Inforbix - About Smart Product Information Discovery and Consumption

Anyone who has been covering the product lifecycle management (PLM) market will have likely met Oleg Shilovitsky at some industry events or at least read one of his impartial and knowledgeable blog posts on the available PLM vendors, solutions, and market trends. Shilovitsky has been building software products for product data management (PDM), engineering, and manufacturing for the last 20 years or so.

He spent 11 years (from 1999 to 2009) working for Smart Solutions, an Israeli company with the SmarTeam PLM offering, and then for the mighty Dassault Systemes, after it acquired SmarTeam and merged it under the ENOVIA PLM brand. Over these years, he held various positions in the company’s research and development (R&D) group and management, with the most recent position being ENOVIA SmarTeam Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

Prior to that, Shilovitsky spent a few years developing data management and customer relationship management (CRM) applications at Decision Systems Israel. Before that, he worked for the Autodesk reseller in Israel, Elsop System Ltd, focusing on application development, customer implementations, pre-sales, and training.

Back in 2008 and while still at Dassault Systemes, Shilovitsky started to write his first blog – Daily PLM Think Tank. In 2010, he expanded his online social presence by introducing a new blog - Beyond PLM, which provides his impartial insights and commentary about Engineering and Manufacturing software, beyond the scope of PLM (as the blog name intimates). More information on Oleg can be found here.

Enter Inforbix

While these blogs are not revenue-generating mechanisms (but rather a means to enforce market expertise and exposure), in the spring of 2010, Shilovitsky joined forces with his business partner Anatoly Savin and founded Inforbix to develop a new way to help manufacturing companies solve their product data problems. The founding of Inforbix was motivated by the realization of a single objective: empowering people in manufacturing companies, including non-engineering and non-IT end-users, to make better and greater use of diverse and scattered product data.

Headquartered near Boston, Massachusetts (US), there are over 40 employees in the company today located in the US and overseas. The first two Inforbix product data applications in the cloud were launched in October 2011 after coming out of beta testing at live customer installations. There are currently six product data apps available including a mobile app for the Apple iPad tablet used at over 100 organizations. Product pricing is calculated based on the number of data files or sources (e.g. PDM, PLM, ERP) that users deploy Inforbix on.

Recently, I had a good in-person meeting with Oleg and was able to see Inforbix’s offering in action. It is difficult to describe the offering in so many words, but cloud-based product data integration, semantic data mapping and search, and product data analysis would cover most of the product’s scope. Perhaps down the track and based on users’ inquiries and demand, Inforbix might come up with some app store, e.g., an app to find all of the duplicate/interchangeable items. Of course, there is the Inforbix Product Data Space blog as well with an abundance of related information.

Inforbix is following the ideas of PLM simplification, given that complexity has traditionally marred PLM and PDM product deployments and their enterprise-wide usability, as discussed in my ongoing blog series. Certainly, there are other companies in the market that take somewhat different angles to PLM simplification. For example while Inforbix’ apps discover context in multiple discrete manufacturing industries, the currently available OakBarrel Software apps provide the PLM context for process manufacturers. For its part, Kenesto Corporation is about simplification of PLM processes and business process management (BPM).

Inforbix - Further Explained

What follows now is my conversation with Oleg about Inforbix’ value proposition. My in-depth questions and Oleg’s answers are as follows:

PJ: What typical PLM, computer-aided design (CAD), and enterprise resource planning (ERP) user pain points from your previous lives made you decide to form Inforbix, and how do you overcome those pain points?

OS: The big pain point that resonated with us was hearing manufacturing customers of all sizes repeatedly ask in frustration: "Where is my stuff?" Product data is sourced in many different places. It is sourced and fragmented within and across CAD files, Microsoft Excel files, Adobe PDF files, PDM/PLM systems and so on. People have been asking for an easy and intuitive way of aggregating product data to get their work done. They don't want to care or worry about how their data is organized or where it's located - they just need it fast.

So Inforbix develops granular and flexible apps (because one size doesn't fit all) that address specific product data needs, such as finding data, re-using data, and sharing up-to-date data. Current Inforbix apps help people access, administer, and present product data in helpful and meaningful ways.

PJ: The semantic search, analytics, and data mapping seem to be your secret sauce. What is the underlying technology?

OS: Our technological platform includes innovative approach in data management leveraging W3C’s semantic web stack and advanced data management and analytic technologies. The philosophy underlying our technology can be traced to the concept of consumerization. In other words, adopting web and cloud technologies found in the consumer market and combining these with a very simple and intuitive ways for users to interact with the technology and product.

We use semantic technology to help our users find data and information that is either related or linked in some meaningful way. For example, a particular CAD drawing might have Excel and PDF files that are connected to it. It could even have other CAD drawings from a different vendor associated with it. Inforbix' semantic technology assures that users have the ability to access ALL relevant data because very often, it's what you don't know that exists that turns out to be the most helpful data.

PJ: What other technologies do you use for, say, user interface (UI), data import/export, visualization/viewing, etc.?

OS: One of the important elements of our technologies is the way we scan and capture data. A user downloads a wizard that takes them through a quick and easy installation process for what we call Product Data Crawlers (PDC). These tools simply scan the data sources chosen by the user and collect meta-data, which is sent to the Inforbix cloud. There the meta-data is processed (e.g. semantic technology is applied). Users can access Inforbix via any standard web-browser. Inforbix does not touch, modify, migrate, or move any on-premises data into the cloud.

PJ: What does it entail for your customers to start using your product on top of their disparate product data and systems? What level of IT skills do they need, i.e., some programing and report writing skills or simply point-and-click, drag-and-drop, etc. skills?

OS: Other than downloading the PDC installation wizard (as described in the previous answer) and choosing discs, folders, or data management systems, Inforbix’ scans and indexes, no other skill or resources are required. All that is needed is knowing how to use a web-browser, pointing, and clicking. As a truly cloud-based software, Inforbix does not require any maintenance or servicing by the customer.

PJ: Can you please refresh my memory with a few examples on how your current users mostly leverage your system (for what typical tasks, needs, etc.)? Are you following their usage tasks stats (as, e.g., does with its users)?

OS: We capture user stats to help us anticipate support related issues and help our customers get more out of their user experience. Examples of typical tasks that our users do with Inforbix are as follows:

  1. Finding a particular part for product re-use

  2. Extracting a bill of materials (BOM) list from a CAD drawing and monitoring it for changes when they happen - Inforbix does the extraction and monitoring automatically

  3. Sharing reports with colleagues that dynamically reflect any changes or updates

  4. Extract data from one or more PDM systems without having any direct access to the PDM system (or PDM skills)

PJ: How extensive is your partner ecosystem other than the major PLM vendors, and what is your direct sales vs. resellers strategy?

OS: We currently partner with all major CAD/PLM vendors. We currently support almost all Mechanical CAD (MCAD) systems. In addition, we started to support PDM/PLM systems such as Autodesk Vault, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, and ENOVIA SmarTeam. Other PDM and PLM systems will be available later this year.

Our sales model is indirect (via web downloading). However, we have currently recruited a reseller (Novedge) and will continue to look into recruiting more value added resellers (VARs) and partners in the future.

PJ: How long do you think it will take large PLM vendors that have semantic search capabilities of sorts (e.g., Oracle/Endeca, SAP/HANA/T-Rex, Dassault Systemes/Exalead), and a bunch of other tools, to produce similar offerings, instead of letting you nibble on their potential revenues? Or this is too esoteric for them (i.e., difficult to master for insignificant revenues)?

OS: I believe that you should ask Oracle, SAP, and Dassault Systemes this question, rather. Time will only tell whether these vendors are willing to master these expert capabilities internally instead of focusing on their core competencies.

PJ: Do you plan to remain a product content discovery cloud offering in the general discrete manufacturing realm, or you plan to offer some apps in the future, perhaps with more vertical orientation?

OS: All our apps are currently vertically focused at the manufacturing domain and we are focusing on Product Data. There are no plans to change this focus for the foreseeable future.

PJ: Are there any “test drive” product demos on your site, YouTube videos, and other useful recommended content?

OS: Yes. We do have a test-drive demo with a full and real data-set here. Moreover, Inforbix has its own YouTube channel with plenty of videos here.

In addition, I suggest the following two Inforbix blog posts for your readers’ perusal:

  1. How to discover product data using Inforbix

  2. Gartner, personal cloud, and Inforbix product data apps

Dear readers, what are your views, comments, opinions, etc. about product data management in your industry and about your approach to product data discovery and use? What are your best practices as well as experiences with particular PLM, PDM, and CAD pricing applications? If you are an Inforbix user, I would appreciate hearing about your experiences with the product and the company.
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