Suppliers of product life-cycle management software are making their tools easier to deploy and use as interest in the technology grows among small and midsize enterprises.
For example, Microsoft and Dassault have announced a five-year partnership which will see Dassault's 3D SolidWorks products and product life-cycle managers such as Catia, Delmia and Enovia integrated with Microsoft's SQL Server, BizTalk Server, SharePoint Portal server software and .net products.
John Squire, vice-president of marketing at Dassault, said integration would allow the easier creation, editing and sharing of product-related information and 3D drawings between Microsoft and Dassault environments.
Don Brown, managing partner at Collaborative Product Development Associates, said such interoperability was crucial to spurring adoption of product life-cycle management software among small and midsize manufacturing companies, which tend to be Microsoft-centric.
Last month Parametric Technology also disclosed plans to use an IBM on-demand centre to deliver a hosted service for small and midsize businesses. The service allows subscribers to use Parametric's Windchill software.
Likewise, Agile Software has offered a hosted service and prepackaged suite for smaller businesses, and MatrixOne has announced the integration of its product life-cycle management suite with Microsoft's Office.
John Moore, an analyst at ARC Advisory Group, said such moves came at a time when the adoption of product life-cycle management technologies - traditionally used only by very large companies - appeared to be gaining attention among smaller manufacturers.
According to a recent report by AMR Research, companies with annual revenue of less than $1bn (£515m) will invest more than $5bn on product life-cycle management technologies by 2008 in an effort to gain more control over their product information.
"Suppliers are starting to realise the market potential of small and medium businesses," said Stephen Segal, chief information officer at window manufacturer Loewen. "We are seeing tier 1 suppliers repackaging and offering high-end tools developed for complex markets."
Loewen is deploying Dassault's technology to its engineering and design groups. Eventually, the company plans to use product life-cycle management to expose product information to sales and marketing groups as well as customers. "We couldn't even look at product life-cycle management two or three years ago" because of its complexity and costs, Segal said.
And cardiovascular equipment maker EV3 is taking advantage of MatrixOne's industry-specific packages to manage product development information through its entire life-cycle. MatrixOne's support of functions and processes specific to the medical device market, including templates for complying with US Food and Drug Administration and European Union requirements, made the technology relatively simple to deploy, said chief information officer Pete Schaubach.
Jaikumar Vijayan writes for Computerworld