What’s your company’s digital transformation strategy?

Here’s a prediction for the new decade: the “cloud” will be the dominant force in every company’s digital transformation strategy, including all aspects of data storage, data processing and software delivery. You don’t have to be a soothsayer to know that this prediction will come true – it has already happened in many companies and many industries over the past few years.

It’s hard to believe that the phrase “paperless office” was first used over 40 years ago. The original motivation may have been to save trees, but the proliferation of computers and the sheer processing power available has increased efficiency and throughput by an order of magnitude.

Computers reduce the bottlenecks previously caused by individuals, but have little effect on the bottlenecks created between individuals, teams, and a company as a whole. You may no longer need to sift through dozens of filing cabinets to find that one piece of paper that has the information you need, but desktop computers, laptop computers and departmental servers have become breeding grounds for proprietary, disconnected data silos.

The problem has just shifted from ink on paper to data in files, scattered across hard drives everywhere.

Finding data when you don’t know where to look may be frustrating and time consuming, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Communication and collaboration are severely hampered while duplication of effort and conflicts are common. Data and conversations are communicated via email, with information limited to those in-the-know and locked in yet more data silos.

This “over the wall” approach to managing projects and data is not conducive to effective product development. However, these methods have been employed in industry for years, leading to unnecessary errors, rework, security issues and spiraling costs – all of which can be avoided if all company data is stored in a central repository, readily accessible for those who need it.

Digital transformation is only complete once all company data silos are connected and compatible, providing new types of innovation and creativity instead of simply enhancing and supporting traditional methods.

This is what the promise of the cloud offers. But let’s take a step back for a moment: What exactly is the “cloud” anyway?

What the “Cloud” Really Means

The term “cloud” is generally used to describe data centers that are hosted and managed by third-party providers via the internet, including “infinite” resources in terms of compute power and storage, requiring no setup and no IT knowledge by the end user. The benefit to companies from a financial, resources and infrastructure standpoint are considerable.

From a software and services delivery standpoint, the cloud has yet to permeate every department in every organization. Sales, marketing, accounting, HR and many others have all taken the plunge – their highly-sensitive data and mission-critical software applications are easily accessible via a web browser and the cloud using the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model.

The last bastions resisting change are the stalwarts of product development, where specialized desktop software on expensive workstations continues to this day. This is not a slur – it’s a fact.

It’s not that design teams don’t want to embrace new technologies to make their lives easier. Rather, new technologies and new ways to streamline the product development processes have not been made available by their current software vendors. Basically, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Product Development is More Than Just Product Design

Best-in-class companies focus on teams, rather than individuals, and the end-to-end product development process, not just design tools. Collaboration is greatly enhanced by implementing software tools that eliminate the old processes as much as possible. Getting rid of email, file servers and FTP sites is a great start. Services such as Slack for communication, Google Docs for document sharing and Dropbox for file sharing, significantly reduce miscommunication, keep data organized and keep everybody in the loop.

Product design data can also benefit from the same “team first” philosophy.

Halfway through the last decade, new emerging technologies have enabled cloud software and services to become mainstream for product design. Those software vendors who had not foreseen the market shift and the desire from their customers to utilize these new technologies, held out and continued to develop their desktop solutions, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about the cloud.

Their objection and one of the biggest urban myths surrounding the use of the cloud to create proprietary new product designs is the perceived loss of control over intellectual property (IP). If data is transmitted outside of your firewall to an unknown destination, then surely it’s at risk, right?

Ironically, those same software vendors have witnessed the error of their ways firsthand and are now clamoring to jump aboard the cloud bandwagon. Strange how these data security issues have all but disappeared now that everyone offers “cloud” solutions.

Let’s push aside that scaremongering for now and concentrate on the benefits of SaaS platforms.

Why Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)?

With a SaaS product development platform, executives and project managers can see real-time updates on the status of a design anytime rather than waiting for weekly reports.

All cloud-native applications offer one common benefit – a single source of truth. This cliché refers to how data is stored, processed and accessed by all those who need it. If there is only one version of the data, then everybody sees the same data at the same time wherever they are. This provides untold benefits for communication and collaboration while minimizing errors and rework. This is all made possible by the underlying architecture of a typical SaaS application.

On the other hand, cloud-enabled applications (not to be confused with cloud-native) are desktop applications with a cloud storage capability. This implies that a copy of the data is stored and processed locally and can therefore become out of sync with the master copy in the cloud. Different people may now possibly see different, modified versions of the same data. Other than providing unlimited storage and automated backups, this delivery method defeats the purpose of the cloud entirely and should be avoided.

In product development, out-of-date or out-of-sync data can be catastrophic.

What is the Difference Between Cloud-Native & Cloud-Enabled?

If you’ve already started down the path of digital transformation or you’re early in the planning stages, knowing the difference between cloud-native and cloud-enabled is fundamental to the future of your business.

One way to encourage teams to work together is to provide the tools that make it easy to do so. If the barriers to finding information, sharing data and collaborating on the same projects are removed, then product development becomes more natural. With cloud-native applications, collaboration is no longer forced and teams start to work together as one. With more transparency across teams and across projects, there is less stress, less resistance to new ideas, and fewer mistakes.

This is especially true if teams are not physically co-located. When project teams are all in the same office, walking over to a colleague’s desk for a quick chat can often spark new ideas and solve design problems. Of course, this is not possible when design teams are spread across multiple locations, continents and time zones. Though email remains a popular communication medium, it is disconnected from design data and project teams. Email conversations are often easily missed or buried, leading to delays and potential rework.

A cloud-native application can be accessed via a web browser on any computer or via a dedicated mobile app on a smartphone or tablet. This ensures that data can be accessed from anywhere where there’s an internet connection and on any available device. Not only does this make data easier to access in a normal workplace setting, but also when a user is at a customer site, in a taxi or at the airport. Sales can show customers the latest updates to their product lines, managers can sign-off on major design decisions, and field engineers can make changes on-the-fly as and when required. All data is live, so everybody gets notified of any changes immediately.

A single source of truth, no matter what the application, enables concurrent modification of data with changes updating instantly for every contributor. For example, writing a product specification using Google Docs enables all project stakeholders to review, comment and add further details in real time. Nobody ever works on out-of-date information and everybody is encouraged to contribute.

The cloud also encourages teams to make changes to product design data early and often, especially during the earliest stages of development where the cost of design changes is minimal. This results in shorter and less costly development cycles and better overall product quality.

The age-old concept of concurrent engineering, where everybody works together in parallel, is intended to identify and solve issues early on. It yields more creative solutions because more people have the opportunity to identify, review, and solve a given problem together. Teams often have diverse skill sets and their combined knowledge can be used to great effect if everybody can provide input throughout the product development lifecycle. With more team members involved in every aspect of the design, a certain level of redundancy and reduced risk is built-in for when team members are out sick or on vacation.

Teams connected via cloud-native design applications are intrinsically linked – everybody sees what everybody else is working on, in real time, so everybody can provide input and guidance for a true concurrent engineering experience. This also includes working with suppliers, contractors and manufacturing partners who are external to your organization. By including partners with domain expertise early in the design, problems that would normally be encountered later during manufacturing can be identified upfront, helping to keep costs to a minimum.

This is all achieved by the single source of truth that is a cloud-native, SaaS database in a central server location. This data is not stored in individual files and never leaves the server, making sharing data easy. The sender does not have to prepare anything, attach anything or worry about anything. The receiver need not be concerned about issues such as having the correct version of the same software to open it. To share data, all a user needs is the recipient’s email address, who is then notified that a document has been shared with them. Click on the link, the data is displayed in a browser window, and all users are instantly collaborating in real time without skipping a beat.

Get Your Introductory Guide


If you are exploring a switch to cloud-native SaaS product development tools, Onshape has prepared an introductory guide to get you started. In this eBook, you will learn how a SaaS platform can immediately impact your company’s:

  1. Scalability – Get new employees, contractors and partners up and running with their product development tools and projects within minutes – versus hours or days when using on-premise solutions.
  2. Data Security – Better protect your valuable intellectual property (IP) by strictly controlling who has access to your product designs and for how long.
  3. Profitability – Significantly reduce IT overhead such as high-end workstations, dedicated servers, network infrastructure, storage, backups and software maintenance.
  4. Reliability – Eliminate the delays and downtime caused by software installation, crashes, file corruption and lost data. Software updates are applied automatically in the cloud without requiring IT services.

Get your Introductory Guide to Cloud-Native Product Development today!