In this episode of the PLM Quick 30, we talk with Brent Gulash who has been with Oshkosh Defense for over 20 years. Oshkosh Defense builds everything from fire trucks to military vehicles. Brent is currently a senior project manager in IT where he runs the Windchill program and has been doing so for about 3 years.

We are going to be diving into his journey for a huge transformational project he has been taking on for the last couple of years. This includes not just the technologies in use today, but technologies such as AR and VR that will be disrupting the future. Listen to the full podcast to find out more.

Contact us if you’re ready to discuss a dynamic PLM strategy.


The transcript is close to a literal transcript of the spoken word. Please excuse any grammatical errors, spelling errors or break in the flow. The podcast is a non-scripted conversation with natural flow aimed to deliver value. 

Brent: The industry was changing around it. All the other tools we use in the business, ad tools, configurators, all that other technology started growing. And we kept utilizing it and linking into it. It really became very highly customized.

Patrick: So you started it basically with a mini-project of doing discovery, building requirements, and then laying out a road map to help set executives’ expectations of where you wanted to take it.

Brent Gulash: We did what we call the study and then we said: “Here’s what we need to do, and what do the buyers have to offer?” We’ve moved into live demos. We can see how the tool works.

Patrick: Hello, everybody. Welcome to ArcherGrey’s Quick 30, where we talk all things PLM. I’m really excited about the guest we have today. His name is Brent Gulash, who works for Oshkosh Defense. And we are going to be diving into his huge transformational project journey that he’s been encountering over the last a couple years, and probably beyond that. So Brent, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us today.

Brent: Yeah, thanks for having me, Patrick.

Patrick Great. So why don’t we kick things off by just getting everybody a little bit familiar with you, who you are, who Oshkosh Defense is, what you guys do, and then we’ll go into it from there.

Brent: All right, well, my name is Brent Gulash, as Patrick said, and I’ve been here in Oshkosh Defense, I’ve been with the Oshkosh Corporation on a little over 20, 20 and a half years. Oshkosh Defense builds custom military apparatus, we also have Marshall Corporate division, have our commercial division, fire trucks, access equipment, all sorts of things. But Defense focuses on our government and our war fighter. My job here is, I’m a senior project manager in IT, I’ve been running the Winchell program for about three years, before that I ran some smaller IT projects. And then my previous life before that, I was actually in CAD and PLM administration. And life before that, I was actually a designer, so kind of a different journey, as you could say.

Patrick: Well, there’s nobody better suited to run a PLM program than somebody that speaks the language of the core of the information that’s being stored in it.

Brent: Yeah, it’s nice to have that background and understand how your user works. And of course you’re always learning along the way and how things have changed and grown, and how much technology has changed in the last about 10 years. I’ve been focused on more of A PLM or PDM CAD administration area.

Patrick: So let’s give everybody a little bit of background from five years and further back. I remember attending a product innovation conference where you guys had presented, I don’t think you were presenting, but somebody else within the organization was presenting how far you could extend SMART Team to be your PLM system internally. And it was more of a discussion, not of “We can’t use this system.” It was “Here’s how far we’ve extended it and what the art of possibility is.” And it may have been seven or eight years ago. So I’m not exactly sure the timeframe, but can you tell us what the situation looked like with SMART Team and how far you extended it? I mean, not into the technical details, but just give us a little glimpse of it.

Brent Gulash: So SMART Team, it’s been in defense approximately 15, 16 years. And what we’re able to do it, you know, SMART Team was a highly configured, actually a highly customized. We did a lot with workflows, a lot with data management, you know, rules, CAD administration rules, things like that. And from a PDM standpoint, it really did suit the business’s needs about the first 10, 12, 13, 14 years it did suit our needs. And then as far as extending it into the future of today, where we’re at different building materials, things like that, we started getting to the point where you really couldn’t integrate more with the tool. We couldn’t keep moving the business forward. We had taken SMART Team to where it was not integrating, the industry was changing around it. All the other tools we used in the business, from CAD tools to business tools, configurators, things like that, all that other technology started growing. And we kept utilizing it and linking into it as best we could.

Brent: But it really became very, as I said, very highly customized. So we hit a wall approximately four or five years ago. So we could keep SMART Team, or we could have kept SMART Team around a few more years. But as you said, you need to start moving forward at some point. We had to look at what was going to be out there and we started hearing through the different forums and shows and things like that, that SMART Team is not the future platform. And OLVIA was, so we had to start taking a look at the change in the industry and how much more we invest in it. But as far as how far we took it, we really took it very far. We did our build material management, we pushed our stuff to JDE, we had our links. We did all that we could with it. So it finally just wasn’t cost effective to do more.

Patrick: Yeah, I mean, it’s typically … Rarely do compelling events happen in the life of PDM and PLM. And typically it’s either forced by the software vendor or there’s a change in leadership that, I don’t know if it’s more comfortable, but has a more compelling story of the platform and the strategy that the organization is trying to achieve. I’m curious, you kind of touched on some of the integration points, but I’m curious, strategically as an organization, what were some of those technologies that were forcing you to re-look at PLM? Where you had a desire to integrate? I mean, were there a couple that were driving forces?

Brent: Oh, there was a couple. Linking in with your ERPs was one of them, we’re growing in that area. But a lot of it became into your CAD tools, your manufacturing, programming for manufacturing tools, a lot of your illustrate tools. We started working in that realm, and those are the initial ones, but it really was a lot of very CAD-based. Very much CAD-based.

Patrick: Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. All right, so you’d extended the tool. Some of the peripheral technologies were forcing the platform. So a lot of organizations are curious about how the funding campaign went with executives. What was the compelling event? So can you talk a little bit about how you had positioned it internally from a funding perspective? I mean, was it just one ask and you got the funding to replace the PLM system? Or was it more involved?

Brent: Oh, it was more involved. So we started a number of years ago, probably about four, four or five. We’d been talking about this for, honestly, six to eight when I was back at my previous segment, Pierce, one of the other subsidiaries, and we went into numerous asks. We had to start moving forward. We were in a position where we needed to, you need to work, you need to serve your customer better. Our internal customer, you know, the other departments. And so we went back and we said “We need to start moving forward with a new PLM or PDM initiative.” I shouldn’t say PLM. PLM, you know, we all know the difference in PLM, PDM. But we started moving forward and we said “We need to move forward with this tool.” And what we did was, is first we went in for an initial ask and it was, you know, some pushback, which it would be. You know, it’s a big change.

Brent: And we started off with a kind of an interview process to get to budgeting cycles. Like what does the business need? What does the business need to do? What kind of capabilities, as we call it, what do you need? What do you want from us? We went in and we were told “Hey, in order for us to move this forward, we need to kind of get some more ammunition.” So we spent about a year doing an interview process, which we can talk about later. And that helped us get into the budgeting cycle. So then when we got in the budgeting cycle we talked about business needs, we said “Hey, we need to go talk about … you need to go talk to different suppliers and see what they have to offer based on our business needs.”

Brent: And when we did all that, we started putting together a large multi-year ask. So we won [inaudible], part of management, started talking to them, why we needed to upgrade, why we needed to change systems, why we want to do this to the customer. But at the same time, we did put together a multi-year program. So then you weren’t trying to justify this year over year. It ended up being about a three-year program.

Patrick: And so that whole process of getting funding, so you started it basically with a mini-project of doing discovery, building requirements, and then laying out a road map to help set executives’ expectations of where you wanted to take it.

Brent: Yes. Yes, we did. So yeah, we, we did what we called a study, and then we said: “Here’s what we need to do, and what do these suppliers have to offer?” We’d moved into live demos so we could see how the tool worked. We wrote custom, not a demo script as you would think like a standard check the box, but gave them some demos on how to solve problems. You know, here’s a problem. How does your software overall solve the problem, and how does your software do that for us? Not just “Hey, does it check something in and out? Check. It wasn’t that type of thing. But to kind of show to the business and to the executives, one of these solutions can help us move forward to give us a new foundation for PDM and a new foundation for PLM, and then movement into the future.

Patrick: So let me touch on that, laying the foundation, because I’m actually interested about the timeline here and kind of how things evolved. So you mentioned that you went through, well, starting the discussion six to eight years ago, right? And then laid out a three-year road map. So roughly we’re around the end of that initial three years. And ultimately my question is going to be around perception, right? So at the time you had mentioned the word PDM, right? So product data management, managing the data for your products, versus PLM, managing the life cycle of the product and the information related to that.

Patrick: And I think what I see with different clients and companies that I speak with is level-setting on what those definitions mean related to the organization. And sometimes that’s the perception of how it’s been communicated internally. But I suspect that most people on the phone call, will … We can assume that we probably would all agree on what PDM is versus PLM, but I’m interested to hear your perspective as it relates to six to eight years ago. PDM versus PLM, can you define those just for others on this call that may not know the difference?

Brent: Yeah. So PDM to me, product data management, is your … We needed to start there. So product data management to me is you’re storing your management of your data. Those of us that maybe more worked on the tools in our current and past lives, you know, it’s checking in and out. Setting things to release for prototyping, production. Workflow management, day to day, just managing your day to day CAD data. Managing your day to day with all your different process data. That to me is PDM. it’s really just your basics. It’s your good foundation. In order to build, to go from PDM to PLM, product life cycle management, to incorporate all aspects of the business, things like that, you got to start with a good foundation.

Brent Gulash: And that foundation was very focused on engineering, because that’s where the core, that’s where the information starts here at this company. From a design standpoint. And then PLM, where I see product life cycle management, is the transition from your foundational items to your movement to the future, to incorporating your downstream customers, from operations after market and support. Purchasing, you know, working away at the entire business. Even on the front end, inputs from customers, inputs from your contracts. All those different things. So to me that’s … PDM is that part in the middle, and PLM, product life cycle management, is really managing the information from when it comes in the door until the product goes out the door, and then servicing that information. Brent Gulash: 14:11 So six to eight years ago we were very PDM-focused. That’s what we’ve always had. PLM really wasn’t, it was a discussion, but honestly we were learning about it. Some people even thought, I always thought it was kind of funny, I would sit in front of certain people and they would actually tell me “Well, what PLM system do we buy?” Which kind of makes you laugh a little. But that was also part of the journey of learning the difference between PDM and PLM.

Patrick: Well, I mean, you guys are definitely in a different place today. In fact, I know you know this, but Oshkosh Defense is going to have a pretty substantial exhibit and presence at Live Works this coming June, and so that’s going to be exciting for all of the attendees that that are going to be there. I don’t know if you can divulge anything related to the exhibit, but in tandem we’ll also be presenting and kind of digging into your transformational project and movement from SMART Team and diving into the details a bit more. So if there’s anybody out there going through a transformational situation, and it doesn’t have to necessarily be replacing your PLM system, but expanding your level of maturity as it relates to PLM, this conversation and presentation that Brent will be giving at Live Works with ArcherGrey, we’ll dig into those details and there’ll be a lot of takeaways for folks that’ll add value to the initiatives that they’re planning moving forward. Is there anything that you can kind of give a little teaser about the exhibit? Or …

Brent: Well, I don’t want to give away too much, but one of our expensive vehicles is going to be there, you know. You need to come check it out. We’re going to be highlighting some of the things we’ve done from initial service areas and some design areas and showing, with our move to the new system and showing the ability to, you know, what the art of the possible is. What we’ve been able to gain in our three-year journey here. So yeah, come check it out. It’s pretty cool stuff. So like I said, I don’t want to get into taking somebody else’s thunder, but we’re going to have one of our newer trucks there. And you know, it’s something to see.

Patrick: Yeah. You’ve been partnering with PTC on enhancing some of the demos related to that, but what’s relevant about bringing that exhibit up now is your point on the necessity of laying the foundation. Because without the foundation being laid correctly, the art of possible is just a utopian vision that doesn’t have much basis in reality. However, you guys have prioritized and focused on laying the foundation that the art of possible is going to be in front of everybody’s eyes at Live Works.

Brent: Yeah, it is. And we are going to be in front of them, and some things you’re going to see, I mean, we’re moving forward, we’re doing these things and we’re building on that. I mean, we’re able to go as … Patrick and I, talking with you, we’re building, we’re moving forward on really getting into that true PLM world. I mean, touching on AR, VR, all those sorts of things. Moving in, we’re moving forward to the point where we have the core foundation, we have the users, we have people utilizing the system. And it’s exciting. It’s exciting to start to have this journey move forward. And as we talk, and we talk about the journey at Live Works, and then part of that is stop down the floor and see what we’re doing, see what Oshkosh is doing these days.

Patrick: So can I shift the conversation a little bit to your opinion on how you were successful to be able to move? I mean, there’s a lot of customers out there that have a hard time moving these transformational projects forward and becoming successful. So I’m interested to hear your thoughts on, what do you think is required to take on implementing and migrating to a new system, and having the discipline to know where you want to take it from a vision perspective, but having the discipline to realize that you’ve got to be patient and lay the right foundation first?

Brent: So in order to make these successful, step one, you’ve got to have your executive management, you’ve got to have buy-in. That’s a big one. You know, this is a large change, and you need that support from the top down. Because the biggest thing that we’ll talk about here now and then in the future, in the presentation at Live Works, is going to be about organizational change management. Really working the business and talking the business through the change that’s going to happen. You know, the system change is one amount of effort. It really is. I believe it’s underestimated at how large the people chang is.

Brent: So having that executive buy-in, having them supporting you from the top end, to get through the frustrations as you work through pilots, as you work through the movement of all the departments, however you choose to move your information and your process that you pick, and I was talking at Live Works about how we did, and working forward you have to stay on top of that. Learning that even when things maybe aren’t going so well on a certain day, keeping that communication up, keeping people moving with that really does help define success for your project.

Patrick: I mean, those are two huge points that we reiterate as well. I mean, executive buy-in for sure. It’s one of the things, I think, in the first conversation that we have with new prospects and clients is making sure that there is executive buy-in. And as you mentioned, we’re going to be diving into that in a bit more detail about what that means at the presentation of Live Works, as well as the people aspect. I mean, that’s one of the transformations that I’ve seen throughout the evolution of implementing PLM. It used to be a more of a toolkit, I guess, back in the days when it was considered PDM, and PLM was more of just a vision of what the software providers were working towards. But as we sit in 2019, the software really is capable of managing that full life cycle of the product.

Patrick: And they’re really exciting times. So you think about the extrapolation and evolution of the software, right? And now you’re impacting even more people than you had originally had before. So OCM becomes a huge portion of it, because you have to break down those walls and those silos that may have existed in your organization prior to, to make sure everybody’s on the same page. And you understand as you’re implementing this technology how the information is consumed and what the impact is upstream and downstream. Have you seen that aspect? I mean, if you compare this to other projects historically with Oshkosh, has this one taken on a little different tone because of what I said? I mean, you highlighted the people aspect, but is what I said true and applicable to what you experienced at Oshkosh?

Brent: So it is true to what we experienced. The people change is controlling the people change and really managing their expectations. Deployment and work of the actual technical work, as long as they’re understanding what’s coming and why it’s coming, and even when they don’t see the value, even when they don’t see where you’re going, teaching them that these are the steps it takes to get there. I know maybe, for example, we talk about different things within the systems. We talk about different technologies that are in there. We’ve had to explain some things to the users that, well, maybe we’re working on this right now, but you don’t see the end yet because we’re just in the beginning. But don’t worry, in a few months you’re going to start to see it. You’re going to start to see the benefit of certain things. The way we manage, those Winchell users out there, they call them the WT part. You know, for an example, that was a change here and it’s something extra. But Will’s users, when they first got into it, they were a little “Okay, well, why?”

Brent: And then as you got past the why and they understood the why and they started utilizing the system and you worked through that OCM process, they started going “Oh, look at the benefit I get. I didn’t know I could do that. Oh, can I do that now? Oh, hey, hey, hey, hey, I want to do that now.” And so you went from, “I’ve got to make this change,” and that’s part of the OCM, to “Hey, I heard now that we have this newer system, we can do this, and I can maybe have that.” And they started asking for all those things. Like I said, I’ll cover a lot of that in our presentation here at Live Works.” But we’re working through that. So it’s applicable. Stay on top of it.

Patrick: I mean that’s a huge point of transformation. And you had mentioned five, six years ago you established the first road map, which was three years. And more or less, we’re past those three years, which the foundation is laid. And so let me just ask this, now that the road map is, you’ve progressed on the road map, is it done? Or is there an evolution to this? You had just mentioned users are now coming to you with enthusiasm about the potential. Is that happening, and are there more, is there an evolving road map now?

Brent: So is the road map done? No. The road map five, six years ago of the understanding where we were at was was, say, a version of the road map. We’re still working down that exact same road map, it’s just evolving. It’s evolved as we moved on. As we’ve learned about the new capabilities of a system, when the users have had their wants, I mean, a lot of this has been change in process. We did things a certain way because previous softwares, that’s how they worked. Everybody understands that works in software, this is just the way they work sometimes. Nothing wrong with that. That’s just where you were at.

Brent: Well, as we’ve learned and evolved with the system, we’ve learned the capabilities of software and we’re learning about additional capabilities and additional technologies. The road map stays the same, but there’s offshoots and there’s “Hey, but I could, I need this now.” So we are going to be on this journey for quite a long time. We’ve learned, and where we’re at right now, as I said earlier, is we needed to get a solid foundation. And that’s where we are. We have the foundation, we’re moving forward, and it’s time to build. People are coming to us and we’re saying, they’re saying “Can we do this?” And we’re like “Well, we can, we should probably talk about if we need to or should we, but we can do these things.” And that’s an exciting place to be.

Patrick: Brent, I love that comment right there. You’re now in a position where you are saying, “Yes, we can do that, but should we?” That’s a powerful place to be in helping the user community unleash potential functionality that could benefit the business. That’s phenomenal. So let’s wrap this podcast up and I’ll start by saying if you’ve loved hearing what Brent had to say and this initial discussion, you’re going to love what Oshkosh Defense is doing at PTC’s Live Works this coming June. They’re going to have an awesome exhibit that will show and demonstrate the art of possibility of what they’re doing internally and the foundation that they’ve laid that’s going to enable tremendous capability in the future.

Patrick: So I encourage everybody to go visit that exhibit in the exhibit hall in the aerospace and defense section of the exhibit hall. And also we’re going to be diving into the details, and Brent’s going to be presenting on this transformational project that’s transpired over the last couple of years at Oshkosh Defense. So there’s going to be lots of nuggets of information that people will be able to take away and apply to their business. So I encourage everybody to look that up and attend it if you’re going to be at Live Works. So with that, Brent, is there anything else that you’d like to add before we end the podcast?

Brent: Oh no, I just thank you very much for having me today, Patrick. And yes, from everybody out there, we’ll be at Live Works, be having our presentation. I’ll be out there, I will be by our booze. It’ll be a bunch of us from Oshkosh there running around. So feel free to ask questions of the team and team members and myself. And we want to, my goal with a program like this is, you learn things along the way and you want to share those things because that helps, it helps other people move forward. So, in the end, this is really about the movement of people more than even the movement of technology. So we’ll see you there, and thanks a lot, Patrick.

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