PTC’s Kathleen Mitford predicts how AR and IoT will redefine customer success

12 Jan 2018

PTC executive vice-president of product and market strategy, Kathleen Mitford. Image: PTC

PTC strategy leader Kathleen Mitford believes AR combined with IoT will shake up how we think of product and service.

Kathleen Mitford is executive vice-president responsible for product and market strategy at PTC.

During her career at PTC, she has held multiple strategic roles in market research, competitive strategy and vertical teams.

‘You can’t adopt technology just because it is the next big shiny thing, it has to solve a really important business problem in your company’

Mitford is responsible for the leadership and strategy of PTC’s digital engineering, manufacturing and service offerings.

She previously served as corporate vice-president of strategy, where she was a driving force in PTC’s focus on the internet of things (IoT).

Mitford is actively involved in several strategic transformational programmes and thought leadership campaigns, including research on how IoT is transforming companies and competitions, resulting in articles published in the Harvard Business Review.

How would you sum up the time we are in technologically, and from PTC’s perspective?

I think it is a very exciting time right now, both to be at PTC and in the technology space. If you think about technology today, it is evolving so quickly with things like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR); with the internet changing and devices getting smaller and newer types of devices coming out. It is changing the way that we work, the way we live and the way we interact with each other.

One of the things that we are really excited about is AR. This is one of the newest areas that we’ve been investing in but it is really changing the way that we interact with products and the way we interact with each other.

Whether it’s the type of devices we use, the type of technology companies like PTC provide, or on machines that are already out there becoming more efficient or smaller, it will continue to evolve quickly.

That makes it both exciting and challenging to keep up with as a technology provider.

How is PTC enabling the smart, connected future?

At PTC, we are focused on helping our customers transform the way they design, manufacture, operate and service products for industrial customers. When I say industrial, I mean anywhere you can get your hands dirty. We focus on heavy equipment, automotives, aeroplanes, electronic devices and even consumer products.

We provide, in addition to core computer-aided design (CAD) and product life-cycle management (PLM) offerings, an industrial innovation platform. Our platform allows customers to source data, contextualise it, synthesise it, orchestrate and then engage with it.

If you think about how we get data and the type of data we get, it is changing quickly. In the past, we would get data from enterprise systems like PLM and enterprise resource planning (ERP). Now we can get data directly from the connected products. We provide technology that allows you to source that data no matter where it comes from; we then allow you to contextualise it.

Contextualising it means making sense of the data; what does that data mean to me? Because of PTC’s history in helping customers to design, manufacture and service products, we know what that data means. So, as part of our industrialisation platform, we help to make sense of that data.

Synthesise is when we analyse that data; see what is normal and what is an anomaly. Based upon the specifics of the data, what should I do about it?

Orchestrate is what kind of action should I take; should I send a message back to our smart, connected product for something like a service procedure? Should I send a message to our ERP system to order more parts?

And the last part is how we engage; how I, as a user, am engaging with this information. Am I engaging with it on my laptop, or on a smart device like a tablet or a phone? Or, more recently where AR comes into play, am I engaging with it using devices like glasses and smartphones?

What are the market opportunities that IoT really offers organisations, and how is PTC enabling organisations through innovative tools?

Our industrial innovation platform is all about connecting the dots for customers. We believe that the IoT and AR space is so big that it’s big enough for all the companies out there to partner; and there are so many companies that have innovative technologies, that we have a strategy of embracing partners to work with us and build solutions on our stack.

One area that is very interesting and is probably one of the fastest-growing areas for the industrial innovation platform is improving manufacturing processes. This is a fast-growing area for PTC’s customers, who are using the platform to transform their manufacturing processes.

Companies like Volkswagen are using our products on the shop floor for servicing their smart, connected assets, helping maintenance technicians perform their services better.

We also see customers doing really innovative things in changing the type of products that they bring to market. They are making their products smarter and more connected, and our technology is a core piece of that.

A great example of that is Bosch CytroPac, which is a smart, connected product that we highlighted at our LiveWorx event back in June. We showed how the product, which is a piece of equipment used on the manufacturing floor, helps customers to transform their manufacturing processes.

We also see other examples in medical devices manufacturing where smart, connected products are transforming healthcare and the way doctors interact with patients.

In terms of heavy equipment, we work with Caterpillar, who are using our industrial innovation platform to help service technicians to be both proactive in servicing and providing service procedures to technicians. They are not only making sure that technicians have the right parts when they show up to service a piece of equipment; if they are not trained on that piece of equipment, they can use AR to provide them with the right instructions.

How should organisations be aligning themselves to capture opportunities in the IoT world?

It is about people and processes.

There are different types of skills that are required when you think about a smart, connected product and the way the world is changing because of connectivity and AR.

If we begin with the design process, we have a lot more IT in the product, so there are different types of skills required, a lot more software developers required, and IT skills are becoming part of the product development team’s capabilities. Because of all the data we are capturing from products, companies have a lot more data scientists who are highly sought after. Those are just two examples of understanding the types of needs that are required.

But also, if we think about the processes, it changes not only how you design or manufacture or service, but also unleashes new business models.

We’ve seen a lot of companies go from just selling products to offering products as a service. This is something that PTC is going through right now, changing from selling our technology from a perpetual licence to a subscription licence. A customer can pull their contract at any time, so there is a big focus on customer success.

We see a lot of organisations putting a big focus on the role of customer success. Does that sit in sales, in service; how do the two of those come together to make sure that the customer is getting the most out of the products offered? And, if they are having a problem, be proactive about it.

One of the things we also talk about with customers when it relates to process is, because technology is changing so quickly and the type of products we make are changing, we shouldn’t take things the way we do today and try to replicate them for a new word.

We suggest that customers actually take a step back and think about their process and what is the great process for this new world we live in. It is actually something that PTC has been going through for the last three or four years. We as a company have gone through a transformation, transforming from a CAD and PLM company to a leader in IoT and AR with our industrial innovation platform, and connecting that back to our core CAD and PLM businesses.

We have devised a whole programme we call ‘PTC 2020’ about how we need to change to support our customers’ needs.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how does PTC plan to address them?

If I look at what comes next, you are right, companies are in different states of adoption based on industries and adopting the IoT, and there is still a lot of runway for companies to adopt that across different processes.

I think one of the things that is going to have a big impact is AR.

AR is in very early stages and I think AR is changing the way that we interact with products.

We can envision a future where there are products that don’t have a touchscreen on them or you use your AR glasses, like the Microsoft HoloLens, to be able to control the product.

I think about the way that we get data. We are used to getting data primarily on a laptop or on smartphone. I think about if there were devices that were accessible and easy and attractive to be able to provide all of that data for you.

I think what we are going to see is, IoT maturing and becoming adopted, and the next big wave being AR and VR changing the way we interact with products, how we interact with each other, and the way that we interact and experience data.

Our CEO, Jim Heppelmann, recently wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review on AR and how it is changing the way we interact with products.

What is holding IoT back? Is it technology or understanding of IoT’s potential?

When I think about customers adopting this technology, I think there are two big challenges. The first one is confusion on where to start; what should I do? There is a lot of cool technology out there but how should I apply this? To create a smart, connected product? To transform my manufacturing processes? To transform the way that I do service?

Where we see companies not enjoying success with IoT is when they do not have a clear business case and a clear use case on what they are going to do with that technology. You can’t adopt technology just because it is the next big shiny thing, it has to solve a really important business problem in your company.

The other one is, there is confusion in the market as to what technology you should use and what you should do. IoT and AR, even though they have been around for a while, are still in a relatively younger market. So, who are the lead fliers and how do they work with each other? That is confusing for customers.

At PTC, we are partners with GE, Microsoft and AWS, and sometimes customers think of these as competitors of ours. In reality, because the technology definition of IoT is so broad, you actually need multiple companies working together. For example, our industrial innovation platform runs on Azure and AWS, and we complement those solutions and we are all better together.

I think, for companies adopting the new technologies, they often get confused about who they should be talking to because understanding the roles of different providers is still a little confusing.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years