I spent yesterday in Concord, Massachusetts, home of the Minuteman, the “shot heard round the world” and other US Revolutionary War sites, but I wasn’t there for the history. SolidWorks invited press and analysts to its world headquarters for a preview of SolidWorks 2012. This release contains some 200 enhancements but the details are embargoed until next week, so this post is light on details but, I hope, conveys some of the vibe of the event.

Bertrand Sicot, SolidWorks CEO, kicked off the day by listing the six “CEO principles” he’s using to inform his leadership. He sees “listening” as key to creating SolidWorks 2012, with new functionality that must “serve 90% of users”. “Keep it simple” applies to every aspect of SolidWorks, both as a brand and a company: the product needs to be easy to use and the company’s business processes easy to work with. “Users first” was next, but is perhaps the most important; said M. Sicot, “We must not forget that we exist to serve them; without them there is no company”. “Invest in the channel” has been a core principle of SolidWorks from the start and “extend the professional market for 3D” describes the future: SolidWorks wants to expand the use of the data created and stored in its product throughout its customers’ enterprise and supply chain. An important part of realizing this vision comes out in SolidWorks 2012 — but I can’t tell you about that until next week.

I had the chance to sit with M. Sicot for a few minutes later in the day yesterday, our first meeting. He is very personable and credibly describes his vision for Solidworks, both as a company and a product. He describes the company’s mission as needing to be slightly ahead of its users, but not too far ahead. We talked about the idea that technology companies need to understand what their users want to do but not get bogged down by focusing only on their immediate needs. Yes, bugs need to be fixed and productivity enhancements made, but software companies also need to figure out how to leverage new technology (such as mobile devices) to meet the needs of their customers in 3 and 5 years. He wouldn’t talk specifics, but it’s good to know that he and his team are thinking that many years out.

There seems to be a trend these days for the CEOs of engineering software companies to be seen as users of their products. M. Sicot is a certified SolidWorks user and challenged the media and analysts to take (and pass) the Certified SolidWorks Associate Exam. I think I’m going to try — it’s been a while since I’ve dived that deeply into a CAD tool. Can’t remember when I last took a test…

Following M. Sicot, SolidWorks CFO David Stott offered a company update. Most surprising: SolidWorks today sees roughly 20% of its revenue come from simulation, data management and environmental analysis solutions. Fastest growing: data management. [I later spoke with product managers about SolidWorks Simulation and plan to blog in greater detail about simulation — lots is happening there, though it’s not all that visible given the breadth of the SolidWorks portfolio.]

Fielder Hiss, VP of Product Management, next presented a retrospective of each of the 20 releases of SolidWorks so far. it’s quite amazing to see how far the product has come — and how much we take for granted in a modern CAD solution. This was a perfect segue into customer panels, where designers and engineers talked about how they use SolidWorks and what they see as its most important benefits. Best take-away quote: “SolidWorks is a ‘business in a box’ for a small shop like ours”.

The last session of the morning was a total treat. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@monica_schnitge) got to see me play with a motor and a magnet and, ultimately, build a little orange robot mouse. It was a good lesson/refresher on some engineering fundamentals and drove home the point that engineering and design are fun, and that we need to encourage that spirit of play in how we teach it to kids. SolidWorks has an extensive academic program, creating curricula for learners from grade school through college, made available in 14 languages, that aims to leverage each release’s new content to both teach SolidWorks and inform on issues such as sustainability.

From this point in the day, the content was embargoed until next week since it focused on several of the key elements of the 2012 release. And since I don’t appreciate teases, I’m not going to tease anything other than the date and time: next Tuesday, 2ish PM Eastern is when the SolidWorks 2012 site goes live.

At the end of the day, we were exposed to one innovation that I can blog about right now: speed “dating”. Analysts/media sat still while company representatives rotated from analyst to analyst every 7 minutes. Typically at these events, I submit a list of people I’d like to meet with or topics I’d like to discuss and then do that for maybe 30 minutes per topic; SolidWorks worked it out so that we each had 7 minutes with 8 different people. It was interesting in that I got to speak to many more people than would have been possible under the other scenario — but just as each conversation got interesting, the horn sounded and we had to stop. It was an interesting way to connect people.

It’s too early to tell what impact SolidWorks 2012 will have, on the market, on the company and on its customers. I was impressed by the people I met and by the approach that is “evolutionary, not revolutionary” and keeps the 1.5 million people who use SolidWorks firmly top-of-mind. The demos were cool, too, and I’ll tell you more about that next week ….

Note: SolidWorks provided lunch and tchotchkes but did not in any way influence the content of this post.