Last week, I spent several days with Altair and its customers in Orlando — I’m not sure how, but I’ve managed to miss all previous HyperWorks user conferences and was excited to see what Altair is all about. I came away very impressed, both with the technology and with the relationship Altair has with customers and partners. But it was a whirlwind, so rather than try to offer a chronological view, here are ten highlights of my time at Altair’s HyperWorks Technology Conference:

• Altair Engineering is a complex, diverse company – but it all grows out of a determined focus on modeling, visualization and automation. Started as a consulting company in 1985, Altair began selling CAE tools to clients when they wanted to try simulation for themselves. Today the company operates a product design business, Altair ProductDesign; markets business intelligence analysis software developed by HiQube; sells industrial design software and services under the solidThinking and ThinkLabs brands; develops lighting technology in its ilumisys unit and manages computes clusters via its PBS Works group. All that is in addition to developing its HyperWorks suite of CAE solutions. I had always thought that the businesses indicated a scattered approach to too many markets, but I now understand that it really all does tie together. Each business informs the rest, leading to a stronger overall offering.

• The company’s revenue dipped like everyone else’s in 2009 but rebounded nicely in 2010 and is anticipated to hit $200 million in 2011. The revenue curve CEO Jim Scapa presented during his keynote showed continual growth with very few flat spots, fueled by acquisitions and diversification.

• Altair’s roots are in automotive, and the company continues to break new ground there as it signed 50 new automotive clients in 2010, but its presence in aerospace is also expanding. Altair says it has signed over 3,000 new aero users since 2007, driven by strong adoption of Hypermesh.

• Like its competitors, Altair is looking to expand into new verticals and reports signing 60 new clients in marine, heavy industry and rail since 2009.

• The acquisition of Mecalog (and its RADIOSS solver) in 2006 fundamentally changed the company, enabling it to offer a more extensive pre-, solver, post- solution set. Altair reports that over 400 new RADIOSS clients have joined the Altair fold since 2007, creating a solid base of prospects to which the company can cross-selling all of its other products. The acquisition of ACUSIM and its AcuSolve CFD products further expands its solver offering; Mr. Scapa said that this was the “final piece” in the HyperWorks offering.

• Mike Kidder, VP of corporate marketing, gave me an overview of HiQube, Altair’s business intelligence and data analytics solution. His examples were in utilities, showing how massive amounts of data can be very quickly analyzed to find usage patterns, determine pricing and perform all sorts of what-if analyses. The performance was truly impressive, making access to enterprise data useful and timely.

• Simulation data management has been a hot topic among CAE and PLM vendors for a while. Customers are less excited about the idea; many analyst see it as a way of forcing their work methods into a corporate, IT-based structure. During the HTC, Altair announced a new/rebranded offering aimed at streamlining an analyst’s workflow — all of the touted advantages are accrued at the analyst’s or engineer’s desktop. CTO Uwe Schramm explained that productivity will be enhanced because the data management technology will be built into the HyperWorks apps, enabling engineers to explore and organize their data. I like the focus on individual productivity, and think it will resonate better than an enterprise message, especially with this audience.

• Hypermath looks like a cool challenger to The Mathworks’ Matlab offering; a Simulink competitor is in the works.

• HyperWorks On-Demand is Altair’s entry into the cloud wars. Customers today buy HyperWorks units to use Altair’s and partner software products — for example, use of a certain product could require 4 units for a day-long session — and can now use these same units to buy compute capacity. RADIOSS, OptiStruct, AcuSolve and BatchMesher are in the initial offering; the company tells me that solvers sold through the HyperWorks Partner Alliance and HyperWorks desktop products will be available soon. The secret sauce here, according to Simone Bonino, marketing manager for HyperWorks Enterprise, is that customers can leverage the same units for both hardware and software — users generate the model on their desktops, upload to the Altair cloud and retrieve results. Check with Altair, but it also sounded as though price-attractive bundling is included in the offer.

• HyperWorks 11.0 was the big news of the event, and its features/enhancements/updates are too numerous to list here. But what I found most interesting was how the announcement was made and received: when Jeff Brennan, chief marketing officer, kicked the HTC meeting off by saying that 11.0 was available for download, the crowd clapped. No iPad app, no whizzbang demo, just a simple statement. 11.0 was originally supposed to be out earlier this year but was, according to the company, help up because “the quality wasn’t where we wanted it to be”. Customers appreciated this – their view is that they are paying for a finished product, not a work in progress. If that takes a bit longer, they’d rather wait.

I need to add an 11th item, not because it’s a conference experience but because it’s important. I’ve written before about the efforts Altair and other companies have made to help their customers hone skills and find jobs, a tough but important assignment in difficult economic times. Altair’s ProductDesign business just announced that it is looking for (yes, looking for) 1,000 designers to place with clients via its staffing service. Go to http://www.altairpd.com for more info

Altair took a risk by moving this year’s HTC out of the Detroit metro area — previous events were held near the company’s Troy, MI, office. The result was a less automotive-heavy crowd, the vast majority (something like 80%) of whom had never been to an Altair HTC before. It was a terrific showcase for the HyperWorks suite and introduction of AcuSolve, for partner products and for customer presentations. Will I go again (if invited, of course!)? You betcha. I want to see what’s in HyperWorks 12.0.

Note: Altair Engineering graciously covered expenses and registration for the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.