Interview: Bernard Charlès, Dassault Systèmes
12 October 2011
From Catia and SolidWorks to architecture and PLM, Bernard Charlès has a bold vision for Dassault Systèmes’ V6 platform using the cloud to radically expand the reach and capabilities of its products. Martyn Day finds out more from the visionary CEO
Looking back over the last twenty years, there have been many innovations that have eventually become the ‘norm’ in design and engineering software.
On reflection, I have to say most of these have been championed first by the illustrious leader of Dassault Systèmes (DS), Bernard Charlès. While some of these concepts may take years to come to fruition, or indeed for DS to deliver on its promise, there is no doubt that Charlès has a good track record with his crystal ball.
DS has preached business change to customers for decades with its Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) concept but the company is also constantly adapting to changing conditions in the engineering marketplace, as well as anticipating future requirements.
Three years ago Charlès told me that getting DS products onto the cloud was mission critical to his business and in the future we would see Catia and SolidWorks on demand in some way. Then, once DS’ core modelling and PLM technologies were in the cloud, it would enter the Architecture Engineering Construction (AEC) space.
Fast forward three years and the technology that is making all of this happen is DS’ V6 platform. It was at our meeting in July 2011, that Charlès explained just how close DS is to delivering on this longterm vision.
With the conversation centring on V6, I asked Charlès why there was a need to move from V5 to V6 platform? He replied, “V6 is an architecture, it’s not only a platform. There is a framework, a collection of systems, subsystems, that makes up V6.
All our Dassault Systèmes brands contain a lot of products. Catia is not one product, or a huge product, but a collection of products. All those products within brands are adopting the V6 framework for their capabilities.
“The second aspect of V6 is that we have invested a lot to create an architecture that can be run locally or online. The third element is we have created an architecture that can go from traditional big servers to Windows client. But in V6 we have also architected it in such a way that it can go “cloud” or “mobile”, through a browser, or through a small app.
For example, 3DVIA products have some applications that are pure desktop, such as 3DVIA Composer. But who said that Composer cannot be on the iPad? Nobody said that! But people conclude that, because it’s on the PC today, it’s a big application. So now it can be, and it will be, on the iPad.
“My last points on V5 to V6 are that V5 was introduced to the market in 1999. At the time we announced PLM. We are now in 2011, so it’s 12 years old. Yes, we will sell V5 until 2020. We will support V5
maybe until 2030.
“For Dassault Systèmes, software architecture is something of great significance, in terms of lifespan. In fact we are probably very unique on that point. When you compare DS to any one of the other players, they say ‘we support this level of software’, but I’m talking about support for the comprehensive architecture.
We have brought out a new V5 product portfolio this year and every year we are going to have a new evolution for V5 too.
“The V6 architecture is new. It’s going to be the framework for everything we do, until probably in terms of selling the solutions, until 2025 or 2030 and then it will be supported up to… we think… 2040? So
we needed to create an architecture that could support that evolution, and it will be a massive evolution between what you have now and the devices and operating systems that we will be using in ten years from now.
The way we build our software has changed a lot. We can now take an intermediate level of abstraction of our applications and generate the code for different targeted machines
“So we have created an architecture where we can be more and more independent from the platform on which we run. And in V6 you will see applications that can work only on a browser, to applications that can work on every extremely sophisticated desktop machine, servers, or multi-computer and servers.”
Charlès elaborated on what other kinds of technology we will be seeing. “Let me start with a practical example,” he said.
“You may have seen the demonstration of Catia-Live-shape. It’s extremely easy to use for consumer package goods, consumer goods, even fashion, and so on. In the coming months you are going to see those applications will run on the iPad.
The way we build our software has changed a lot. We can now take an intermediate level of abstraction of our applications and generate the code for different targeted machines; we don’t need to rewrite it. It’s a business decision; it’s not a technical decision.
PLM and Enovia
Following my recent interviews with many of the CAD industry’s top CEOs, it has become pretty clear that DS has been getting a good old ‘duffing up’ by the other PLM players.
There have been a number of high-end defections of DS customers to Siemens’ Teamcenter and PTC’s Windchill and it’s been suggested these could be linked to the V6 version of Catia requiring the DS Enovia PLM backbone, a product with a chequered history.
I asked Charlès if this requirement for Enovia has impacted DS’ core business and received a comprehensive rebuttal.
“No, I think you will notice that this quarter we are growing new licences at 36%. You can compare that to many of our competitors. In fact Enovia is growing at 49%. So something must be working!
“I think the V6 environment is transforming the world of innovation, like V5 did. It’s a huge step. When I meet with our customers, the complexity of the systems they run is mind-boggling. The reality today is that if you look at the last 20 years, every customer wants to have an integrated platform.
“For example, a SolidWorks customer is using SolidWorks as an integration platform for NC, documentation and so on. Now do we produce everything? No, the SolidWorks ecosystem is a very expandable system. Our partners integrate their apps with SolidWorks in a very elegant manner; the same in the Catia world.
“I think the same thing is going to happen soon with PDM systems. I think it costs too much. It’s creating a lot of emotion. Why? Because people are scared, including my competitors. However, I’m not
scared! I’m smiling! Everything’s fine. Because I’m disruptive; I want to be disruptive.
You know what is my biggest competitor to V6? It’s V5, because if I do a benchmark today, it will be fine, against any of our competitors. So I am competing with myself.”
Despite Charlès’ insistence that DS wins the PLM benchmarks, I could not let him ignore this year’s press releases, which stated that Daimler and Hyundai were moving elsewhere for their design technology.
Charlès responded, “I don’t think it will happen. It will not happen! If you ‘Google’ August 1995, Daimler announced that they will go on a new platform, will replace Catia, and they would not go V5. 18 months to 2 years later, they called back and they said, ‘No, we are going to continue with you.
There is no way we can beat the performance that you provide to create parts.’ I bet with you that when their users have to do the job for Mercedes Benz—shape, interior, chassis, engine—I bet with you now, that they will lose 40% productivity. Who do you think is going to pay that bill? I’m not even talking about the bill to buy the software.
“The reality in real life is different from theory of evaluation. My bet today is that the productivity we offer is huge. You know we have ICEM now? [DS acquired ICEM surfacing technology]. Who can beat ICEM in auto?
“Sometimes the way IT evaluates things is one way but when you look at the real people doing the real job, they have another view. In the end, it’s doing the job that counts. It’s not the first time. I’ve been in the industry for so many years, I’ve seen things that people would not believe.”
Without a doubt, DS’ acquisition of SolidWorks has given the company a huge advantage in the mid-priced modelling market.
Charlès identified at an early stage that the Windows modelling tool could be extremely disruptive in a then stagnant engineering market. Over the years, the company has grown to be the nemesis of PTC, Siemens and Autodesk, having a vocal fan base, a killer channel and a ‘can do’ attitude.
But all is changing in the land of SolidWorks, with DS having closer involvement at the company at all decision levels.
The long arms from Paris are evident, even in R&D, inserting Catia V6 technology into a forthcoming release of SolidWorks and demonstrating a cloud version at SolidWorks World (annual user event) in 2010.
The question is: will DS kill the goose that laid the golden egg? Its competitors are hoping so.
Charlès gave his opinion: “First of all, I want to remind you that I am the one who paid $320m to buy a start-up doing $9m revenues, in July 1997. So I think I have proved that I love this product, by putting $320m on the table.
It was my decision, I signed the cheque, so why should I want to kill something I bought for $320m? I bought this great start-up and I’m the chairman of the board. While I never showed up to any SolidWorks World for years, did you think I was not leading the board at SolidWorks every three months?
“We are expanding SolidWorks to provide better user experiences in new domains and if you look at the numbers on the growth in the last quarters it’s going extremely well. So the question is: what is next?
“The preoccupation that I have for the future of SolidWorks is to make sure we expand the footprint, because it’s a great team, great user experience provided to designers, and I think we can address new sectors and that’s why Live Building (AEC version) is coming to life in the SolidWorks world.
You save on the cloud, use on the cloud, share on the cloud, and the user interface is the same one you work with. This is SolidWorks Enfuse, it’s very SolidWorks consistent, people love it
“The second challenge is to keep the SolidWorks community and keep building that. The other thing is, online (cloud), which is unstoppable. It will happen. It will happen everywhere.
“When you look at the PDM world, it has not been an easy life for companies because it’s always complex to install servers, databases, add customisation and plug in all the applications you have. So, by going online we can provide things that help people connect their work in an easy way and create a SolidWorks user experience, which is cool.
Go to the site, connect, click provision… and then you can connect with any friends, and create a collaborative platform which is what I call ‘SolidWorks sensitive’, meaning no training.
“You save on the cloud, use on the cloud, share on the cloud, and the user interface is the same one you work with. This is SolidWorks Enfuse, it’s very SolidWorks consistent, people love it. We are just starting, there are some technical things that need addressing but our business systems will make it easy for you, like iTunes basically.”
Catia uses the CGM kernel, while SolidWorks uses Siemens’ Parasolid kernel. This is more down to historical development reasons than anything else but it has meant that Catia and SolidWorks don’t necessarily talk the same language when it comes to geometry.
With a future version of SolidWorks using the V6 platform, will that mean that both Catia and SolidWorks will both speak CGM?
“The answer is absolutely yes. Of course,” says Charlès. “I’m not going to tell you when. At the end of the day what will count is for someone to see the great user experience on SolidWorks and not to care what is inside. It works faster, higher quality, higher calibre geometry, and it’s more powerful.”
I asked if you can load your old models. “Yes”, responded Charlès. “We all know that there will be these kinds of [geometry engine] transitions, but we can soften it and we can let users decide where and when they want to do it, for which project they want to do it, perhaps for new [product development] programmes, because there are some advantages [with each kernel].”
SolidWorks has a long development history. There’s a huge ecosystem of technology and products that are designed to work with it. By DS coming out with a new platform which has to have a new ecosystem, I expressed my concern at how DS could do this.
By telling me that both CGM and Parasolid kernels were in the product, I wondered if users could choose within SolidWorks which kernel they used, as it would be impossible to reproduce ten years’ of development work on the SolidWorks V6 version straight away.
Charlès responded, “Of course. We don’t want to disturb that because users are happy, they like it, but at the same time if we don’t offer future alternatives they will say, well in the very, very long term, how do you address this and that and that, and I say well we are thinking about the very long term for you and this is the way we evolve with it.”
AEC (Architec ture Engineering Construction)
While not on the radar of the typical DEVELOP3D reader, DS’ aims at getting into the AEC market will have some impact and implications on the MCAD market, as it will be the test bed for many of these forthcoming cloud products.
DS has given some very basic demonstrations of the V6 AEC product which we know is going to be cloud-based and launched under the ‘SolidWorks’ brand as SolidWorks Live Building.
Given what Charlès had told me of the V6 SolidWorks offering two kernels, I asked if the architectural product will be Parasolid or V6- based. Charlès responded, “ Because it’s new, it doesn’t exist, there is no legacy, so it’s only going to be V6 and it’s coming out this year.
“The modelling approach for Live Building is a complete breakthrough as compared to Revit [Autodesk’s AEC modelling tool]. It’s a new world, and the feedback we have now from invitation users is amazing! They will need everything else, which means we need [to develop and include] the detailed engineering activities.
The idea is to take that knowledge and the code and expand on V6 platform continuously. Live Building will do building, engineering and building construction.” In terms of platform, DS will have a free iPad version, an HTMLbased free sketching tool (will run anywhere) and there will be a desktop paid-for version for a ‘SolidWorks-type’ of experience.
So there will be a full range of applications at different price points ranging from free and mobile, through web and then desktop. Using a seamless web-based Enovia backbone conceptual sketches and models can be shared and fed back to the ‘engineering’ desktop system for detailed design. Charlès confirmed that even with the ‘web’ applications you will be able to work offline.
Taking this roll-out model, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Catia and SolidWorks customers will also get similar web and mobile applications for their designs, all connected and supported through cloudbased services.
To finish our conversation, Charlès showed a demo reel of some massive Chinese construction firms that were obviously testing the DS AEC system, which had already been hooked up to the company’s Delmia factory simulation software to show some very impressive construction sequencing of elevated road construction.
In our allotted time, we ran through a large number of topics. While Charlès was excited about Catia, the cloud, the new underlying technology of SolidWorks and entering the AEC market, he was the most defensive about Enovia and the announcements made by a few key customers to move elsewhere.
It’s true that the financial statistics look as if DS is doing well in spite of the headwind. As Charlès said, customers have said these things before, so it will be interesting to see what actually happens to these accounts over time.
In the manufacturing world, automotive is a prized segment and means big sales and services business for the CAD vendors. I was very surprised by Charlès’ belief that these ‘defections’ won’t happen.
The SolidWorks transition is undoubtedly going to be a tightrope walk for DS as it re-architects a segment-leading product with very passionate users. There is a lot to lose if the changes negatively impact customers.
Then again if a fair amount of Catia-power comes through that could be a problem for its competitors. I have concerns that your average SolidWorks customer isn’t that bothered by collaboration capabilities, for which the first part of this technology gets rolled out with EnFuse.
Charlès has always been a big proponent of the cloud in engineering software. In our interview, years ago, he stated that being first to market with a cloud modelling tool would be a key advantage for any firm.
In the meantime we have only really seen Autodesk experimenting with such technology, while PTC says that nobody is asking for it and Siemens is keeping fairly tight lipped about its private cloud developments but acknowledges that it is ready to react if the market goes that way.
I look forward to seeing the first of these DS cloud-based design applications arriving this year.