Sorting the wheat from the chaff

18 November 2009

Canned demos of CAD software often show us little more than the skill of the presenter. Going back to basics and bringing everyone together at an event would help sort the wheat from the chaff, writes Rob Jamieson

One thing marketers are always interested in is why customers buy one product over another - often not for the reasons they think. Personally I always like to touch or see a product before buying it, but how do you judge design software head-to-head? How do you get to touch it? 
Most Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) will offer you a “canned demo” of their software in action. This is normally heavily rehearsed by a highly-trained individual, so it looks easy-to-use and fast.

In a previous role at an ISV, it was my job to demo software and I once had a slight problem loading a file when showing some software to DEVELOP3D’s Al Dean and Martyn Day. I used a bit of showmanship to cover up the problem and only told them about it five years later – they’ve still not forgiven me for pulling the wool over their eyes. My point is, what you see is not always what you get.

Beyond canned demos

Some ISVs and resellers offer to take your component and model it in their software for you. This is a good option to see if the modelling software can actually do what you request of it. For the ISV or reseller to do this you have to be pretty close to purchasing as there is quite a cost in time for them to create the model you want.

Web videos can provide a good introduction to new software but you can’t beat interactive demos

As the ISV or reseller AE (Applications Engineer) is quite skilled they are likely to find a way to model what you make, but it might not be the easy route. What I mean is that if you spend enough time at it you can make most design software model most things, but the question is in a day to day working environment could you, as a end user, model it quickly without using a load of “tricks” to get the job done. After all, it’s productivity to save money and get the job on time that counts.

Some ISVs offer trial versions of their suite of software, but how many of us have the time to do a thorough check? You would need to learn the software to some degree to do a decent appraisal and then you are locked down to learning it, and also by doing this, other design software is going to feel alien to you.

A time for change

In this post credit crunch world how many people have looked at their current software and assessed the running cost compared to other design software?
Changing from one design software to another is always hard work with issues of retraining staff, legacy data and managing downtime to overcome.

Today, when we are choosing CAD software, we are expected to make judgements from those little videos you see on the Web or one canned demo from your local reseller

In some ways it is very similar to why we don’t change banks as the swapping over of direct debits, getting your pay into your account is often more hassle than it’s worth. With some banks going pop we are more inclined to want to change so we don’t lose out. This could be the same with ISV software.

A place to meet

There could be a better package out there for designing what we do. Maybe swapping out a high-end product for a cheaper one, or moving from a predominantly 2D-based design process to a 3D one to save time. The question is where do we go to find out?

In the UK there used to be many shows where you could look at software head to head and talk to the ISVs. Today, when we are choosing software we are expected to make judgements from those little videos you see on the Web or one canned demo from your local reseller.

I think it’s time there was a new “cheap” event where customers could meet and talk to the providers of the software. Everybody is going moan about the cost of doing such an event in these post crunch times but the benefits to customers outweigh the cost and potential new business to ISVs.

To take things further perhaps set a design task that needs to be modelled on each design package so you can see the software in anger, so to speak. I think it’s only fair that the ISVs get the task a week before the event so they can have a reasonable stab at it and it’s not purely down to the skill of the demo person. I think something that was designed in the sixties would be a good idea so there is no existing 3D model available as you wouldn’t want to give an advantage to one vendor whose software might have been used to design the product in the past. The question is, who is going to run such an event?

Rob Jamieson is marketing manager for workstation graphics at AMD. With years of experience as an application engineer, he’d never let a spilt cup of coffee distract him during a software demo. The opinions expressed in this article are not those of AMD.

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