SAP Moving into the Right Hemisphere of the CAD and PLM World

My recent article Has SAP Become a PLM Factor to be Reckoned With? concluded that while SAP PLM can be a system of record in most departments within enterprises, it has yet to win the hearts and minds of engineering departments for lack of its own computer-aided design (CAD) system. But the article concluded with SAP’s stated vision of providing 3D visualization and communication capabilities for all asset- and product-related processes for the entire enterprise. The SAP PLM team’s strong belief is that 3D viewing is not just for engineering departments, but also for the entire enterprise. This vision also includes user-centric workplaces for engineering and research and development (R&D) teams.

To that end, in early September 2011, SAP acquired Right Hemisphere, a leading provider of visual enterprise solutions based in San Ramon, California (US) and Auckland (New Zealand). Founded in 1997, Right Hemisphere is a provider of visual product communication and collaboration solutions enabling manufacturers to optimize their global product development, launch, and support processes. Organizations have invested in operational processes and IT systems to improve product lifecycle efficiencies, yet delivery of precise and up-to-date product information to the extended enterprise in a timely, efficient, and usable form remains difficult today.

Therefore, with support for over 130 2D and 3D formats, Right Hemisphere maximizes knowledge transfer efficiency of product information to downstream stakeholders (including sourcing, sales and marketing, manufacturing, training, and service and support functions) by automatically publishing product information readily available in CAD, product lifecycle management (PLM), and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems into common document formats (such as Adobe PDF and Microsoft Office) and business applications.

Over 500 innovative manufacturers, including five of the top six automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and nine of the top ten US aerospace and defense (A&D) contractors rely on Right Hemisphere to accelerate time-to-market (TTM), increase product and services revenues, and lower product communications costs. Some of the industry’s most respected manufacturers that are customers are DaimlerChrysler, Bell Helicopter, and Sikorsky.

The 3D model-based visualization and communications technologies from Right Hemisphere will enhance SAP software and enable visual navigation and interrogation of an entire product or asset and all of its associated data in one unified environment. The two companies already share numerous joint customers that are already seeing benefits of the combination of enterprise software and 3D visualization in improving global product development, launch, and support processes.

Why Is Visualization Important?

The abundance and continuous expansion of information requires new ways of navigating and visualizing business data. Enterprise visualization technology from Right Hemisphere will enhance (and has already enhanced at some joint customers) critical data from SAP Business Suite software to deliver animated views of products and assets, helping development, manufacturing and service personnel to easily design, assemble, and service complex products and assets.

New solutions resulting from the combination of SAP and Right Hemisphere will increase the speed of decision-making across many lines of business by providing instant access to contextual and reliable visual information such as design collaboration, assembly instructions or up-to-date service procedures and manuals. The combination will support users in making accurate and fact-based decisions, while intuitive visual access to a variety of associated information (such as price-per-part, stock availability, quality reports or manufacturing cycle times) will enhance overall productivity across multiple departments and processes in the enterprise.

Needles to say, visual communication is particularly useful for companies that rely on a network of partners, such as suppliers and customers, for product innovation, manufacturing, and service delivery. With integrated visualization of products and processes, design and process changes can be communicated immediately across an extended team. Instead of relying on static images, Right Hemisphere and SAP will provide companies an intuitive visual format, giving all workers across geographies complete, up-to-date visual assembly and maintenance instructions and variant simulations, resulting in fewer errors and delays.

Why Acquisition Now?

This is a major step forward for SAP PLM, since for the non-CAD users, this capability really blurs the PLM and CAD boundaries. This application adds coolness to SAP PLM, and it moves SAP from just a bill of materials (BOM) storage application (with approvals and project portfolio management [PPM] capabilities) to being an end-user tool. Previously, SAP users had to export BOMs to Microsoft Word or Excel documents and did viewing/approvals. Needless to say, Right Hemisphere visualization will likely extend SAP’s usage into sales and other non-technical areas.

Some have rightfully wondered what took so long to SAP to acquire a small partner company that it had already invested in via SAP Ventures. Namely, in April 2007, SAP Ventures and Munich Venture Partners joined the ranks of Right Hemisphere’s original investors (Sequoia Capital, Sutter Hill Ventures, and NVIDIA) and its strategic partners -- Adobe and Microsoft.

Well, my guess is that blockbuster acquisitions of Business Objects and Sybase will have had something to do with SAP putting Right Hemisphere (and a number of other close independent software vendor [ISV] partners that seem as no-brainer tuck-in acquisitions, such as the even more recent one of Crossgate) on the back burner. SAP might even argue that this acquisition comes in handy following on the Sybase buy.

To further drive innovation for customers, SAP intends to integrate the enterprise visualization technology assets from Right Hemisphere into its mobile technologies, allowing business users to access timely visual images of products on a variety of mobile devices. Employees will be able to make process and procedural adjustments on the fly, and sales and customer relations teams will be able to provide their customers with a photo-realistic visualization of the final product from any location, allowing them to give feedback before the product is delivered.

Getting On Par With Oracle Agile PLM

SAP’s ERP foe Oracle has had Cimmetry Systems, makers of popular AutoVue software, in its fold since the 2007 acquisition of Agile Software (which acquired Cimmetry in 2005). Oracle's AutoVue enterprise visualization is an industry leading solution for lightweight viewing, reviewing, and collaborating on product, asset, and engineering documents and information across the global enterprise. With over 10,000 customers worldwide, AutoVue is used by customers in a broad range of industries, including Utilities, Engineering & Construction, Oil & Gas, Industrial Manufacturing, Automotive, A&D, and High-Tech.

Due to its supremacy of format coverage, even some PLM competitors use AutoVue, e.g., Dassault Systemes within ENOVIA PLM (formerly MatrixOne). Recently, Oracle released the AutoVue 20.1 release with many new features that focus on formats, platform, partners, and business processes.  For its part, Right Hemisphere seems to have a slight edge in terms of its role-based feel and publishing functionality. To this end, PTC offers its novel Creo/View application combined with Arbortext’s well-known publishing capabilities. Siemens’ visualization is based on the JT Open Program, which might also include both AutoVue and Right Hemisphere.

In our recent exchange, SAP’s PLM team said the following:
The visualization solution from Right Hemisphere will position SAP as the center of product and asset information. Our plans are to combine 3D visualization with business information and enable the Visual Enterprise. With that we will increase speed, productivity and quality aspects for product development and asset processes. The solution will be leveraged beyond PLM and will address all Lines of Businesses (LoB)/Organizational Units of an enterprise and also the extended network of suppliers, customers, etc. Furthermore we will use this technology to create a new user experience, which creates an intuitive work environment.

Dear readers, what are your comments and opinions with regards to visualization and information delivery. I would certainly be interested in your experiences with visualization software in general and with Right Hemisphere and SAP PLM in particular.

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