The tagline for the MSC Software user conference last week was “MSC Reloaded” — and, in many ways, that appeared to be the case. I didn’t think to ask, but if the analogy of “aim –> fire –> reload –> fire” is being made, MSC is very nearly ready to “fire”. Lots of new employees, new energy, revitalized products, contented customers … It was a solid showing by a company that, according to CEO Dominic Gallello, is still a “work in progress” but has turned the corner to a healthy position financially and is again looking outward for new opportunities.

Mr. Gallello and SVP, David Yuen started the conference by providing a few statistics about the “new” MSC:

  • MSC’s surveys show that 96% of customers are “happy to delighted” with MSC, a rather startling number given the turmoil the company has seen over the last few years. Customers are clearly responding to the product release schedule (random before, now twice a year, about to be every 9 months), repackaging (combining the MD and MSC flavors of products such as Nastran) and the company’s customer-driven focus.
  •  “Customer-driven” came up a lot, especially when talking about future directions for the company’s products and policies. Mr. Gallello was very clear on this: MSC is focusing on bringing its current products up to par, modernizing user interfaces and creating an analysis framework to enable customers to simulate real-world behaviors.
  • Mr. Yuen told the audience that maintenance renewal rates are now over 95% globally and over 99% in the Americas — also surprisingly high given the recent past, but a clear indicator of customers’ approval of the direction forward.
  • The company says it is winning in the marketplace, signing over 295 new clients in the last 12 months.
  • Mr. Gallello said that he is focusing on adding R&D resources; in a hard-to-read chart it appeared that R&D added 100 people mostly PhD hires. R&D is working with customers on new methods and techniques as MSC builds “deep expertise”.

In a very nice moment during the keynote session, a video was played of Mr. Gallello interviewing MSC founder Dick MacNeil. Mr. McNeil is now 88 and quite opinionated — hates the latest MSC logo, likes the fact that MSC is profiled as one of the “original 10 software companies”, worked on linear FEA because non-linear was “too hard” — and made a great segue to Mr. Gallello’s introduction of the “new” MSC. The audience seemed happy with what they heard: When Mr. Gallello asked whether they liked the changes he outlined, the gentleman behind me emphatically shouted ‘yes’ (it was early; most others murmured or clapped).

In meetings with Mr. Gallello and his team, a few other highlights emerged. The company is growing revenue and cash flow, enabling it to invest in both product development and acquisitions. Growth is strongest in the roaring economies of China, India, Brazil and Russia, and in the company’s traditional auto/aero base but 40% of revenue now comes from other industries.

As those who read this blog know, I love user conferences. Love hearing how people use technology, the problems they are trying to solve, what they need and expect from their suppliers — all of it. MSC’s event was filled with terrific presentations that proved, once again, how complicated our world is. Three things I didn’t know:

  • Boeing says that ratio of designer:analyst has gone from 5:1 to 1:1 over the last 25 years because advances in materials have lead to significantly more complex design processes. (Yes, more analysts per designer). The drive to reduce weight, lower fuel burn and improve maintenance/repair/disposal have led the development cycle to go from 5 years for the 767 to 7 years for the 787 — unacceptable when the market wants shorter cycles to take advantage of innovations.
  • Litens pointed out that even in technologically advanced companies, simulation is still usually validated by test — it seems to me that every company still struggles with this, even as MSC gets ready to celebrate its 50th birthday.
  • According to Lockheed, the Orion craft that will eventually replace the Space Shuttle will have 13 million lines of code. Simulating software-in-the-loop, across lifecycle of the asset, is clearly no longer an option.

MSC’s presentations included lots of demos of the nice new UI for Adams, added capabilities in Marc, nifty Simulation Generation (part of SimManager, developed with BMW) and much more. Look for a release before the end of the year for many of the company’s products.

I was also at the last MSC user conference in Phoenix in 2009. That was a time of transition, when the path forward was anything but clear. This time, all signals were positive: customers are excited about trying out the coming releases, already thinking through how to use product X to solve a particular problem. That’s what a good user conference does: it takes people out of their normal environment and lets them explore new ways of solving thorny problems back at the office. MSC’s focus has shifted back to customers and their engineering challenges — and that’s a very good thing.

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