This is the third time in four years that I’ve attended PTC’s User Conference in Orlando, Florida, and it’s somewhat remarkable how in each of these years, the company has used this event to introduce a new, extended PLM process offering to its stable of Windchill products: in 2007, PTC introduced MPMLink for manufacturing process management (per the company’s earlier acquisition of PolyPlan); in 2009, it was RequirementsLink for requirements management; and this year, PTC announced another two new Windchill products built on Microsoft SharePoint: PPMLink for program portfolio management and SocialLink for Social Product Development.

The Windchill PPMLink announcement is of particular interest given the recent stream of client inquiries and interest I’ve been receiving from product development teams on PPM tools. In fact, respondents to Forrester's Global State Of Product Life-Cycle Management Online Survey ranked PPM as one of the top PLM investment priorities:

Regardless of whether you label the PPM process as project portfolio management, product portfolio management, or program portfolio management, few product life-cycle management processes have as much impact on a company's product innovation efforts and financial performance as managing the R&D project pipeline and resulting new products. Beyond just being a hot area of extended PLM investment, PTC’s move to build out the SharePoint-based Windchill PPMLink offering is significant for a couple of other reasons as well:

  • The decision to decouple PPMLink as a separate offering from ProjectLink stems from the practical reality of product development teams already using many different desktop, on-premise, and SaaS tools to manage projects. And rather than insisting users buy the whole stack, PTC is trying to focus its new offering on the high-value, executive decision-making audience while still maintaining interoperability with ProjectLink, MS Project, and other project management tools.
  • PTC’s first SharePoint-based offering, ProductPoint, has been very successful with over 300 new customers in its first year on the market, and the company clearly feels that similar solution offerings like PPMLink can benefit from SharePoint’s market penetration, usability, and data services designed around MS Office content. So while PTC’s partnership history has been somewhat rocky in the past, look to strategic partners like Microsoft to have more and more influence on PTC’s product direction and go-to-market strategy in the years to come.
  • The PPM for Product Development market is already awash with both longtime pure plays like Sopheon and Planisware as well as new entrants from the ERP, IT PPM, and PLM vendor segments. Also, many of these players already have stalwart relationships with business and IT software decision-makers, which makes the competition even more intense. To stand out from the competition and be successful, PPM newcomers like PTC will need to effectively farm their existing Windchill customers for opportunities and prove the data synergies with integrated product status information from PDMLink.

So what’s the real story on the Windchill SocialLink announcement? For more commentary on this and other Social Product Development technologies, see my May ’10 post, Social Computing For Product Development.