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How ServiceMax is helping PTC join a digital thread across the end-to-end service lifecycle

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright June 14, 2024
We speak to Ron Salvador, leader of PTC's service lifecycle management products, about the role of ServiceMax in the company's vision of a digital thread that connects across the product and service lifecycles.

Field service AI industry 4.0 concept © wladimir1804 -
(© wladimir1804 -

When Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) vendor PTC bought ServiceMax at the beginning of last year, one of the stated aims was to join up data from product design and engineering stored in PLM products such as PTC's Windchill, through to data from products in the field managed in ServiceMax and other Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) products. Then CEO Jim Heppelmann said at the time:

Windchill serves as the system of record for the digital definition of all possible product configurations, and ServiceMax serves as the system of record for the actual physical instances of products that exist, each of which may have a slightly different configuration... There is a digital thread of product information flowing between these key systems in both directions throughout the product lifecycle.

That goal remains a work-in-progress, but customers are eager to see it completed. Heppelmann soon handed over the CEO reins to Neil Barua, who had been CEO of the newly acquired ServiceMax. In turn, Ron Salvador, a ten-year PTC veteran, became General Manager of the SLM business. He soon faced questions about when the vision will become a reality. He tells us:

When I had just taken over SLM, it was one of the first meetings I was in and literally [the customer] said to us, when can we have connection between ServiceMax and Windchill?... They're excited about ServiceMax being part of PTC. First question: 'When can we have a connection back to Windchill?' Which we're working on, by the way.

Joining up this digital thread across the end-to-end lifecycle is a crucial step towards helping customers turn their service operations into a source of revenue, rather than the cost base that it's traditionally been seen as. He goes on:

If we're going to get to this place where service really is a growth generator, and a profit generator for our customer base [of] industrial manufacturers, then we've got to get to a place where there is no silos between those, and then the flow of information really is bi-directional there. That's what we're focused on.

This isn't the only priority for service organizations, however. The quest for efficiency and optmizing operations is as pressing as ever. Knowledge transfer is another issue, as experienced workers retire, product development cycles speed up, and digital technology becomes more pervasive. Enterprises also have to pay more attention to sustainability and recent challenges in supply chains. Finally, there's a shift in business models towards more of a recurring revenue model for service. Connecting product data is an important enabler for many of these goals, but it's not the only lever to pull.

Optimizing the service lifecycle

For many customers, ServiceMax simply brings an effective field management system engine that helps make sure the right technician gets to the right place at the right time. It joins PTC's overall SLM offering alongside IoT and AR tools, long-established warranty management and parts optimization products, and the Arbortext dynamic service information platform that provides digital distribution of and access to product information such as a service manual or a 3D graphic, the acquisitino of which two decades ago marked PTC's first entry into the SLM arena. Salvador comments:

[ServiceMax] really does two things for us in terms of rounding out our SLM portfolio. One is, it's the system of record in the center. Now we have the ability to see, as technicians are making changes to assets in the field, we have the ability to track that. That's a relatively new capability that we needed... It's really the anchor point, this asset system of record. And then, of course, it's a work execution system... a field service management system.

Each product within the portfolio has to excel in its own right as well as being a part of a larger whole, he adds:

For me, as the leader of the business, when I think about investment, I know that we have to be the best that we can be in any one of these solutions... From an investment strategy, we're saying, 'Okay, how do we stay in the top right-hand corner of the analyst reports and how customers view us from a leader perspective in each of these capabilities?' And then, one-b priority is probably, let's think about these more broadly, how do they interact with the other capabilities that PTC [offers]? How can we deliver exponential value by having these systems connected over time?

So we do a little bit of both. We think about them as point solutions, and we've got to be best in class, because a field service leader's trying to think about efficiency. But we also want them to understand how that fits into a broader opportunity for them to grow their service business and become more profitable.

Putting the digital thread in place doesn't just mean that all the products and data stores have to be digitally connected end-to-end. There are intermediate steps, such as collecting service information and feeding it back. Salvador recounts an example from his earlier experience in aircraft maintenance, where asking the engineers to improve the durability of a turbine blade might save costs by lengthening a service window. Simply having data about what happened on a service call can produce valuable information that can be fed back to the product team. He says:

It can start with something as simple as, what happened in the service procedure? We sent a technician to go look at a piece of equipment, he did something to that piece of equipment. What was the outcome of that? And then is there something that engineering needs to know in order to make the design better to prevent that failure mode, or whatever the corrective action was, in the future?

Integration challenges

One of the obstacles to joining up the complete digital thread is that customers often have many different technology products in place across their PLM and SLM operations. This makes it harder to align all the data, and Salvador is conscious of the need to integrate with third-party products as well as those within the PTC portfolio. "This is not a rip and replace strategy," he says. Much of PTC's own product set remains on-premise rather than being cloud-native like ServiceMax, although there are hosted SaaS options for those products. The sensitivity of product information often means that customers prefer the perceived security of retaining this data on their own servers rather than using a cloud platform. He says:

We do have some customers that require us to be on-prem. Our customer needs help dictate what we do from a product architecture perspective, but it doesn't limit us on the digital thread, we still are doing that. We're still creating that capability, even even between Windchill and ServiceMax.

You have a full SaaS, Salesforce platform-based solution [in ServiceMax]. Windchill, which is on-prem or SaaS, we can still create the digital thread. It requires a little bit more work, but we can still create the concept of the thread and being able to share information upstream in the product development cycle.

Nevertheless, the message about the value of putting that digital thread in place and making product data available across a connected PLM and SLM portfolio is starting to resonate with decision-makers. He concludes:

Customers are trying to figure out how to convert their service business from a cost centre into, let's say, a recurring revenue profitability generator. This is a broader conversation about, you have this amazing robust data upstream, you have business systems, business processes, people downstream. If you optimize both of those things — the ability to share that robust information downstream, likewise to be able to get that service information back upstream — that really starts to resonate with a service executive or maybe even a C-level conversation, because they're starting to say, 'Okay, I understand how I can get full value from my product lifecycle.'

My take

The need to connect diverse data stores and applications is becoming urgent across every area of enterprise activity. Product teams and their service colleagues feel this as keenly as many other functions. But they face similar obstacles, with many systems conceived at a time when today's digital connectivity was just a pipe-dream. It's a long journey to patch all these different silos together, but the commercial imperative to start taking those steps continues to build. With ServiceMax in place, PTC now has a system of record for customer assets in the field that complements its existing PLM products. Now it has the task of helping customers join data across those two platforms.

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