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PowerPlex 2016 - day 1

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy April 26, 2016
High quality content combined with a touch of humor made for a good first day at PowerPlex 2016

powerplex 2016
Curmudgeon Row - Frank Scavo, Vinnie Mirchandani and Den Howlett

PowerPlex has become firmly established on the Spring conference circuit among the cognoscenti and assorted curmudgeons that fancy themselves as sages of the enterprise world (see right) ;)

The company has rightfully earned its place as the only cloud manufacturing suite player with deep functional capabilities that cater for the small and medium businesses in the Rust Belt and beyond.

I'm not permitted to talk about the financial details but let's just say that under Jason Blessing's leadership, they've reached a point where they should have likely IPO'd by now but as we've seen in recent months, that market has more or less seized up.

In talking to Don Clarke CFO, it is apparent that Plex is managing both the profit and cash metrics competently and in ways from which others might learn a lesson or two. Let's consider some numbers the company can divulge:

In FY 2016 Q1 there were 97% renewals, +13% deal volume +51% customer expansions. The main reason for non-renewal? Going out of business. For FY 2015, the numbers are equally impressive for a business that three years ago was barely known outside its Michigan heartland but which had developed a solid cloud based solution:

Growth in 2015 - Plex

Looking at these numbers, Plex remains a small vendor by the standards of the mega vendors but has a huge potential reach inside its existing portfolio before it has to worry about further organic growth. Jim Shepherd, the company's chief strategist said that while the company is in 1,500 locations, its customers have up to 10,000 locations.

Beyond the good news, the company managed to balance a 'here's what's new features' heavy keynote with a sense of humor. Jerry Foster, one of what the company playfully calls 'The Three Amigos' couldn't resist lightening the mood by announcing:

So let's fire up everyone's favorite application - Tinder. No, just kidding, I meant Excel.

Trust me, there were some in the audience who really thought we were going to see some magical interplay between Tinder and a manufacturing app. (Note - for those not familiar with Tinder, it's a popular mobile dating app.) Instead, Foster showed off a slick way of assembling reports with drag and drop in the new Plex UX, Plex's answer to a more modern user experience that can be managed by users and not requiring the help of IT. Foster was careful to position UX as a refresh rather than rebuilding but in conversations with users, it quickly became apparent that users see it as fundamentally different. More on that later.

Earlier, a visibly relaxed Jason Blessing, CEO brought customer Green Flash Brewery on stage followed by Genze, a Mahindra company that's developing electric scooters - that just happened to be carrying Green Flash beer. It was one of those classic moments of marketing theater that underscored both the modernity of Plex solutions and the breadth of its use in the market without being over contrived.

Elsewhere in the keynote, The Three Amigos (the third is Karl Enderle, CTO) talked about Plex new REST API strategy. The company recognizes that as it grows, customers will need more functionality than Plex can realistically develop and so now Plex is banking on a nascent developer ecosystem to both fill in the white spaces and flesh out the offering.

This will help Plex reduce its need to reserve development resource to custom application building of the kind that forces the company into thinking about hybrid deployments. The most obvious and immediate use cases involve integration to Microsoft Office and again, we were given a demonstration of how this works.

Blessing freely acknowledges these are early days noting that:

We've talked about the importance of an ecosystem in the past but we didn’t invest enough. We're fixing that. Right now it’s about helping a really hungry group of regional SIs looking for what’s next after JD Edwards.

As I mentioned earlier, Plex gave us free access to as many customers as we want but was careful to showcase early adopters of UX. It's not hard to understand why because this is the future of Plex and it will take time to get customers transitioned. I have two videos in production that speak to the adoption issues and will expand on those once they're available online. They provide useful insights into how customers overcome resistance, but more important, explain how it can be easy to overcome objections.

My take

I came away from the first day with plenty of good answers but equally there is plenty to understand. Next, we go on a factory tour  with a live customer. This is one of the highlights for me because it is where reality hits hardest. I've asked if we will be allowed to livestream to Facebook Live. If so then I hope to show readers what happens in a Plex driven production system. Wrapping up, I will be having a deep dive technical session during which I want to explore more about the API strategy and get a grasp of how Plex imagines consolidating or merging what are three (and possibly four) UIs.

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