet of Things.”

In his statement, Heppelmann cites what most of the industry would agree are the top reasons behind the company’s acquisition of the Foxboro, Massachusetts-based M2M connectivity pioneer, namely:

  • Technology – Axeda had been a leader in the M2M space for the better part of the last two decades, and was a pioneer in the development of the technology, ultimately positioning itself as the global leader in Device Relationship Management, or DRM (i.e., while riding on the wave of Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, for most of that period).
  • Employees – At the time of its acquisition, Axeda will have approximately 160 employees, primarily located in the United States and, as such, represented far more personnel than that acquired by PTC as a result of the ThingWorx acquisition. When the Axeda deal closes (i.e., in just a few weeks) PTC’s total IoT organization will increase to more than 250 people, virtually overnight.
  • IoT Expertise – Axeda is an acknowledged innovator in the IoT technology market, providing its long-time customers with “secure connectivity, and the ability to leverage machine data to create new business value” as “critical components of the Internet of Things (IoT) technology stack.”
  • Customers – Axeda currently counts more than 150 customers on its books, “processing hundreds of millions of machine messages daily across multiple industry sectors.”
  • Partner Base – Axeda boasts a “broad partner ecosystem” that includes leading mobile network operators (AT&T, Bell, Deutsche Telekom, Sprint, Verizon, Vodafone); edge device and design-in device makers (Cisco, Intel, Lantronix, Microsoft); systems integrators (Ericsson, Genpact, Tata Consultancy, Wipro); and business systems/ analytics providers (IBM/Cognos, Oracle, SalesForce.com, SAP, ServiceMax), in addition to its ‘new’ internal PTC and Servigistics resources); the company’s technology leadership has also led to several strategic OEM agreements with other leading IoT technology and solution providers.
  • Revenue – The Axeda acquisition is expected to add US$25 million to US$30 million of revenue to PTC in its FY’15.

Need for New Pricing and Deployment Models

The acquisition of Axeda, however, will also likely lead to some restructuring – or, at least, rethinking – about the pricing model for the company’s offerings. For example, PTC’s (and Servigistics’) historical pricing schedules have essentially been built on a perpetual license platform. The ThingWorx model, on the other hand, has developed its pricing model exclusively on a subscription basis.

The Axeda pricing model may ultimately serve as a ’normalizer’ for future pricing, as its joint Axeda-ThingWorx solutions will most likely require “some upfront cost, but then scale typically according to the number of connected devices.” In other words, PTC’s future solution pricing will tend to “scale with the number of devices” involved or, possibly, with the number of users (i.e., the more users, and the more devices, the more the cost of the system).

Research conducted by Strategies For Growth (SFG) confirms that the SLM market (1) is moving more toward a preference for a Cloud-based delivery system for its SLM solutions (i.e., by a ratio of greater than two-to-one over Premise-based), and (2) prefers a subscription pricing model over a perpetual license model by roughly the same ratio.

SLM and IoT: The Strategic Intersection

One other factor that Heppelmann only alluded to in his statements may also be of critical importance to the prospects for success of the market’s acceptance – and adoption – of the broader IoT technology; that is, that Axeda is a longer-tenured, better-known quantity in the global services community than either the term, ‘Internet of Things’, or the brand name, ThingWorx. As such, it may ultimately serve as an easier ‘selling point’ for PTC in promoting its IoT technology to the global services community – they already know the company, they ‘get’ the technology, they’ve already seen them at remote services trade shows and conferences, and they understand the rationale behind why PTC has targeted it as an acquisition candidate. This was not so much the case in the market’s perception of the acquisition of ThingWorx – and its IoT platform – just this past December.

Heppelmann also acknowledges that, “On the strategic side, we’re very pleased to announce the Axeda acquisition. With one foot in the Internet of Things, or IoT, world and the other foot in Service Lifecycle Management or SLM world, Axeda is a great complement to both ThingWorx and PTC.” We agree that the positioning of Axeda, surrounded by the PTC/Servigistics SLM offerings, and the ThingWorx IoT platform, will be well accepted by the SLM market as a whole.

Heppelmann goes on to say that, “The Axeda deal will be synergistic for us on multiple levels. Because we don’t really have a pre-established fiscal year 2015 financial baseline to compare against, it’s hard to say in a meaningful way how many pennies of accretion it might add, but I can tell you, first, that there is a meaningful cross-sell opportunity, because our research indicates that Axeda customers generally love ThingWorx and vice versa.”

Smart, Connected People, Products and Technology – The PTC Strategy

Thus, the acquisition benefits both PTC and the existing Axeda customer base with a strong market reputation and positioning aspect as well. In fact, Heppelmann adds that, “In less than a year, PTC has quickly scaled to a position of leadership in helping manufacturers seize the opportunity presented by a smart, connected world,” and that “We believe the combination of ThingWorx, Axeda and our existing SLM and PLM solution portfolio, will establish PTC as the only provider of true closed-loop lifecycle management solutions for the Internet of Things.” As such, he continues, “PTC intends to leverage the Axeda technology portfolio to complement its existing ThingWorx® rapid application development platform and its existing Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) and extended Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution portfolio.”

The press release announcing the Axeda acquisition further emphasizes that, “Core to Axeda’s IoT technology is the ability to enable companies to establish secure connectivity and remotely monitor and manage a wide range of machines, sensors, and devices. The Axeda Machine Cloud Service includes machine-to-machine (M2M) and IoT connectivity services, software agents, and toolkits that enable companies to connect their products to the cloud using virtually any communication channel (e.g. cellular networks, the Internet, WiFi, or satellite). Axeda’s end-to-end security strategy covers all levels of the IoT technology stack, including network, application, user, and data security. Axeda has attained ISO 27001:2005 certification, supporting the company’s focus on delivering the highest levels of security, performance, and availability.”

What’s Next for PTC? And SLM?

In many ways, what’s next for PTC will also foretell what’s next for SLM, as the company comprises a significant share of both the current – and the expanding – global SLM marketplace. The easy bet would be: more acquisitions to come, as PTC has historically set its sights on the technologies, platforms, expertise and customer bases it covets – and, then, goes after each of them full throttle, yet thoughtfully.

However, in moving forward so quickly after such a major series of acquisitions, it can be too easy to let some things fall between the cracks. As such, there are a few observations – and recommendations – that can be made, based on what we all (i.e., both the research analysts and the marketplace) have seen thus far.

To take full advantage of its dominant place in the world market, PTC may wish to:

  • Communicate to the marketplace – (i.e., not necessarily ‘spilling the beans’ beforehand, or giving away too much information – just continue conveying the ‘why’s’ as things happen, and providing updates at 90/180/365 days or so after the fact (e.g., via announcements, newsletters, podcasts, etc.).
  • Combine ThingWorx and Axeda into a single entity – which will help the marketplace better grasp and understand the PTC strategy.
  • Tie PTC’s expansive portfolio of technologies, applications and offerings to the growing phenomenon of big data and analytics – thereby assuring its customers (and the market, as a whole) that its IoT strategy, emboldened through its well-thought-out acquisitions, will support all aspects of its customers’ businesses.
  • Embrace the subscription pricing model – but recognize that much of the market will still need to be ‘educated’ as to exactly what it is, and how it will benefit their bottom line.

Other recommendations could also be made. However, now would be a good time to focus on the ones that will have the most immediate impact.

Summary

For some, what makes PTC’s acquisition of Axeda so appealing, is that it provides the company with something it did not necessarily attain as a result of the ThingWorx acquisition – that is, (1) a much larger customer base; (2) a more familiar and aware general market base of service organizations that may have just started their initial due diligence into prospective vendors and solutions for IoT; and (3) an already existent IoT platform-based firm with a strong reputation, and a well-established presence at industry trade shows, remote services conferences and in M2M-related trade magazines.

As such, by acquiring Axeda, PTC not only acquires its technology, employees, expertise, customers, partners and revenue – it also acquires a strong market voice for promoting the acceptance of remote services, M2M and the Internet of Things to a quickly learning – and hungry – global services community. Between Axeda and ThingWorx, PTC’s message can be more clearly communicated to interested parties in all aspects of the connected world – from both a technical and marketing perspective. The combination may be unbeatable!

The Internet of Things (IoT) Is Also the Internet of Payment Options

When it comes to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and Service Lifecycle Management (SLM), everybody talks about the need to be fully connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

It seems that everybody wants to embrace it; everybody wants to implement it; and everybody wants to deploy it. However, some organizations are more sophisticated than others with respect to their understanding of the realities of the IoT, and some are not – but the common thread is that everyone acknowledges that it is (or, at the very least, will be) a necessity for developing and designing the products that the market wants, the software that makes them work, and the services that will keep them up and running over time.

However, there is one key area regarding the IoT where the market still remains largely fragmented in its understanding; that is, how do you pay for the IoT? And this may be particularly true on the SLM side of the equation.

Let me explain.

It may be argued that each business component supported by the IoT has its own lifecycle, and that each lifecycle, in turn, reflects its own conceptualization, development, implementation, duration, complexity and ongoing need for management and support moving forward.

The findings from Strategies For Growth’s (SFG) 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey reveal an industry migration from an historical premise-based SLM user market (i.e., roughly 70 percent of existing SLM implementations are described as premise-based, vs. 30 percent as Cloud-, or SaaS-based) to a Cloud, or SaaS-based, SLM user market quickly evolving over the next 12 months (i.e., 67 percent planning to implement Cloud, or SaaS-based vs. 33 percent premise-based). The numbers are surprising in their magnitude, essentially representing a sea change from the “way things used to be”, to the “way things will be” (or already are, among the more sophisticated users).

Even more surprising is the lack of clarity currently resident in the SLM marketplace, among both vendors and users, with respect to how to price – and how to pay for – the desired SLM solution. Historically, services organizations sought either an (allegedly) all-inclusive SLM solution from a single provider, or a cherry-picked custom solution from among two or more of the best-of-breed providers. Depending on the specific case (e.g., type, size and complexity, etc. of the services organization) one could easily argue the respective benefits of either type of approach.

The thing is that times have changed – but the old habits and precedents harbored by long-time services managers sometimes stand in the way of their knowledge – and understanding – of the newer ways for acquiring SLM software (and other) solutions.

For example, when asked on a non-prompted basis, how they would prefer paying for their new and/or upgraded SLM solution, 33 percent of survey respondents cited perpetual license over subscription basis (which received only 12 percent), representing a ratio of nearly three-to-one for the traditional, tried and true payment model. While 30 percent were uncertain as to their preference, one-quarter (i.e., 25 percent) stated they still would prefer to own or lease the software.

However, when the same question was asked on a prompted basis in a follow-up survey interview – essentially with the same base of respondents – the results come out virtually 180 degrees diametrically opposed.

This is important because the only difference between the two modes of asking this one particular question is very straightforward: on the non-prompted basis, respondents were simply given a list of multiple choice answers from which they were asked to check the one response reflecting their preference. The choices were perpetual license, monthly subscription, own or lease, or don’t know/unsure.

For the same question, but asked on a prompted basis, each of the two main choices were described in the following manner:

  • “I would prefer to pay on a perpetual license basis (i.e., paying a large capital expense upfront, with ongoing monthly, quarterly or annual maintenance charges that could be expensed)”, or
  • “I would prefer to pay on a subscription basis (i.e., where there is no large upfront capital expense required, and I can expense the ongoing maintenance payments via credit card or other payment mode)”.

In the latter case, simply by defining how each of these two very different payment models work, we were able to, first, educate the potential SLM user that they have choices; and, second, that one of the choices may represent a new alternative (i.e., to them) that they may not have thought of before. As a result, the responses to this otherwise unchanged question totally flip-flopped to 44 percent preferring a subscription basis, compared with only 28 percent preferring a perpetual license. An additional 6 percent cited no preference, and only 22 percent responded don’t know/unsure.

What this shows is that while the market may be fairly sophisticated with respect to what features and levels of functionality they require from their SLM solution, many remain fairly uneducated about the payment options available to them and, as a result, tend to rely on their historical experience in paying for any service management solution on a perpetual license basis.

Regardless, the differences between the two alternative modes of payment could not be more pronounced. Say the desired SLM solution was available for roughly $1 million. Most, if not all, of this amount would be invoiced and payable within a timeframe virtually equal to the implementation and burn-in period – with a steep initial payment required up front. For such a large capital expense, the VP of Services Operations would need to present his or her case for acquisition to senior management, including the CIO, CFO and Procurement.

The acquisition cycle would likely be lengthy, complicated and hard fought from a value vs. cost basis, with each camp arguing from its own perspective. Further, even after the implementation, there would still be monthly, quarterly or annual maintenance fees required to ensure the efficient use of the solution over time. This approach is often a hard sell for the services manager, who just simply wants to implement a state-of-the-art solution that powers the company’s services operations.

The subscription model, however, offers an entirely new way of pricing and structuring the acquisition of the solution. Made possible through the proliferation of Cloud-based technology (and promoted in a big way by Salesforce.com for most of its offerings), going with a subscription model does not necessarily do away with any of the potential inter-departmental infighting between Services, Procurement and the CIO or CFO, etc.; however, what it does do is take away much of the financial burden associated with having to pay a steep upfront cost that, for some companies, could present a major cash flow or other bottom-line-related problem.

In fact, more than one respondent to the survey reveled in the possibility of having the option to pay for a much needed state-of-the-art SLM solution on a monthly basis – on his corporate credit card – rather than having to go head-to-head with management and Procurement over an extended period of time – with no assurance of winning their case.

Of course, subscription pricing is neither a miracle cure nor a panacea for the overall costs associated with acquiring and running an SLM solution; but it affords a “new” option that takes a more readily available Cloud-based solution, and makes it more easily affordable to the marketplace.

This example clearly shows that when the market is well-educated as to its options, it can more easily make a choice regarding these important types of decisions. However, it also shows that when it comes to pricing “new” technologies, or those being offered via “new” modes of delivery, they will require a bit more education from the vendors as to what options are truly available to them, and with what specific value propositions.