Talking IoT With PTC
PTC is a publicly traded company that understands the reality of today’s rapidly changing world and how companies need to evolve in order to stay relevant. Over the years, PTC has transformed their CAD business to focus on product lifecycle management (PLM) and, more recently, both IoT and augmented reality through their ThingWorx platform.
I went to their office in Needham to talk to Mike Campbell, Executive Vice President of ThingWorx, to discuss PTC’s strategy as it relates to their IoT and AR business, plus the company’s decision to move from Needham to Boston’s Innovation District.
Alex Culafi (AC): Tell me a little bit about your background.
Mike Campbell (MC): I've been at PTC for 22-and-a-half years. I came here right out of college to learn Pro/ENGINEER. I have a mechanical engineering degree because I thought I'd go to design real products, but I learned that I like working on software a lot more, and I started working on our CAD tools within R&D and product management. Eventually, I ran the whole product management organization, and until about 2 years ago, I just continued to do more and more.
It was around that time that PTC was investing more in IoT, and we were thinking a lot about the intersection between CAD and IoT; that's what led us into augmented reality. Could we leverage 3D definitions as a medium, so that people could visualize IoT digital information in the real world? I led the acquisition of the Vuforia business out of Qualcomm, and I went and built ThingWorx Studio. I spent a year building our AR authoring environment, which is a purpose-built environment for content creators that want to leverage 3D and expose IoT data to present in AR.
And then about a year ago, after we got that product out, they asked me to run the ThingWorx business. Today, I'm the General Manager for the ThingWorx business. I worry about everything a GM worries about, from connecting the devices, to connecting on the shop floor, sourcing information from all kinds of places, putting it in context, and then driving business value with it.
AC: So at what point did a CAD company decide that IoT was the next natural step?
MC: That's a good question. I would say that PTC stopped thinking of itself as a CAD company about 15 years ago, and we would think of ourselves as a product development, CAD, and PLM company now. I differentiate just CAD from CAD and PLM because if you're using CAD, you're creating high-fidelity digital models, and you quickly realize that you need some way to manage them. You need a mechanism to configure them, manage the changes associated with them, and to manage different iterations of them over time. That's what PLM is all about.
So PTC was in the PLM business, and if you write PLM and you write IoT, well the P is product (that's the T in IoT), and if you're managing them, you're using the I in IoT to manage them.
That just makes everything we were doing much better, so when people ask, “What's PTC doing in IoT?”, we respond by saying, “How could we not be?” We've got thirty years of history helping companies create, operate, and service products better. Why do you care about IoT? So you can create, service, and manufacture much better! So for us, it's a very logical progression.
AC: Let’s get more specific. Can you tell me a little bit more about your IoT strategy?
MC: What we believe is that in order to survive and thrive with an IoT strategy, you need to be able to do 5 things.
You need to be able to get access to data. There's data out there in all different kinds of places. The data might be streaming off of your machines on the factory floor, or it might be streaming off of your smart connected MRI machine. It might be in some CAD or PLM system.
In order to leverage IoT to the fullest, you don't just need to be able to connect to the MRI machine; you also need to be able to connect to all kinds of other bits of data, and you need to be able to, second thing, contextualize that data. Structure that data in a way that makes sense.
You need to be able to get the data, structure it, and then the third thing is that you’ve got to be able to analyze it. You need to be able to synthesize it. You’ve got to be able to get insight out of it. You need to be able to observe trends, detect anomalies, and predict when something's going to break. You need to explore what would happen if we doubled the load on the beam. How's it going to work? How's it going to behave? So when once you've done that, now you're beginning to get value.
Fourth thing, orchestrating, making something happen. Close a valve, kick off a service desk ticket, send an alert to the user, you know, make something happen.
The fifth element is engage. Engage people. Show me on a tablet, show me on my dashboard on the wall, show me on augmented reality. What's important for me to understand about what's going on? That's what we believe the market needs, in order to get the value out of IoT.
We built ThingWorx to address those scenarios – to integrate the systems that connect to the devices. That’s where we are focused. We bring that industrial process and discrete manufacturing perspective to those kinds of problems.
AC: How do you fit in the AR space?
MC: What is AR? AR is overlaying digital information in the context of the physical world. Most of the examples are in the Apple event from the other day. There's a game on the coffee table; there's a tyrannosaurus in the basketball court. A lot of the applications of AR being showcased are consumer gaming entertainment. We think there's a tremendous amount of value when you bring augmented reality to the enterprise.
Let me just talk you through some of the use cases. What if you could use augmented reality for design review? If we were to design a coffee table, wouldn't it be nice to see the coffee table in the context of where it was supposed to go? Of course it would! But we would typically look at the design on a flat screen monitor, completely independent of where it will go. Through augmented reality, you can see it, I can see it, and we can see it in the context of where it would actually be.
When you came in the lobby, there's a big generator down there. That generator is 1 of 26 different variants in the Caterpillar family of generators. And when you go into a dealership that rents those, the dealership has 26 of them sitting around in the showroom. What if you could walk into the showroom, or frankly, not even go to the showroom, and see what the generator looks like at accurate size and scale with augmented reality? Think virtual product demos and virtual showrooms.
Then we get into manufacturing and operations. When I assemble that generator, I follow a set of work instructions. Generally, I look at a piece of paper, or I look at a flat screen monitor. Wouldn't it be nice if those instructions were just overlaid on the parts I have to put together? Wouldn't it be nice if it was just clear and intuitive, and printed on a HoloLens so my hands were free? Wouldn't it be nice if that was the way we taught people to use those machines?
There's all kind of use cases for contextualizing digital information in the physical world for industrial enterprise, and that's our play. Through ThingWorx, we give customers an easy environment to put all of this stuff together and present it.
AC: How do your acquisitions work into your IoT strategy?
MC: We would say we deliver a digital innovation platform. Look at acquisitions that we have made: Axeda, Coldlight, Kepware. All of that stuff has been rolled into the core ThingWorx platform, and ThingWorx is kind of the overarching brand for that digital innovation platform.
AC: I know your company is making the move from Needham to the Seaport District. Would you be able to tell me a little more about that?
MC: I was there last night, actually. We are moving to 121 Seaport. It's a 17-story building, and we’ll have the top seven floors of that building. We're doing that because that's the Innovation District. If you go and look at the building, there's a huge sign on the side of it that says, “Boston is on the move.” We should be too, and that's why we're moving there – because PTC is on the move.
This is a company that has transformed itself, reinvented itself. We had the potential, all the potential in the world, to be an old, stale, dried, washed-up CAD company. And it is not that at all. We want to be where there's better access to hotter talent, and where there's more innovation going on. Our partner strategy is very important to us. There's a lot of great stuff going on there, and it's a good place for us to be.
AC: So even though you're this giant, publicly traded company, you should still be integrated with the Boston tech scene.
MC: Absolutely. Our involvement with MassTLC, our involvement with MassChallenge, our involvement with this whole meetup culture. We are showing up at those events all the time now. And frankly, it's pretty beneficial. We recruit there. We discover partnership opportunities there. And we want to be involved there.
Alexander Culafi is a Staff Writer for VentureFizz. You can follow him on Twitter @culafia.