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Monday, January 20, 2014

What's Your Suite Spot?

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Being a PLM VAR is a challenging gig.​Being a PLM value added reseller (VAR) is a challenging gig. You have to stay up-to-date with the latest from your software independent software vendor (ISV). With all of the mergers & acquisitions (M&A) over the last few years, the list keeps growing. There are also business model changes in the offing, with many PLM solution providers adding cloud-based solutions to their on-premise portfolio.

In CIMdata’s Channel Practice, we often discuss this issue and suggest that PLM VARs need to find something distinctive, some intellectual property or unique expertise to separate them from the pack. Recently I had a call with Frank Thomas, President of Adaptive Corporation, Inc. (, a company that is a great example of building unique offerings on top of their VAR business. 

Adaptive started back in 2006 in Cleveland, during the time when IBM and Dassault Systèmes (DS) were changing their go-to-market relationship. Only some IBM business partners were becoming DS VARs, and there was room for more. Frank’s experience in a support role at Parker Hannifin showed just what types of problems might provide a good business opportunity for their new company. Being a PLM VAR was an important part of their business plan, and today their DS-related business is a big part of their success. Interestingly, even though Adaptive is a CATIA VAR, many of their customers use SolidWorks, which is not entirely a surprise given their focus on mid-sized manufacturers.

Working for big global manufacturing companies, Thomas and his colleagues had seen that companies of all sizes had a role to play in the value chain. Large companies were pursuing a global manufacturing vision, as articulated by Rockwell: design anywhere, build anywhere, support anywhere (DABASA). Mid-market companies had to be ready to support this vision at their OEMs, and Adaptive would focus on helping them. Playing in this global marketplace requires meeting rigid quality standards. A strong focus on metrology is central to manufacturing quality. But, according to Thomas, quality organizations can often be challenged by limited staffing and tool support. Adaptive offers a combination of organic and partner offerings and associated services focused on helping quality organizations. Companies can use these tools to help ensure that all products meet their quality objectives when sourced from any global manufacturing location.
The final pillar comes from their SAP/SharePoint business. About five years ago an Adaptive partner developed and marketed ShareVis, a tool that added forms and workflow to Microsoft SharePoint to help manage business processes and data. Companies could author forms in InfoPath, a tool that is part of the Microsoft Office Professional suite. Workflows could be mapped in Visio-like tool called Designer, defining swim lanes and steps with no hard coding required. Adaptive had some success selling this offering, enough that Winshuttle stepped in to buy it in 2011. Since then Winshuttle has extended the product, leveraging their considerable skill in enterprise systems integration, particularly with SAP. Many manufacturing companies use SAP, and most complain about its ease of use. Winshuttle can help users quickly build simplified UIs to connect with a wide range of systems, including SAP, Oracle, Lotus Notes, other PLM offerings, and Microsoft Office. Thomas claims that their experience supporting enterprise business processes, and being able to sell the Winshuttle offering, has allowed them to enable PLM strategies in their manufacturing clients. He believes that selling this solution helps Adaptive to expand their horizons to larger accounts and new industries.
How is Adaptive doing? Adaptive is a private company, but is seems as if Adaptive has hit their “suite” spot with their combination of focused yet synergistic businesses. From their Cleveland beginnings in 2006, they now have a presence in Dayton, San Francisco, Irvine, Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas, Paris, and Toronto. Delivering high value services is a big part of their success, and you have to go where the customers are. 

Of course, Adaptive has the same problems as everyone else, according to Thomas. Customer acquisition is key. They are also trying to determine the best role of social media in their marketing mix. But Thomas believes that Adaptive’s focus on delivering value to manufacturing firms gives them something to sell, and their experience provides the credibility to quickly resonate with the client on what problems they can jointly solve.

The Bottom Line

Adaptive is a successful small business in the PLM economy. Their business mix has been successful for them, combining their DS VAR business with enterprise integration and quality offerings, supported by value-added services. With the changing dynamics of the VAR business, companies can differentiate by focusing on an industry, or segment, or function (like quality here). This “suite” of businesses clearly is their sweet spot, and is a good example of how some VARs are expanding their vision and capabilities to achieve competitive advantage.
Each VAR needs to define its own sweet spot. They have to determine what combination of products and services, delivered in what way to what target audience, is going to give them the results they desire. Follow Stan on Twitter at @smprezbo.

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Stan Przybylinski

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