SolidWorks World 2013, Orlando – bigger and better? Lets discuss…

Having attended SolidWorks World on and off for many years (at least 9 over the past 15 years if I remember correctly) it’s interesting to reflect on a change in the nature of the event. The event, to me anyway, was a tad less vibrant than former years; the SolidWorks execs and staff were very welcoming and the customers engaging, but somehow the unique passion that was the hallmark of the original team (who’ve now all but departed from the organisation) seems to be diminishing.

SolidWorks is as much a community as product and brand; in fact one can argue it’s a lovemark. The increasing scale of the operation (as a result of their success) is bound to have changed the personality of the business but the more visible role the parent company has in its direction has obviously had significant influence. Not that change is a bad thing of course, but in the current competitive landscape personality in a business adds a subtle degree of differentiation.

CEO Bernard Charles’s presentation to the 4500 attendees and over 100 partners gave a good overview of the Dassault storyboard of ‘experience’. SolidWorks management including Bertrand Sicot (CEO) and Fielder Hiss (VP Product management) talked on various topics including their increasing user base (of over 2million), the momentum of the community and future products (both SolidWorks and 3D Experience platform based). The real highlights in the general sessions were undoubtedly the presentations given by customers.

  • An insight from the Red Bull Stratos team gave interesting insight on the 120,000ft Baumgartner free-fall project (link).
  • A presentation from Vijay Kumar Professor of Engineering, University of Pennsylvania discussed the future of robotics; talking and showing videos of his teams’ research on swarming flying robots (link).
  • Research at Festo given by Elias Knubben, industrial designer and head of the Festo Bionic Learning Network. He touched on the leverage of natural concepts in product designs; captivating the audience by not only discussing the engineering of a remote controlled flying bird, but by flying a working model round the conference hall! (Link)

In discussion with Bernard Charles and others it’s clear that the SolidWorks teams’ value to the organisation is not just their (current) products, channel and coverage, it’s their expertise in the domain of ‘personal user experience’. The next evolution of user interface for CATIA was/is heavily influenced by the SolidWorks team, and its launch is not that far away. There were also passing comments on a new (possibly lower end?) product due for imminent release; might this be focused on consumer markets rather than corporates? Only time will tell of course, but Dassault’s ‘3D for everyone’ vision is somewhat limited until it gains traction in wider consumer audiences.

Dassault’s new Mechanical Conceptual product was preannounced at the conference. An interesting Cloud based application focused on mechanical concept design and evaluation. It should serve the market well, albeit it’s still at least 6 to 9 months off. Mechanical Conceptual is one of the first ‘3D Experience’ applications that reflect Dassault’s future product strategies.

On the topic of ‘where to next’ for SolidWorks…Dassault (Pascal Daloz, EVP Corporate Strategy & Market Development) insists that there is a need for professional productivity(sort of SolidWorks) and ‘more encompassing enterprise’ (sort of CATIA) application functionalities in their future product vision.  With the trend to deliver on the 3D Experience platform and brand neutral naming (e.g. Mechanical Conceptual) will the SolidWorks survive in the very long term? Dassault is adamant that SolidWorks as a product will continue to be developed and its future is assured. (Albeit do I hear that a number of SolidWorks’ third parties are being coaxed to transfer development efforts to the new 3D Experience platform).

While there was much talk of apps on the Cloud SolidWorks/Dassault’s next generation of solutions (and indeed Autodesk’s) may still have significant (sized) local clients, so that apps can run disconnected from the Cloud as and when needed; a practical policy given the often disconnecting nature of mobile computing. Dependence on pure play cloud services can be problematic at times, a reality brought home to me by the lack of wireless coverage at the conference (and hence my reduced volume of tweets).

Bertrand Sicot (the SolidWorks CEO) reiterated intent to focus on channel execution and coverage. Their channel is due to be expanded over the near term to capitalise not least on opportunities in emerging economies, but one can also imagine to cater for (potential) expansion of the Dassault (perhaps not necessarily SolidWorks specific) software portfolio.

Pascal Daloz, the force behind many of Dassault’s strategic acquisitions, shared some interesting thoughts over coffee. When questioned of the lack of discussion on their AEC products (do you remember Live Buildings from 2011?), he suggested that although that market segment was very interesting, it would most likely take a back seat and be revisited in year or so. Interestingly Dassault (CATIA brand led) just released a “Lean Construction” industry solution experience focused on AEC project management and execution.