Catching Up with Omnify Software

In the deluge of news revolving mainly around the Big Five product lifecycle management (PLM) vendors, i.e., Siemens PLM, Dassault Systemes, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), Oracle Agile PLM, and SAP PLM, hardly any noise comes from smaller PLM providers in the lower end of the market. To be certain, many smaller PLM players, who had been catering to the mid-market, such as former MatrixOne or Agile Software, have lately been gobbled up by their larger counterparts.

Thus, in addition to Arena Solutions and its pure on-demand PLM offering as well as Aras’ open source PLM offering, the only other viable choice for smaller enterprises remains Omnify Software. Privately held Omnify Software is headquartered in Tewksbury, Massachusetts (US), with another US office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The company currently has 10 value-added resellers (VARs) located in 7 different countries. While Omnify’s PLM offering is regularly integrated to many enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems as needed, there has been a strategic partnership with Consona and its Made2Manage and Intuitive ERP systems.

For a long time the product was only in English, but it now provides an extensible markup language (XML) dictionary file to convert the graphical user interface (GUI) to customers’ own desired language and vernacular. Omnify is still working on converting the help files and other documentation into multiple languages.

Omnify Software Background

The company started developing PLM technology in the mid 1990s, at which time it was a software development group for a major computer-aided design (CAD) reseller that was focused on selling electronic CAD (ECAD) and mechanical CAD (MCAD) solutions. Its staff members recognized many gaps in their customer’s data flow, mainly in the area of passing finished product data to document control and ERP systems.

After spinning off, some of Omnify’s early products were: OmniBOM (which is still part of the flagship Empower PLM product suite) and Databook Toolkit. The latter was a database product that allowed engineering groups to manage parametric data about design components as well as integrate data with ERP systems.

For its part, OmniBOM was a bill of materials (BOM) processing tool that would read BOM data from various CAD systems and format/prepare it for loading into ERP systems. Omnify’s core PLM functionality grew from there to add revision and engineering change order (ECO) management for the BOMs and other design data. This core functionality still remains as the vendor’s primary focus.

Over the years, Omnify’s product line has grown to include Project Management, a Quality Management/Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) module, Training Record Management, Help Desk solutions, as well as the latest module, Manufacturing Process Management (MPM) that the vendor simply calls BOM Routing. The company has not made any major acquisitions for technology companies and has opted to build all new functionally and modules internally on its unified platform.

Omnify decided to migrate to a Microsoft .NET Framework platform about four years ago. The original products were all written in C++ and Microsoft Foundation Class (MFC) Library client-server tools. At this point, all Omnify products have been unified on the same platform. For more information, see my 2009 article on Omnify Software entitled “The Best-kept Secret in the Product Lifecycle Management Mid-market.”

Talking to Omnify Software Cofounder and Visionary

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Chuck Cimalore, who is a co-founder, chief technology officer (CTO), and chief architect of the Omnify technology. Cimalore has extensive experience in the electronic design industry. Prior to founding Omnify Software, he has held positions as application engineer, software engineer, engineering manager, and vice president (VP) of engineering since 1994. 

Cimalore’s years of electronic design and manufacturing process knowledge and his keen awareness of industry needs has brought Omnify Software to the forefront of the PLM technology, especially in the mid-market. Most recently, Cimalore has worked closely with numerous manufacturers to help them streamline product development processes through Omnify’s latest product, Empower PLM [evaluate this product]. My questions and Cimalore's answers were as follows:
PJ: What are Omnify Software’s main product lines, and what has been selling best of late?

CC: Our core PLM module still remains our best selling module, however more often than not new customers are opting to include our Quality and Project modules, as they recognize the benefits of having such key functionality integrated with the engineering data. Two years ago we created a product line called RapidStart, which is targeted at start-ups and small businesses that provides key functionally at a very attractive price point. We have seen a major growth with this product line since its inception.

PJ: Are there any particular PLM capabilities that you have and no-one else (or hardly anyone else)?

CC: Unfortunately, in our particular space, enterprise software, every vendor will tell you they can do everything that anyone else can do. While that may be conceptually true, the reality is that most charge exorbitant consulting fees and take months and sometimes years to deliver solutions. I think the big difference between our system and our competitors is that we provide all of our functionally in an “out-of-the-box” manner with high level configuration tools that allows our customer to get up and running as well as fully-integrated with their other business applications in a matter of days.

PJ: Who would be your sweet spot customer?

CC: Our sweet spot for customers is generally small to mid-sized business (under US$500 million revenue) with complex products that generally include electrical, mechanical, and software components. Typical industries for us would be Electronic Manufacturers, Medical Devices, Telecom, Aerospace & Defense (A&D), and Automotive.

Most of our business is done in the US although we have seen significant growth in the past three years in the European market. Most of our business in Asia and the Middle East is a result of US headquartered companies. We have quite a few customers with over 300 users, but on average the number of users is in the 50-100 range.

PJ: What is your competitive landscape, and why do you win over or lose to these competitors?

CC: Our typical competitors would be Arena Solutions, Oracle Agile PLM, and Aras. On occasion we’ll see PTC, Dassault, and Siemens. In general, we win based on our breadth of offering and out-of-the-box functionality. Generally when we lose it’s either because the prospect has had experience and a comfort level with another system or because a customer is looking for an On-Demand/software as a service (SaaS) model. Of course, we aim to address that last issue very soon.

PJ: Incidentally, what are your views and actions towards going multi-tenant SaaS/on-demand or not?

CC: We do have plans for offering an on-demand solution, and will probably have some formal announcements later this year. Our plan is to be able to offer on-demand, on-premises, and hybrid solutions and allow the customers to decide the best model that suits their needs.

PJ: What is your view on linking PLM with plant automation and manufacturing execution systems (MES) a la Siemens Automation (and Dassault in part with the recent Intercim acquisition)? Is there any interest on your side to follow suit?

CC: Since releasing our Manufacturing Process Management module in 2009, several customers have exhibited interest in a more formal integration with their (or their contract manufacturers’) MES systems. Such integration is not in our immediate future but will remain on our roadmap and elevated with customer demand.

PJ: What were the major highlights and messages from your recent user conference and similar events?

CC: Meeting global regulatory compliance is a theme that was highlighted at both our recent customer conference, with a keynote customer presentation, as well as at industry events. The majority of our customers/manufacturers are affected by regulatory compliance whether it be for the FDA, ISO, or FAA, etc., and they all need a way to meet the requirements as well as ease the compliance and audit processes. Because regulatory compliance typically requires tracking/traceability and reporting of product related data, PLM provides a very good foundation to manage this.

PJ: What is your collaborative E2.0/social tools strategy? Any views on Dassault's Exalead acquisition?

CC: We continue to encompass more social media concepts into our tool suite. Our current focus is to capture all human interaction and communication around the product development process and tie that directly to the product records. Of course, as the dataset grows and PLM expands its reach to other areas, that is where products like Exalead will have a significant impact in simplifying user’s ability to find appropriate records.

PJ: Although many trends might be relatively positive lately for Omnify, what issues/challenges are still keeping you awake at night?

CC: As one of the lesser known PLM players, our challenges seem to still be around name recognition and proving to prospects that PLM does not have to be an over-priced, lengthy implementation, highly consultative process. What helps though, is that we have a great group of customers who are always willing to back up our claims of a feature-rich, low cost solution that can be up and running very quickly.

PJ: What do you say about the Siemens Synchronous and PTC Creo capabilities? Any use for that in the small to medium enterprises (SME) space? I refer here to the old “direct (dynamic) modeling vs. parametric (history-based) modeling” debate?

CC: From our point of view, we've always tried to stay agnostic when it comes to CAD technology and ensure that we can manage data from all providers. Technically though, we like the direct modeling approach since it provides the "independent" vendors with more ways to automate processes (mainly changes) and provide more cost-effective (and generally easier) collaboration.

Direct modeling does have benefits for our market focus (SME’s), given their dependence on out-sourcing/partnering, smaller number of skilled designers, and generally more configurable product offerings. Due to legacy practices and philosophies, direct modeling will have the same uphill battle it has had for the past five years among the user community.

PJ: Anything you are at liberty to volunteer on the company's future moves, i.e., new functional scope, new verticals, SME offerings, etc.?

CC: We will have some announcements later this year that will indicate our plans for delivery model, which I alluded to previously. We will also be announcing some new technology that will extend our capabilities in areas of sourcing, contracting, and fulfillment. Worth mentioning is the recent relocation of our corporate headquarters from Andover to Tewksbury. This was just completed on March 28, 2011. This new larger location will support our current staff as well as future growth.

Dear readers, what are your views, comments, opinions, etc. about the current economic climate in your region/industry and about your approach to controlling product-related data and lifecycles? What are your best sourcing and product design practices as well as experiences with particular PLM applications? If you are an Omnify Software user, I would appreciate you sharing your experiences with the product and the company.
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