DS’ 3DExperience Forum highlights move to business processes

Nov 13, 2017 | Hot Topics

Dassault Systèmes (DS) started thinking about the 3DExperience platform almost a decade ago. It started as a 3D web-based environment that would enable designers, manufacturers, end-consumers and service people to virtually experience products. In tandem, it would manage the intellectual property related to that product. Over the intervening decade, that platform has come to encompass more and more: simulation, product use data via sensors, analytics, high-end visualizations … This year, at the 3DExperience Forum in Florida, I heard for the first time that DS wants to expand to business processes, reaching even further into the enterprise. DS’s Chief Strategy Officer Monica Menghini told us that companies are digitalizing their business processes, and that DS intends to expand into as much of that as it can via its “Business Experience Platform”. CEO Bernard Charles took a more theoretical tone, describing how digital tools drive innovation — but in the context of business transformation, not product design, engineering or manufacturing alone. This was new to me; I hadn’t heard before that DS is/wants to be a player in the greater business process automation world.

This was a big-picture theme echoed during many of the sessions I attended at 3DX2017. The focus was on DS’ traditional auto and aero verticals, but there were sessions for its emerging markets — including Energy, Power and Utilities. McDermott International gave several presentation about how this century-old company uses the 3DExperience platform (alongside AVEVA PDMS for process plant and SolidWorks for equipment design) to transform its business,

McDermott designs and builds/installs production facilities, pipelines, subsea systems and other assets. McDermott’s VP of Global Engineering Vaseem Khan said that McDermott wants to adopt technologies from auto and aero to make meaningful change in the upstream part of the oil industry.  The digital twin, which McDermott defines as the end-result of authoring tool create data that is brought into a single database, was a key selling point for the DS solution set. But it’s not just about implementing one set of technology or another, Mr. Khan said; the intent is to build a new way of doing engineering that starts with creating that digital twin, giving all roles access to the same data via targeted user interfaces and then maintaining data for the life of the asset. Within the 3DExperience platform, McDermott measures progress, visualizes the asset at the tag level, for example, location of material on a job site, how a liquid flows in a pipe or data is generated in a compressor. A key selling point for PLM at McDermott: using PLM to manage parts in the plant world as they are managed in automotive –both the physical part and its documentation and changes– to facilitate part reuse, keep track of spares and avoid duplication.

Mr. Khan is a realist; in 90% of cases, he said, the digital data as it is at handover is never updated (after spending a million hours to build it during design, planning and construction; yikes). He believes that the only way this will change is by making it truly relevant over the life of the asset. How? By ensuring the digital twin is complete at handover, with all equipment data, manuals, procedures, etc. needed to operate that plant. And by showing how that data can be used to tune the plant or asset for maximum profitability, and by using the digital asset to move dangerous offshore tasks to onshore control rooms or to robots — saving money and moving people out of harm’s way.

DS has made no secret of its interest in the oil and gas vertical (although that was a lot more attractive before the recent oil price crash slowed investment in ITs) and I’ve long been curious about its “surround” approach — not trying to get into an account and displace the CAD incumbent, but instead surrounding with data and process management technologies. The value proposition is clear: digitize and standardize processes, drive down costs by examining and perhaps simplifying work processes, and create a single global platform for data access. But DS was never able to get much CATIA use in this world, so the Experiences concept was fundamental in even attempting to target companies like McDermott. And it seems to be working …

But, of course, it wasn’t all oil and gas. The concept of the 3DX platform –its definition and openness– still seems a struggle for many, even 10 years into this adventure.  Andy Kalambi, DS’ Global VP for the 3DExperience platform told us that “Data doesn’t flow seamlessly from department to department, let alone from enterprise to enterprise within the value chain. This leads to gaps in data, and that means collaborative isn’t real-time. The platform we are creating removes much of this friction; it passes data freely because of a common core technology stack.” To me, that’s the point of a platform: users don’t have to figure out how to connect stuff; it just works. But it comes with risk: third parties may be disadvantaged for competitive reasons, for example, if a user has a legacy of non-DS data. (Mr, Kalambi assures me this isn’t so today — but what about tomorrow?) In the other direction, Mr. Charles said that third party solutions can access 3DX platform data via STEP — that’s an answer, but not necessarily a good one, as STEP is a lowest-common-denominator format.  Coming to help with all of this is a “POWER’BY” offering that will offer some level of integration into the platform for non-DS solutions (via APIs? not sure — need to learn more).

I find it  fascinating that DS has taken a risky all-or-nothing approach with its core 3DExperience platform strategy. “Zero Defects”, “On Time” and other taglines are incredibly attractive, but one needs to buy into an entire DS Experience to even start. Ms. Menghini’s positioning of the 3DExperience Platform as the “Business Experience Platform” seemed to indicate that the experiences DS will target next aren’t limited to physics, design, engineering and manufacturing, but will stretch into business processes and marketplaces.  No details, but it sounds like much more is planned than connecting designers and makers, for example, in 3D printing.

The thought leadership at the 3DEXPERIENCE events, from DS and its customers is always interesting and challenging. I’m looking forward to seeing what DS really plans for its business platform. Will it take on entrenched ERP vendors? Will it buy one? What does it mean by marketplaces? Will it do Ariba e-commerce one better? Tantalizing …

Note: Dassault Systemes graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The title image is of Vaseem Khan on stage, courtesy of DS. Video of his session can be found at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMEjN73iIFkdmTb1tAIx567_3cbZfjJzD.