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Hosted Product-Life-Cycle Management For Small And Midsize Companies

Arena Solutions' new PLM entry, Workgroup Edition, is free for five or fewer users for the first 12 months and is completely hosted over the Internet.
Arena Solutions Inc., one of the first to offer hosted product-life-cycle management software, is now expanding its portfolio to include Workgroup Edition, an entry-level version of its software. To make the offer even more attractive, Arena is offering the version free for the first year.

Starting this week, companies will be able to request the Workgroup Edition through Arena's Web site. The software offers product record management, online tutorials, sample data sets, and customer support. The Workgroup Edition is free for five or fewer users for the first 12 months and is completely hosted over the Internet, which means companies can go live hours after signing up, says Arena's CEO, Michael Topolovac. Following the free subscription period, the software can be renewed for $2,500 per year for up to five users.

Product-life-cycle management continues to gain momentum in vertical industries like consumer goods, high tech, and electronics--but it's midsize and smaller businesses that are particularly interested in on-demand or hosted PLM software, industry analysts say. For a company with 50 employees and 10 engineers who want to have better control of their documents and a better way share their product information with partners, Arena's Workgroup Edition is perfect, says AMR Research analyst Kevin O'Marah. Even startups at the earliest stages of operation can take advantage of PLM with no more up-front commitment than it takes to install Microsoft Office, O'Marah says.

Arena's Web-based software is designed for managing the complete product record and includes features such as bill-of-materials management, automated item numbering, vendor management, document vaulting, and costing, as well as version control, basic supplier access, and full support options from Arena.

Most important, the Workgroup Edition is designed to democratize product-life-cycle management, Topolovac says. "If you look at the number of companies who bought PLM today, it is relatively small because systems are still too complicated and expensive," Topolovac says. "But with Workgroup, we're leveraging our on-demand ability and this is how we're looking to get to thousands of companies who are still suffering with spreadsheets."

Companies using the Workgroup Edition can also upgrade to Arena's Professional Edition, which offers functionality around business processes such as change-management workflows, request and issues tracking, advanced reporting and analysis, CAD and ERP integration, advanced supplier access, and more user licenses.

One Arena customer, biotechnology company Labcyte Inc., was able to eliminate much of the word of mouth and Excel spreadsheets that supported its product information with Arena's Professional Edition. Labcyte uses the software as the main repository for data associated with its 1,300 product parts for everything from managing individual part drawings and schematics to uploading manuals and procedures for building and verifying products. Approximately 20 users log on to Professional Edition on a regular basis, which is linked to Labcyte's ERP system, provided by QAD Inc. Arena's ability to integrate with QAD played a major role in Labcyte's selection process, says Keith Love, VP of manufacturing at Labcyte. But having a completely hosted solution that makes the initial investment and the level of risk involved relatively low is the real benefit of implementing a tool like Arena's because it doesn't require installation, training, or maintenance, says Love.

"It would have been very nice to have an option like this when we were smaller. Since the first year is free, it's a good way to check things out and figure out if on-demand PLM is something you want to do in the long run," Love says about the Workgroup Edition.

The intersection of product-life-cycle management and on-demand is quite unique, says O'Marah. "The trend for on-demand software is sitting right next to the trend toward better use of PLM apps for companies who are trying to improve product innovation, and Arena is addressing both with its single Web offering," says O'Marah. A higher percentage of midmarket companies have been signing up for various types of on-demand software than anyone has expected, which shows that on-demand is going to transform the economics of the industry, O'Marah says.

That's something Arena's Topolovac definitely agrees with. "On-demand is the new computing platform of the 21st century," he says.

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