By Verdi Ogewell, editor-in-chief, VerkstadsForum PLM Magazine
The winds of change are blowing through traditional CAD territory. SolidWorks is no longer the small, tightly knit CAD and PDM company of yore. What fifteen years ago was a couple of hundred users is now 1,5 million, while the world, and current technologies, are changing at a breakneck pace. Now, more than ever, there’s a need to prepare for the future. To smoothly habituate the users to new technologies like cloud solutions, PLM processes, Ipads, smart phones and so forth. The company is facing a paradigm shift, and the man who will lead the journey is Bertrand Sicot, a Frenchman and a company veteran, up to now responsible for global sales. While the former CEO, Jeff Ray, has been kicked upstairs in the DS hierarchy. Because when SolidWorks enters the cloud and the PLM arena, it’s the owner, Dassault Systemes, and its charismatic leader, Bernard Charles, holding the reins. It’s in the R&D department of the DS headquarters in Paris where the development resources are kept - creating a situation some call “The French Connection”.
Is SolidWorks being “dassaultified”? The question was the subject of significant debate among the 5000 participants, analysts and journalists of this year’s SolidWorks World event in San Antonio, Texas. Framing the huge user meet was also the fact that the company recently swapped CEO. Just before the event, Jeff Ray was replaced as the CEO of SolidWorks by the Frenchman Bertrand Sicot. Further stoking the flames of debate about how the owner, Dassault Systémes is taking a firmer grip of SolidWorks. Speculation around the reasons for the switch at the top of the company has been abundant, and during SolidWorks World there was a clear indication that the company is now going through something of a transformation.
Robust and everyday CAD, simulation and workgroup PDM solutions, previously typical SolidWorks specialities, will be developed towards a more integrated PLM suite. And the man to lead SolidWorks through this paradigm shift is, as previously stated, not Jeff Ray, but Bertrand Sicot.
Adding to this is also the possibility that Sicot’s background as global sales manager, will strengthen the organization’s sales.
But how far has the company reached on its way into the cloud and PLM? Why does SolidWorks choose to switch to Dassault’s V6 platform, which DS’s CAD flagship Catia also uses, when building the 3D tools of the next generation? And how does this affect the users?
Questions galore, while the answers at this time still amount to little more than general outlines. Björn Lindwall, CEO of SW reseller SolidEngineer, probably put it best:
- I think, he said, what we’re seeing here at SolidWorks World is the preparation for what’s to come. We know that we must present these things early, because the engineering industry is generally quite slow when it comes to adopting new technology. We’ve seen it before: SolidWorks’ strategy for many years now, has been to tell people about the technology when it’s finished. The consequences of this are that the technology takes a long time to reach it’s final destination, i.e. the end-users. By sharing the vision, which now includes things like the cloud and PLM, telling people where we’re headed, we can prepare our customer base. Even though some elements are still a year or more away, with this strategy, we won’t lose time in the transfer.
It couldn’t be put any clearer; what we’re seeing is a significant ideological shift. To anyone who has followed the company during its, roughly, fifteen years of existence, it’s quite clear that the owner, Dassault Systèmes, has begun embracing the company in a way that will lead to a radical reshaping and broadening of the program portfolio, nor is there any doubt about who is leading the charge: DS’s Bernard Charles.
Whether this is good or bad is up for discussion, but it’s plain to see that the new globalized and “internetified” industry environment that’s emerging at a breakneck pace, will demand solutions that are completely different from what we’re used to. And anyone that steers against the wind, will sooner or later perish.
I asked the new chief of SW, Bertrand Sicot, what’s happening and where he’s intending to take the company.
- In essence it’s about an evolution, he said, not a revolution. Because in France a revolution sometimes means that you can lose your head, so you have to be careful. So it will be an evolutionary process, with the main point still being 3D for the professional market, which is more than just mechanical CAD and simulation. We will have more than one solution for designing. That’s number one. Number two is that we’ve now, officially, gone out and said that our solutions will be available on three platforms: Desktop, online, and mobile.
Do you see any risks surrounding a “dassaultification” of SolidWorks?
- No, I don’t see any risks, instead I see it as a great opportunity for us to access Dassault Systèmes great pool of talents. So we can now take that knowledge and integrate it under the SolidWorks brand.
So, no, the “dassaultification” of the organization is not a problem for the company, according to Sicot. He takes the opposite view: A “solidworksification” of the Dassault part. Sicot and his coworkers expect that the merger will create a positive synergy effect. Certainly, there will be some technical collisions and some cultural butting of heads, although these things can also sometimes initiate positive processes and increase their momentum.
The founder of SolidWorks, Jon Hirschtik, is also among the crowd of people that see the potential of this development, but he also points out the necessity.
- Above all, we’ve grown massively, there’s a big difference between having a few thousand licenses and counting them in millions. Today we have roughly one and a half million licenses and I think that’s where the biggest difference lies.
- The other difference is that we’re broadening the definition of what CAD is. It’s about expanding to new markets with new products, like PDM, and now cloud based PDM with SolidWorks new solution N!fuze. If you look at our current product portfolio, you’ll see that it’s very rich compared to just a couple of years ago. We have simulation, we have a new sustainability product, we have DraftSight for 2D, we have Livebuildings for construction.
But what about the basic program - the 3D CAx solution - what’s happening there? Certain is that the winds of change are blowing in many different directions, but one of the more dramatic parts of what’s to come, is that the SolidWorks of the future will be run on Dassault’s V6 platform, which is what’s currently powering Dassault’s flagship solution Catia. Austin O’Malley executive VP of R&D at SolidWorks:
- I think what we’re trying to do here is about connecting people and communities, as well as connecting people with content and services. With the Dassault Enovia platform (DS’s PLM solution) we get a common online solution for all of Dassault’s products. The V6 platform will allow us to create communities. One early example of this is DraftSight. Which is a community supported product, something that will benefit the users greatly. We will also be seeing a number of other communities related to SolidWorks and Catia users, and also people that are working in a specific engineering discipline.
There’s little doubt that Dassault’s R&D resources were greatly appreciated by the SolidWorks developers. The analysts are also seeing the technological possibilities that the closer cooperation could bring about.
Here’s what Bradley Holtz, at Cyan Research, had to say:
- Jeff Ray got kicked upstairs in the corporation to tackle bigger issues. And, as we all know, the new CEO Bertrand Sicot is French. This begs the question: Is SolidWorks getting “frenchified”? I don’t think that’s the case. Sicot was one of the first European hires of SolidWorks. And he brings a unique perspective. Just like when Jeff Ray was brought in to prepare SolidWorks to become a multi-billion dollar company, I think that Bertrand is well positioned to execute on sales, something that’s needed to help them move forward.
- With regards to the technology transfer that’s going on right now, should the SolidWorks community be worried?
- No, absolutely not, says Holtz. What’s really happening here, is that the SolidWorks users are getting the best of both worlds.
Veteran American CAD-journalist, Randall Newton, agrees:
- The perception that people get worried when a change of management comes around is exaggerated. Sure, there are always people who say “oh no, it’s the end of the product”, but nothing like that is going to happen. Instead I see the positive things that can come out of this. The SolidWorks developers will share resources with the Simulia developers (Simulia is Dassault’s CAE-suite) for simulation and design. And they can use the resources of the 3DVIA team to create better visualization for product management. So, there’s basically a number of advantages that will benefit the SW users.
The PDM part of SolidWorks is headed by a Swede, Kenneth Hallberg. What changes will we see, in line with the trends we have been talking about?
- We will continue to focus on the products that have been hugely successful for a number of years. Both on the SolidWorks side and on the PDM side with Enterprise PDM. While at the same time, we’re a software developer doing cutting edge work, which means that we have a number of other products in development. And in connection with our current development process, we take the possibilities of the cloud into account.
A PDM solution on the cloud - when will we see this?
- We’re already releasing a service called N!fuze. It’s a service that’s built into the user interface of SolidWorks, while at the same time offering cloud based collaboration capabilities.
So, the new N!fuze service is the first in a line of future, cloud related solutions, within SolidWorks. And this is where the focus of the company’s development work is right now. Something that was reflected at this year’s SolidWorks World. Normally, the climax of the event is the so called, “sneak peek” of the upcoming version of SolidWorks’ 3D CAD solution. The presentation of SW 2012 did come, but on the news front, it was mostly quiet, possibly explained by the company preparing for the cloud.
One should bear in mind that there is a certain amount of skepticism towards the lack of momentum regarding new cloud solutions, PLM and new apps, among the CAD analyst crowd. Because, since Jeff Ray’s solemn PLM declaration, about a year ago, there’s been a certain lack of real, solid proof of the company’s new direction. At SW World they showed:
* V6 based Live Buildings - a new solution for construction design
* A collaboration solution called Post 3D, also based on the V6 platform
* And so, the V6-solution N!fuze, which is a further development of last year’s Connect. This is basically a product for data sharing, where development teams can drag and drop CAD models, to make them available to other project participants (there are possibilites for user restrictions, who gets to see what etc.). This, as well as a community for Draftsight, is what has been officially released so far.
This all seems a bit meager, but perhaps it can be likened to a ketchup bottle - at first there’s very little, then everything at once.