This article was first published in the Winter 2014 issue of OnWindows
The computing world was a lot simpler when Paul Sicking joined Siemens PLM Software 40 years ago. “We referred to the computers we were using at the time as mini computers, but there was nothing mini about them compared to what we have today,” he says.
Having started out as a programmer in the area of finite element modelling and CAD, over the years Sicking has held a wide range of technical and managerial positions, progressing up the ranks to the role of CTO. Today, when he’s not involved in charity work – building houses for people living in impoverished conditions in Mexico – Sicking spends his time driving new initiatives throughout Siemens PLM Software, and working with product groups to ensure that the technology they develop aligns with the company’s overall strategy. “I’m always learning about new technologies and how we might leverage them,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to work on the overall technical strategy of the organisation.”
Last year, Siemens PLM Software celebrated its 50th anniversary as a software company and, although the technologies it delivers today are quite different from what it first offered customers all those years ago, the things that made it successful back then are still alive and well in the company today. “That involves staying close to our customers, treating them as partners, having empathy for their situation and not just coming in, selling software and then leaving,” says Sicking.
So while the company spends a lot of time innovating and developing new technologies, it always keeps in mind the potential impact this will have on its customers. “We recognise the investments they have made in our existing technology and we ensure that they can leverage that investment in new generations of our products,” says Sicking. “One of the ways we refer to that is piece-wise revolution – that is, we make major advances to our technologies but allow our customers to adopt those advancements incrementally.”
Currently, Sicking says that mobile and cloud technologies in particular are having a significant impact on the computing landscape. “Mobility and cloud are two key trends that are playing a major role in our software and how our customers use our software,” he says. “There are fewer parts of the world where you can’t get an internet connection these days, so that pervasive connectivity is really important to our customers.”
To keep up with developments like this, Siemens takes a pretty structured approach to tracking new technology and trends. “We have something that we call an ‘innovation radar’ to help identify fields of innovation,” says Sicking. “Within those fields we identify pertinent technologies and predict at what point we think they’re going to be mature enough to incorporate into our products.”
Siemens listens carefully to its customers too. “They’re a great source of ideas and advise us on how new technologies can be used in industry,” Sicking explains.
In fact, the CTO has said that one of the most important lessons he’s learned in business so far is staying close to customers at every stage of the development process. “You can’t just sit in an ivory tower and invent some cool, new technology,” he says. “You need to make sure that there is some business value in it. Really, our customers are a kind of truth serum for us. If we have a great idea, they will tell us it’s great, and if we have a stupid one, they’re not shy about saying it’s stupid!”
The company also values its partnerships with other technology vendors such as Microsoft to strengthen its offering. “JT is a great example of our partnership with Microsoft,” says Sicking. “We’ve worked closely with the company over the last year or so to make our JT technology available more pervasively in the Windows environment. JT2Go, our 3D viewer, runs on Windows 8.1 and is now available in the Windows Store. Working with Microsoft, we have incorporated the modern Windows interface and integrated it into the overall Windows environment, including Office and 3D printing.”
Looking ahead, Sicking says that his company will continue to develop solutions that keep manufacturers at the forefront of innovation. “We need to be prepared to quickly leverage new technologies along with our existing solutions,” he says. “One example of how we’re supporting manufacturing is 3D printing – although additive manufacturing may be a more accurate way of referring to it. We’re looking at novel ways to combine additive manufacturing with our traditional subtractive technologies, so that users can build up material and then very accurately remove and refine a bit of material to make a very precise product.
“Manufacturers are producing more intelligent products than ever before and I think that our solutions are going to play a major role in driving forward their innovation efforts. Siemens has a unique set of talent and resources within its corporate family, so we will continue to leverage that too to ensure we stay ahead of the game.”
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