Innovation Platforms – the Operating System for the Digital Enterprise

What is an innovation platform and why does it matter? If you ask different people, you’ll get a lot of different opinions. Some will tell you it’s the next generation of product lifecycle software, and they’re not wrong. An innovation platform enables a cohesive approach to product innovation, product development and engineering, and continues to play a role through manufacturing and service. It provides a single data model so everyone works on the same information in real-time, creating a cohesive digital twin. This integrated model eliminates the need for a lot of non-value-added work like translating and recreating data, resulting in a single digital thread that connects information and people across the product lifecycle.

But an innovation platform is much more than an integrated suite of design and engineering applications. It provides the foundation for manufacturers to fundamentally transform their business and their relationships with customers. Today’s digital enterprises are moving from a product-centric business to offer extended value. They’re redefining their value streams to deliver more than just a “thing.” Instead, they’re finding ways to offer value across the entire customer relationship.

Transitioning to an innovation platform provides significant benefits. This post discusses the value on several different levels, including the value for engineers, the value for the enterprise, and strategic business value for developing new addressable markets and value-added services opportunities.

Platform Value for Engineers

Let’s start with some of the better-understood, tactical, yet highly valuable benefits of innovation platforms. These integrated solutions provide business value as the next step in the evolution of product lifecycle management (PLM) software suites. They go beyond traditional solutions, however, to enable collaboration across design disciplines and the value chain. They make it easy to pull in third parties and others in the value network as needed to work seamlessly as a virtual team.

Engineers benefit because the innovation platform addresses some of the challenges our research uncovers in product innovation and engineering, including:

  • Engineers spend 1/3 of their time (on average) on non-value added work
  • Engineers work with outdated information 20% of the time
  • 70% wait a couple of days or more for third parties to send updated design information

The innovation platform, on the other hand, provides an integrated, central environment so all disciplines can work together in real-time and with full context. It also eliminates a lot of inefficiency from recreating information between design steps because all applications, from conceptual design on, work against the same data. As the design progresses, downstream departments like Manufacturing Engineering simply adds information to extend the model developed in previous steps. This means they’re reusing and extending what’s there without needing to translate, heal, re-model, or reinterpret work to date.

An integrated digital model also provides the ability for companies to simulate the behavior of the entire system, including communications to related systems to support complex system-of-systems environments. The cohesive nature of design and simulation in the innovation platform is a huge boost to today’s current business, driving higher levels of productivity and product development performance.

Platform Value for the Enterprise

The value available from an innovation platform increases as you look beyond individuals and teams to focus at the enterprise level. A platform approach lets companies harness innovation and knowledge from across their business and value chain. They can quickly form virtual teams by pulling in the right people from their value network to capitalize on an opportunity. Then innovation information can extend across all functions, regardless of organizational boundaries. For example, a major design revision from a supplier can be quickly incorporated into a product with the comfort that all downstream impacts, from design changes to service instructions, are identified, validated, and implemented.

Having a common set of applications, processes, and data also increases innovation speed and agility. Product and program information is all in one place, making it easy for management to analyze progress and status without excess effort, spreadsheets, etc. Centralized data is easier to reuse so it improves efficiency, but it can provide even greater value by creating a rich source of information for analysis. For example, companies can use analytics within the innovation platform to identify bottlenecks, root causes for quality issues, and other continuous improvement opportunities.

Platform Value for Digital Transformation

An innovation platform can help individuals and enterprises in many ways simply by helping streamline existing processes. But it can do much more by helping a company become a digital business. This is where the value of the innovation platform changes from evolutionary to revolutionary, breakthrough status.

Digitalization allows companies to develop much more intimate connections with customers over the lifecycle of the relationship. It unlocks new value drivers for a company beyond selling a product. For example, they can offer new, strategic services including content, analysis, and marketplace services that complement the goods they bring to market. Or, they could go beyond selling a product in the first place and transition to a Product as a Service (PaaS) model.

The innovation platform also paves the way for innovative digital business opportunities. These could include accepting and validating digital customer orders and sending designs directly to automated production equipment like 3D printing / additive manufacturing. Or, it could facilitate continuous improvement by funneling Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) data back to the digital twin to gain insights in the context of the design, giving real meaning to IoT data. It’s also an essential element for augmented / virtual reality (AR / VR) initiatives, providing information in the right context such as virtually overlaying maintenance procedures on the digital twin of a production line.

The innovation platform creates an opportunity to fundamentally change the trajectory of the business. Platform capabilities enable companies to go beyond the boundaries of traditional manufacturing to deliver new levels of value to customers through digitalization.

Platform Basics

Now that we’ve discussed the value of an innovation platform, let’s talk a little bit about the platform itself. We can discuss this from people, process, and technology perspectives.

From the people perspective, the platform needs to be readily accessible to all parties. It should be easy to invite new participants to join and begin contributing value right away. It should also be available on a global basis on any device the user chooses. Finally, it should offer a cohesive look and feel so users can leverage different platform applications without having to relearn interfaces.

From a process perspective, the platform should provide integration across functions. It must provide streamlined processes that cut across departments and other organizational boundaries, but also across traditional software package boundaries. For example, a process may require capabilities of CAD, PDM, and CAE, but that complexity should be shielded from the user so they can focus on the job at hand.

From a technical perspective, the platform clearly requires integration. It should provide centralized data with a single data model that can be acted on by various applications. It should be readily available globally, and make connection easier for mobile devices as well, including tablets or other devices that are becoming more common in plants, in the field, in customer meetings, or wherever they’re needed. Finally, the platform should be extensible. It should allow for the addition of new applications as needed on the same backbone, whether they come from the vendor, the customer, or a trusted third party.

Based on the requirements, it’s hard to deliver the product innovation platform in anything other than a cloud platform. The cloud provides the infrastructure with the required capability, connectivity, scalability, and reach required. Whether the platform is on a public or private cloud, or some hybrid model, cloud technologies open the platform up to everyone across the enterprise and the value chain so they can contribute.


Innovation platforms help further the business agility and productivity advances companies have expected from PLM. But the innovation platform goes beyond this. The innovation platform is effectively the operating system for the digital enterprise. It enables manufacturers to deliver more than products, develop better customer relationships, and deliver greater value through an agile value chain. Now is the time to learn more and invest in the transition to innovation platforms and the digital enterprise.


Jim Brown hosted a panel discussion titled “Accelerating Your Business & Reducing Complexity with the Cloud” at Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM, Oct. 16-17th in Hollywood, Florida.  Afterwards, he sat down in our studio for a live Q&A to share more insights on business platforms, trends across manufacturing, digitalization challenges across all industries, and more.


Jim Brown is the founder of the research firm Tech-Clarity. He is a recognized expert with 25 years of experience in software solutions for manufacturers and the use of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).