Do you know what Dassault Systèmes means when it refers to its solutions as “experiences”? No? Well, DS is trying hard to explain its vision and clear up confusion around the difference between V6, the experiences and the brands (CATIA, DELMIA, ENOVIA, SolidWorks and so on). Last month DS held the North American edition of its 3DEXPERIENCE Customer FORUM in Las Vegas, with around 1,000 customers, partners and industry insiders gathered to learn more about DS’s vision for the future.

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CEO Bernard Charlès reiterated the company’s commitment to the North American market and said that DS wants to “be a local company with global reach” in each of its regions — an interesting comment and one with serious implications for services delivery in an increasingly digital “it-doesn’t matter-where-we-are” world. He didn’t elaborate, but other DS executives told me about expanding and building out regional centers of excellence to provide support as appropriate much as SIMULIA is doing around the FE-DESIGN acquisition.

During his keynote, M. Charlès began the serious messaging of the event: the difference between platforms, solutions and experiences. 3DExperience is the platform that powers apps; V6 is an architecture while the industry-specific experiences are cherry-picked pieces of the DS portfolio, with additional content as required, to streamline specific work processes. Cars are different from airplanes are different from power plants, and the solutions used to design and engineer each must, therefore, also be different. The message is getting clearer and more practical and, if the presentations at the 3DEXPERIENCE are anything to go by, more DS customers seem to be getting it.

Monica Menghini, EVP for Industry, Marketing and Corporate Communications  (in the image above), kept the theme going and focused on how DS’ 10 brands tie into one platform to support 12 industries. (Yes, that’s a lot to work your brain around.) Ms. Menghini gave a number of examples of how DS’ many brands come together to affect how its customers can enable their clients have a better experience — whether in a nuclear power plant, a bank or with a mobile device. The idea is to connect people, data and organizations in a context that lets everyone communicate consistently to make informed decisions. Connecting without acting isn’t accomplishing anything.

I had a chance to speak with Ms. Menghini about her efforts to move DS forward from being a company that’s largely unknown, though its brands are world-famous, and into a world where DS seeks to compete with platform companies and not app vendors.

Ms. Menghini told me that this whole new vision grew because forward-looking customers have reached out to DS to see how DS can help them better connect users, systems and platforms to solve business problems far bigger than “my engineering is too slow” or “our teams need to better communicate”. As a result, DS wants to simplify IT architectures and create business value rather than technology cost centers — it’s a compelling argument that goes far higher within its customer companies than the engineering department.

Ms. Menghini says it’s DS’ job to create solutions that serve three goals: create visible business value, delight users and simplify the process of creating digital data (designs, business plans or whatever in the 12 industries). She sees the industry focus as critical in meeting these goals, because only when DS understands the issues in each specific industry can they create the appropriate components on top of its robust platform.

January 2014 is going to be a big one for DS. That’s when V6-based apps, currently in Beta, will launch. They’ll be cloud-based and targeted at today’s users: people who expect small, light-weight apps. Rarely does one person do the same type of thing all day long; knowledge workers hunt for information, do something with it that leads to the next search for information, which then requires another action, and so on. The one problem: the industry experiences launching in January aren’t the complete portfolio, but are the first releases with many components, but not necessarily all, in place. Ms. Menghini says that DS is executing on a very aggressive roadmap to completely reengineer its core products into apps (such as ENOVIA for brand management, compliance, etc.) with many more to come. The 2014X release is the first of a series that will continue to fill out the Experience portfolio.

I also asked Ms. Menghini about the advertising campaign that places ads in airports and business magazines to promote the DS brands. She says it’s working, and that the communications strategy has boosted awareness of the DS brand (as separate from CATIA, etc.) from 0% a couple of years ago to 29% of LinkedIn users who now know the DS name. That’s great progress — though there’s clearly still a lot of room to grow. Ms. Menghini had a great analogy: “If you constantly fly around me, but one time call yourself CATIA and another time call yourself SIMULIA and never call yourself Dassault Systèmes, it’s no wonder I don’t know you as Dassault Systèmes.” And being known as Dassault Systèmes is hugely important when you’re no longer trying to sell CATIA as a standalone solution, but as part of a larger experience with other products.

I also spoke with the leaders of a couple of the industry verticals and will write about that soon. There’s some terrific stuff coming in the AEC and Energy, Process and Utilities lines, especially around construction. As a quick reminder, DS’ strategy in these verticals isn’t to replace the CAD product in place but to surround it with other components to address construction, safety, operations or other specific aspects.

A couple of last thoughts. The cloud is everywhere, PLM wasn’t really mentioned and the brands didn’t come up often, though there was a terrific presentation by SIMULIA on the use of its products in the energy vertical. More on that soon. DS is doing a good job tactically of creating solutions (aka experiences) that span a typical business process in its end-markets. The problem has been communicating this to the outside world, and it finally seems to be gaining traction. Not yet a critical mass, but definitely building.

Note: DS graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The image above is from the DS media pack.

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