PTC’s Corporate Experience Center: Experiencing software in a physical world
In September TBR toured the PTC Corporate Experience Center (CXC). The meeting space, located at the company’s Boston headquarters, serves as the demonstration showcase and is filled with examples of PTC’s (Nasdaq: PTC) work with a wide range of manufacturing and industrial clients.
In this review of PTC’s CXC, we describe an innovation and transformation center that breaks molds while building on previous lessons learned and sets a new standard for how a technology-centric demonstration center can excel. Critical to note: PTC’s CXC is not completely comparable to what TBR has termed “innovation and transformation centers,” as detailed in our Market Landscape of the same name. PTC intentionally changed both the name and the focus when the company shifted from a Customer Visit Center, which hosted client briefings and executive visits, to the CXC, described in full below.
Breaking rules, partnering smartly, and separating today and tomorrow
Embracing the headquarters-based showcase model reflects PTC’s strengths
PTC broke three of TBR’s cardinal rules for designing innovation and transformation centers: The PTC CXC is physically colocated with the company’s main offices, designed as a showcase, and built to be a single entity, without plans to open similar centers closer to clients. But with all three, PTC has seemingly made the right decisions.
PTC’s CXC takes up roughly two-thirds of the 17th floor of the company’s corporate headquarters, stretching in a semicircle from a massive packaging machine demonstration to conference rooms to the xR wall to the Reality Lab, operated in concert with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Since PwC first opened a stand-alone Experience Center in Hallandale, Fla., removed from PwC’s local offices, TBR has maintained that separation from corporate headquarters helps facilitate, for both clients and employees, a more creative mindset and an environment unconstrained by previous ideas about what clients can expect from the vendor. PTC made a different calculation. By colocating the CXC with PTC’s corporate global headquarters, the company can more easily bring business line leaders and subject matter experts into customer sessions and demonstrate to new and current employees the full breadth of PTC’s capabilities and the company’s value to clients. And reinforcing a critical success factor described below, keeping the CXC in the headquarters allows PTC’s CEO to drop in on any client session.
In another TBR truism, innovation and transformation centers cannot be primarily technology showcases. Relying on static displays or moderately interactive demonstrations too frequently limits clients’ perceptions of the vendor’s value and may not be consistently relatable in every client engagement. For example, a retail store mockup will not resonate with an oil exploration company.
Because algorithms, platforms and code do not display particularly well, PTC embraced demonstrating its core products through its clients’ use cases, allowing CXC visitors to see and physically touch, among other displays, connected taps, a Volvo truck engine, and, as mentioned above, a $1 million full-sized and fully operational industrial packaging machine. The showcases, intended to be rotated with enough frequency to ensure returning CXC visitors do not see the same demonstrations every time, allow PTC to effectively tell stories about the value of their solutions across a range of client use cases and industries (admittedly, with a focus on manufacturing and industrial applications). In every case, the client provided PTC with the necessary equipment, and PTC’s CXC leadership noted that clients frequently ask whether their use case can become part of the CXC tour.
Lastly, TBR has seen the most effective innovation and transformation centers replicate themselves across the globe, bringing the vendors closer to clients while building a talent pool of design thinkers, innovative technologists and consultants fully versed in digital transformation. For PTC, the COVID-19 pandemic provided an immensely valuable testing period for virtual delivery from the CXC to PTC offices globally as well as clients’ physical and virtual environments.
By refining effective virtual delivery — first by recognizing and facilitating the need for communication between all participants, whether in person or remotely — PTC realized it could maintain the quality and freshness of demonstrations without compromising the client experience. While PTC maintains large offices in other countries, the company has no immediate plans to replicate the CXC abroad and will instead maintain a strategy centered on delivering either completely in-person or completely virtual engagements from Boston.
For PTC, focusing on building CXC capabilities exclusively at the company’s headquarters reinforces company culture and ensures consistency in delivery. Long-term, TBR anticipates a steady accumulation of case studies, lessons learned and highly trained professionals will lead PTC to create a similar facility at another large PTC location, closer to clients in Europe or Asia.
Following proven approaches, but with a PTC twist
While PTC broke a few cardinal rules, the company also adhered to some of the core characteristics TBR has identified among the elite innovation and transformation centers, notably a willingness to embrace ecosystem partners, a dedicated staff, and an openness to the local community. TBR previously reported on PTC’s inclusion as a branded partner at EY’s Nottingham Spirk innovation center in Cleveland. At PTC’s CXC, the company includes partners as diverse as KPMG and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) as clearly branded logos when those partners have been integral to the solution on display.
Clients understand and expect every vendor they engage across the consulting, IT services and technology ecosystem — from McKinsey & Co. to Wipro (NYSE: WIT) to Nokia — will play a part in solving their business problems and delivering on digital transformation in some way. Including partners in innovation and transformation centers strengthens a vendor’s brand, a lesson many consultancies and IT services vendors took years to learn while PTC leapfrogged into implementing a partner-friendly approach.
- An important tangent: PTC raised the concern that its technology at partners’ locations could be unintentionally misrepresented or improperly demonstrated if PTC’s professionals were not involved. TBR has considered embracing technology partners’ capabilities and brand to be a critical success factor at innovation and transformation centers, but PTC’s caution reflects an important nuance in how consultancies and IT services vendors incorporate alliance partners’ technologies into client engagements. PTC smartly relies on delivering up-to-date and high-quality demonstrations remotely from its CXC when the company believes the particular use case, the specific client and the partner require PTC’s intimate involvement.
PTC staffs its CXC with professionals trained to present the company’s technology and use cases while tailoring the storytelling elements to a client’s specific needs, industry or interests. Sales professionals prepare the client for on-site visits after the CXC staff, in coordination with PTC’s leadership, reviews the business case to organize one- to two-day sessions. Subject matter experts elsewhere in the building can be summoned to assist should a client raise questions beyond the assigned staff’s immediate knowledge.
In all, PTC’s CXC staffing model echoes that of similarly sized innovation and transformation centers and seemingly lacks only consulting specialists adept at drawing out business challenges and reshaping engagement sessions while they are happening. Further replicating successful strategies at other centers, PTC has embraced the local community, opening the CXC for social or less structured sessions outside of scheduled business hours. In Boston’s seaport district, PTC and the CXC benefit from the technology-oriented business community and easy access to universities and startups.
Delivering something different: PTC’s CEO, Hollywood and a view of tomorrow
In addition to breaking innovation and transformation center rules, PTC’s CXC contains a few unique elements. First, as noted above, PTC benefits from a CEO who wants to participate in every engagement at the CXC and a leadership team that resides in Boston should a client need to hear directly from the company’s decision makers.
In TBR’s analysis, while most innovation and transformation centers have used a variety of metrics to evaluate their effect on their company’s bottom line, the most successful centers have leveraged initial leadership commitments to sustain long-term strategies and investments, with or without counting the number of client sessions, pull-through revenue, or other measure of success. PTC’s CXC staff tracks the effectiveness of its client engagements, reporting quarterly to PTC’s leadership, while enjoying the attention – and pressure – of a highly engaged CEO.
In addition, PTC’s CX Studio and extended reality (xR) wall bring a Hollywood-level quality to virtual presentations and engagements. For a company that, according to its website, purports to “use digital technology to improve the physical world,” having a truly state-of-the-art capability to produce digital content and broadcast globally reinforces the company’s potential value to clients. During TBR’s visit, the PTC CXC professionals noted that the sheer technological prowess of the xR wall allowed PTC to punch above its weight in the crowded software and services market, allowing the company to deliver differently and meet emerging expectations around the quality, versatility and interconnectedness of virtual delivery.
- A second important tangent: PTC will not engage in hybrid client engagement sessions. Everyone is either on-site at the Boston CXC or remote (typically in Europe or Asia). In PTC’s experience, every hybrid engagement includes a suboptimal experience for at least one group of participants. While a necessary compromise during the pandemic, PTC currently insists on one common delivery experience, with the xR wall greatly improving what can be done virtually. TBR predicted hybrid engagements would eventually become the norm as consultancies, IT services vendors, technology providers and clients adjusted to the post-pandemic world. PTC’s decision to jettison hybrid strikes TBR as in keeping with the company’s independent and practically minded culture, even as TBR believes many of PTC’s ecosystem partners will continue to rely on hybrid for innovation and transformation engagements for the near future. As the pandemic fades, PTC will likely prove to be ahead of peers as hybrid’s limitations fail to overcome convenience.
PTC’s final unique element comes from the physical and intentional separation between today and tomorrow. Most of the CXC’s space illuminates what PTC can deliver today, with demonstrations of clients’ use cases and ample room to engage with client decision makers, PTC subject matter experts and professionals, and PTC’s technology partners. In contrast to innovation and transformation centers that focus on the art of the possible, PTC’s CXC stays rooted in what can be deployed today.
But in a separate space and enclosed by glass walls, the PTC Reality Lab allows the company to experiment with near-future technologies and demonstrate for clients what could be possible in their IT and operational technology environments. In TBR’s view, this clear delineation between today and tomorrow solves one of the persistent challenges at these centers: bringing immediate value during a client’s on-site visit while positioning for transformation after the client returns to their home offices and facilities.
Over the last six years, clients have lamented to TBR that art-of-the-possible sessions imagining an incredible future state have not solved current business and technology challenges. PTC’s approach likely resonates with clients that have visited consultancies’ and IT services vendors’ innovation and transformation centers and walked away intrigued but unsatisfied.
Subtle key to success: Touching the hardware at a software vendor’s showcase
In TBR’s landscape of innovation and transformation centers, PTC’s CXC stands apart for a couple of reasons. First, the center’s focus on client use cases to showcase PTC’s technologies contrasts with consultancies’ and IT services vendors’ typical focus on solving business problems (although PTC tackles this as well). Even as many IT services vendors and consultancies move toward becoming software vendors — or at least selling software “as a Service” — the CXC reflects the core business model differences between those vendors and PTC and the resulting differences in value derived from running a client experience center. Second, the physicalness of the CXC’s use cases provide clients with a visceral experience, a hands-on-an-engine kind of engagement that is both uncommon at innovation and transformation centers and surprising coming from a software vendor.
Overall, PTC has addressed clients’ fundamental business needs — tell me what to do, help me do it, do it for me — by creating an experience center that shows what can be done through on-site physical demonstrations, proves that PTC’s solutions can be vital to solving business problems and be deployed immediately, and positions clients to work with PTC on future challenges. Further, the CXC helps PTC build trust and relationships across its entire ecosystem, from partners to clients to clients’ customers.
As part of ongoing research, TBR publishes a semiannual Innovation and Transformation Centers Market Landscape, which includes characteristics common to these centers, analysis of trends influencing vendors’ activities and investments, and profiles of a dozen or more leading consultancies, IT services vendors, and cloud and software companies. TBR will publish the next edition in mid-December and will include a special section on PTC’s CXC.