DS Consumer Packaged Goods/Retail ExperienceDassault Systèmes invited several hundred of its best customers to Orlando last week, to learn about the company’s latest efforts to vault out of providing solutions and into delivering experiences. Over two days, we heard from CEO Bernard Charlès, EVP Monica Menghini and various industry managers. Missing completely were presentations about the brands – they came up often as the building blocks for Experiences, but not on their own. That’s rather unusual since these events often include long list of updates and roadmaps, but it perfectly embodies how DS is trying to shift focus away from products, functions and features and onto how users can leverage its broad portfolio to solve their problems.

M. Charlès kicked things off with a keynote that showed how much his leadership has evolved over the years. He told the audience that he took a couple of months recently to think about what he wanted DS to be and do over the next 10 to 15 years. It sounded to me as thought was thinking about his legacy: is it enough to build a multi-billion dollar software company or is it time to shift focus to solving some of the problem plaguing the globe? Those aren’t exclusive, of course, but require fundamentally different approaches. Software production is about clicks, user interfaces and new algorithms. Addressing global problems requires scientists, policy makers and others to come together to determine what the options are and only then apply software as appropriate.

Before the 3DExperience Forum I was skeptical about DS’ IF-WE advertising campaign and the company’s involvement in a project to explore towing an iceberg to provide clean water for people without access — not because it’s a bad idea, but because I wasn’t sure why DS was involved. After M. Charlès’ presentation, it makes more sense: like NASA in the 1960s, audacious goals lead to more creative thinking and that, in turn, may lead to product and technology innovation. Of course, DS is a commercial enterprise and wants projects like these to lead to both bigger visibility and new customers, but let’s not be too cynical — they really do want to effect change.

Ms. Menghini led the audience through DS’ move from brands to Experiences. I honestly think many are still confused about what, exactly, these Experiences are — but the good news for DS is that customers seemed receptive to learning more. As I wandered in the coffee break area after the keynotes I heard a lot of people puzzling about whether these Experiences were new software (a bit), repackaging of existing products (some) or something else entirely (that, too). DS clearly has some work to do to make its new strategy a bit clearer. The demos didn’t really help – they were combinations of offbeat (and confusing) naming like the “High Tech Touch Heart and Soul Experience” and gee whizz special effects on stage, like processing video of a piece of cardboard to make it look like a tablet computer, with changes in color and images during the demo. It was hard to tell what was a DS offering and what was stage-craft.

Things became a bit clearer, Experience-wise, in the industry tracks. As you may know, DS has always had industry marketing but, under Ms. Menghini’s leadership, has elevated this to a more profit-and-loss- like approach where the industry leaders draw on resources from around the company and globe to grow their particular industry “brand”. DS has targeted 12 industries: the traditional auto (“transportation & mobility”) and aero; marine  & offshore; industrial equipment; high tech; consumer goods/retail; consumer packaged goods/retail; life sciences; energy, process & utilities; AEC; financial & business services; and natural resources. I attended the AEC and energy tracks and learned that

  • Experiences are workflow-specific combinations of existing brand software (as appropriate) PLUS new software and other content to enable a user to quickly come up to speed and carry out the Experience’s tasks
  • The AEC and energy Experience map makes a lot of sense, taking users from design and modeling workflows to workflows like efficient construction and safe operations.
  • The Experiences will be rolled out over time and it sounds as though DS is open to talking with customers about sequence, what exactly each Experience includes and what user expectations might be in each case.
  • At least in the AEC and energy sessions, much was made of the openness of the Experiences, incorporating 3D modelers like Revit for architectural or PDMS/PDS/Smart Plant in a process plant project. That was the first time I had heard DS acknowledge how prevalent non-DS solutions are in their new markets, and, to me, marks a significant step forward for DS.
  • There seemed to be a significant focus on modernizing — recognizing that new designers and engineers work fundamentally differently than more … entrenched … people. Social, user interfaces, devices all play a part in the Experiences.

What I didn’t learn — possibly because it’s not known yet, but possibly because DS isn’t ready to say:

  • How users will transition from existing licenses of CATIA, for example, to an Experience. I tried to learn if there was a 1:1 swap, some sort of upgrade/crossgrade …
  • How DS envisions rolling an Experience out through a customer organization. In AEC, for example, a construction Experience presumes the existence of a CAD model of some sort — is a design-related Experience a prerequisite for construction? (I don’t think so, but am not sure).
  • How will the Experiences go global? Many projects are done using worksharing, which means that an Experience rolled out first in Europe or North America, for example, can’t easily be adopted until it is also available elsewhere in the world.

Questions aside, the whole idea of Experiences is to move DS and its users away from talking about CATIA, whether V6 requires ENOVIA and how SolidWorks and CATIA will play together going forward. Customers are shown a business problem (crafting a proposal for a defense program, for example) and then learn how some or all of DS’ solutions can be brought into a solution. If the openness thread I noticed in the AEC and energy sessions is universal, it means that customers should be able to use their in-house or 3rd party solution (if not from DS) where they need to and create workflows that are meaningful to them and not cookie-cutter from DS. That’s huge and very attractive to users who operate in a heterogeneous environment.

One thing M. Charles left open is the possibility (one might say likelihood) that DS will acquire more companies and/or products to fill out the Experiences, as it did with Gemcom earlier this year. [Gemcom is now DS’ GEOVIA brand.] The company needs to build credibility in a lot of markets that don’t really know DS and that would be a quick way to build presence.

My take on it all: It was time for DS to impose some order on its huge, often confusing array of brands. Customers don’t need to wonder if they really mean Netvibes or 3DSwYM, DELMIA or CATIA. They need to solve a specific problem and, if the AEC and energy Experiences are anything to go by, will get just what they need when they implement a particular Experience. In theory, they will be integrated, “install and go”. We’ll know how well the Experience idea succeeds once customers start using them, but for now, interest is high and Beta customers were lining up.

I’ll post more about the AEC and energy tracks next week.

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